Ask the grumpies: Masters programs

Anoninmass asks:

Applying for a Master’s program and it feels so difficult and annoying yet I cannot seem to get ahead without it….why???

Some professions have so many people interested that they can require a masters degree (see:  social work, library science, other “helping” kinds of jobs).

Some professions, particularly in government, require a masters degree that teaches management kinds of skills for getting ahead.  Management is a different skill-set than being a police officer or fire fighter and so on, so these kinds of jobs will require new skills taught in masters programs for getting promoted to management.

I’m not sure why the teaching masters degree is rewarded.  Presumably it’s teaching skills that help in the classroom?  But it’s also not required except in California, so I don’t know.  It seems to be something desired by teachers unions, not school districts.  So… I dunno.

I will mention that masters applications are down this year across the board (the labor market is tightening), so it should be easier than usual to get in!  Our masters program has rolling admissions this year which is unusual for us (last year we had record numbers).

Good luck!

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Obnoxious money: Standard tricks for saving money lead to spending money when your hourly wage/salary is high

One of the standard tricks for saving money is to calculate how many hours of work it takes to pay for the luxury you’re thinking of spending. If eating lunch out is equivalent to two hours of work at the call center, you might decide to brown-bag it instead. (I never understood why so many of my coworkers ate out while on break at our minimum wage job when I was in high school.) Here’s becoming minimalist explaining how we don’t buy things with money, we buy them with time. A related technique is to translate those dollars into something tangible, here’s us talking about the candy bar exchange rate, though as grownups you’ll probably want to use something like cars or computers or weeks of groceries.

Another standard trick is to add up how much your latte factor (which could be any small regular luxury expense, not just lattes) is costing you over the course of a year. At $5/day for 5 days/week for 50 weeks/year, a latte factor could be $1250/year. Here’s the frugal girl discussing this technique in more detail.

The problem with these techniques when you’re making obnoxious amounts of money is that they lead to more spending.  If the cost eating out can be measured in minutes of work instead of hours, then it seems silly to not eat out.  The cost of DH’s recent rabies scare hit home with him when I told him that two emergency room visits = 1 new car, but if we were making more money, even that cost wouldn’t be a big deal– the comparison might be a small fraction of a nicer car or yacht or single private airplane ride.  At a certain point $1250/year seems like nothing– why wouldn’t one spend that on small luxuries?

… so… should we be spending more?  Laura Vanderkam from a few years ago would certainly say yes.  (I don’t know what she’s selling now.)  Use that hourly wage calculation to loosen up on spending, especially if it increases productivity or diminishes stress or saves time.

Indeed, recently I got a glasses exam out-of-network (probably)… $130 for the exam.  The insurance company didn’t make things easy for LensCrafters, so after trying to login to the stupid BC/BS page and being stymied by changing my password and then finally finding my benefits on the university website I discovered I’d only be reimbursed 50% anyway, I decided SCREW IT it’s not worth it.  Even if they should have reimbursed me $65, even for the principal of the thing (which was more important to me back when I had more time), I wasn’t willing to put more time and mental energy into it.

Here’s a tweet from an econ professor:

Susan Dynarski makes $270,000.00 according to the UMichigan website (not as much as many of their other star professors!) and is in the 98% percentile of income for the US.  (I am again reminded of talking with professional colleagues whose families make about 2x Dr. Dynarski’s and how their view of what a vacation is or cleaning person’s duties are is so different from most of the upper middle class’s… when you make over 500K/year and it isn’t going to your mortgage, you have a personal assistant and you rent a chef to go with your Caribbean vacation and your cleaning person will put things away instead of refusing to clean if the house isn’t already uncluttered.  We’re not there.)  (In fairness to Prof. Dynarski, she’s a first-gen college student whose family was in the bottom income quartile growing up.  She’s not out-of-touch.  Even if the comments on that thread… economists, man.)

Is this rational?  Is this necessary?  Should people with higher wages be spending more based on these tricks?  Should we instead find our “enough” as recommended in YMoYL?

I don’t know.

What do you think?  And how do you feel about these kinds of spending tricks?

RBOC

  • Can I say again how much I hate it when people mess with kerning on grant applications?
  • My (recently retired) FIL called DH to tell him to be sure to put money in IRA Roths.  DH told him we’ve got that covered.
  • DH helped break up a dog fight that happened across the street from our house (intact pitbull being walked by a ~10 year old girl slipped its halter going after a Labrador) and got bitten.  :(  He had to get a tetanus booster and 3 days worth of topical antibiotics. The dog was super friendly to humans, but accidentally got DH’s finger as DH was trying to help the laborador’s owner separate them.  The woman who owns the Labrador stopped by our house to say her dog had to undergo ear surgery and that the pitbull’s owner (the grandfather in this scenario) was a total jerk and wanted to know if we’d seen how the fight had started, which we hadn’t.
  • My January conference reimbursement for doing job interviews for a position in our department was audited because I bought $21 of folding chairs and left them there instead of flying them back to the university.  (The chairs were because the hotel ran out and we didn’t want the job candidate sitting on a bed with the interviewers(!))  Fortunately I didn’t believe the hotel when they said that getting extra chairs wouldn’t be a problem (hence neither reservation nor wait list) and got advance permission from both the department head and the dean in case of emergency.
  • We got a big tax refund this year, even after paying next year’s estimated taxes, not unexpected given we had a $7,500 credit from buying the Honda Clarity last year.  In terms of how the Republican tax bill affected us:  we’re paying slightly less tax but not a huge difference.  This is mainly because we live in a Red State with low state income etc. taxes (high property taxes, but low property values) and we’ve finished paying our mortgage so we weren’t getting big federal deductions anyway (some of the self-employment tax changes also helped, I think, and we weren’t deducting business expenses which would have hurt).  People in blue states with high income taxes and high property values are going to be hurt much more.  We didn’t bother adding up our charitable donations this year for the first time because there was no way we were going to hit the limit, so I guess it was a bit less paperwork.
  • Strongly considering using a slightly different specification in this graph because it currently looks like a condom.
  • My car is gradually succumbing to plastic fatigue.  Another door handle broke this week, this time the part that you open from the inside rather than the part from the outside.  $45 to replace ($35 part plus $10 s/h), and easier to replace than the other part (in that it doesn’t require as much strength to unscrew all the necessary bolts).  I really should just get a new car.  Maybe this summer.  I will miss it.
  • My mom is retiring!  At age 72 it will cost her retirement money to keep working based on how her public pension is structured.  (They don’t structure them like that much anymore.)  They’re planning on staying put for a while.  Part of me is surprised because they are West-Coasters at heart, not midwesterners (despite having lived there, as my mother has pointed out, for 34 years).  Part of me is not surprised because their inertia is very strong and anything that takes planning can take a decade to actually happen if they’re not given an external deadline.  My mom hopes to devote her time to politics and research, which are both good things.
  • In case you’re wondering what’s happening with the kitchen renovation… we’ve paid for most of it so far (months ago), our dining room is full of appliances in boxes, and we are stuck on the step in which someone removes our ice maker and replaces it with cabinets.  Home Depot is like, we can do drawers there but we can’t do cabinets that look like your current cabinets.  The place the cabinets came from is like, yeah, we don’t make those anymore but you can get them custom-copied from this other local business.  But the other local business is only open M-F, 9-5 and has been playing a lot of phone tag with DH.  And so we wait…
  • My BIL is getting a full back and shoulders tattoo.  It’s a reminder of the generation gap between X and millennial about how normal that is for someone just a little bit younger than us and how unusual for us.  (How daring and hidden most Gen X tattoos are/were.  How expressive they are for younger folks.  I don’t think I know a single millennial other than my sister who doesn’t have at least an ankle tattoo.)

What car should I buy this summer?

I currently have a 2005 Hyundai Accent that I like very much.  I would keep it forever except that I am getting really tired of having to take breaks from it for little repairs.  3 days without the car waiting for a door handle replacement was the final straw.  (I could have driven around anyway and opened the door from the outside via the window, but we would have had to put the door back together for me to do that.)

The car landscape has changed a lot since I last looked for me.  Last time I looked for me, there was one very obvious only choice.  The Prius was at the top of every list and nothing else compared in the compact/sub-compact range.  If I didn’t want to go hybrid, then the Toyota Corolla was the top of every sub-compact list.  (And the Honda Civic if I wanted to go bigger.)

Things have changed quite a bit since then.  The Hyundai Accent, which we bought in 2005 because it was literally the only car we could afford to buy with cash, is now as high as #3 on some lists!  The hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.  Honda has the Insight, Hyundai has the Ioniq.  And there are plug-ins with tax discounts!  (I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a bolt the weekend before the April 1st deadline for the $7.5K discount, but opted not to.)

By summer I should have up to 35K saved to play with for this new car purchase.  I do not *want* to spend $35K, but I will be able to if necessary.  (The money will find another home if not spent on this car.)

Here’s what I want:

I want a small car.  Sub-compact preferred, Compact as a second choice.  I like small cars because I am small and because they are easy to park.

This car will drive me 7 miles to work and 7 miles back 5 days a week (occasionally stopping at DC2’s school on the way home).  My current 14 year old car has just a little over 50K miles on it.  I just don’t drive much.

I do not care about “performance”.  I do not want a sports car.  I do not need vim or vigor.

I want a new car.  Dealing with the used car market is not something I want to do.  I will keep this car until it, too, starts succumbing to plastic fatigue or otherwise dies.

I want a four door automatic with air conditioning.  I’m not sure if it is possible to get a new car that doesn’t have those attributes, but that was something that was really important when we bought the accent.  The back needs space for two kids including one in a booster seat.

I am really not a mini-cooper kind of person.  I am a boring middle-aged female.  I do think the new lines on current models are sexy, but how the vehicle looks is really not a priority.  Except I would prefer not to have something with a personality.  Nondescript is where I’m at.

I want at least 28 C/35H mpg.  Those are arbitrary.  My current Accent still gets something in the 30-33mph range (I guess because my commute is partly highway?)  If I go hybrid, then I want at least 50mpg.  I know that given how little I drive my mileage isn’t that important, but I dislike stopping to get gas (especially during election season when I avoid places advertising evil people).  I currently do it about once every 2 weeks.  I don’t hate it enough to go completely electric though.   I can afford an electric, but it seems like they’re more than I need given the higher price-tag (which is why I didn’t buy the Bolt before the subsidy got cut).  Plus with DH having the Clarity we might need to get an actual charger if we went electric.  Still, something like the Leaf, which still has the $7,500 credit, might be reasonable, except that I would not be able to make it to the city and back without recharging if something happened to DH’s car.  So… I guess I don’t see any all-electric vehicles that I like enough to buy.

I don’t want a luxury car.

I don’t care about electronic bells and whistles.

The beep beep beep beep that the Prius does when reversing DRIVES ME CRAZY.  (Two of my colleagues have Priuses.)  (#2 notes that you can turn it off.  We had a link in Link Love, I think.)  (Yep, that’s why I put it in link love.  But I do worry that somehow that ability will get disabled.)

What should I test drive?  What am I forgetting?  What sub-compacts and compacts do you love or hate?

 

 

DH talks about creating a screen door kludge

Here is another post from DH, this time about getting some airflow into our home office when the weather is nice (without losing our cat to the great outdoors).

Over 18 months ago, on a nice Fall day, we started talking about the possibility of putting a screen door in our office, which has a french patio door to the outside [1-door]. The office can get stuffy, and in Spring or Fall if we open the door the breeze is wonderful. Unfortunately, between cats and mosquitoes, we cannot just open the door [ed: or buy one of those dangly screens], we need a screen door there.

First plan, spend some time looking at pre-built wooden screen doors, but I couldn’t figure out how I would attach them. The door opens outward, so we could not just put a screen door on the outside. The frame around the door isn’t shaped to put a screen door on the inside, and the office is crowded enough that having anything opening inwards would be undesirable. So I gave up on just getting a screen door.

Second plan, shop the friendly-neighborhood home improvement store. Their website had a dutch door that could be purchased with a screen in the top half. Unfortunately when I talked to the representative, it was outside of my price range, something like $3k. While there I picked up a retracting screen, but when we put it up on the wall its large cylinder looked out of place on the frame. I think they also sell the magnet-close drapes, but I didn’t like the looks of those either.

Third plan, my dad came and looked it over. He’s quite the handyman, and often he has ideas that are marvels of simplicity and utility. His conclusion was to have a professional do a custom replacement for the door. That’s a good option, but I wasn’t convinced I was out of options, and a custom door replacement sounded like it could be expensive.

Final plan, make a custom screen. About a year after the third plan fizzled, I had a eureka moment when I realized we didn’t need a “screen door”, we just wanted a screen that covered the door opening [ed: that the cat couldn’t slip out through]. The hard part of this project is the constraints due to the existing door, the existing frame, and the limited space in the room. By creating a screen of the correct size, we just need a place to store it, and a way to hold it in place when in use.

The storage space is easy; with a removable screen we can just slide it behind the filing cabinet that’s right next to the door frame. After an hour or so of websurfing, I found out the holding-in-place aspect is also pretty easy via “casement clips” screwed into the door frame. All that was left was to get/make a screen (and then fix all the little things that would invariably go awry). [2-screen]

It turns out that making your own screen is really straightforward with the use of these plastic corner pieces. [3-corners] One just needs screen frame pieces, screen material, spline that holds the screen in the channel in the screen frame, and (optional but recommended) a spline tool to put it all together. [4-materials] Since this was going to be a tall screen, I went with the biggest frame pieces I could, 7/16″, and I bought extra to add a crossbar or two, along with the “crossbar clips”. To start, cut the frame pieces to the correct size (take into account the size of the corner pieces), and push in the corner pieces. [5-screenCorner] For crossbars, push the crossbar clips into pieces of frame and then the other end of the clip into the channel of the frame, where it will be held by the spline and screen. [6-crossbarConnector] Unfortunately, I was not able to find any 7/16″ crossbar clips, so I epoxied some 5/16″ clips into my 7/16″ frame. Lie the screen material over the frame. Check for any rips or cuts in the screen now (voice of experience). Then use the spline roller to push the spline into the channel, and cut off the excess screen material. There are a plethora of video guides online for this part so watch a couple to get the details. The tension in the screen holds everything together. With the screen assembled, screw the casement clips into the frame. [7-rightClip] The clips I bought use spacers so they can work for different sizes of screen frames, which was nice because on the left side of the door the door frame lip is higher than on the right side. [8-clip] Since I was worried about splitting the frame, I pre-drilled the holes and used painter’s tape to mark the approximate depth on the drill bit. [9-drillBit]

That’s what I should have done, but instead I did a test fit after I put the frame corners in, but before I added the screen. The test fit itself went great, but since I already had the screen frame put up against the doorframe, I decided to go ahead and screw in the casement clips. Unfortunately, I underestimated the flexibility of the screen frame and how much it would bow due to the screen tension. So after installing the screen, the clips barely held the frame.

I didn’t want a strong wind to blow the screen down, so on the left side I added some spacers/bumpers at the clips. That way we could just push the screen into the doorframe and then push it to the left until the bumpers hit the wall. In that position the clips would overlap the screenframe and the screenframe would completely cover the door opening. [10-leftClipAndSpacer] I made the bumpers out of Sugru since it is durable and easy to work with. Then on the right side, I moved both casement clips to a tight fit. I used the screw tip to mark the hole placement. [11-markingHole] Then I drilled the new hole and installed the clip. [12-movedRightClip] To fill in the old screw hole, I checked to see if a golf tee would fit, but the hole was too thin. Normally I would then use woodglue as a filler, but I happened to have a hot glue gun handy, so I tried that. I’m not sure if it was a good idea, but it worked. I smoothed the surface by carefully shaving any high points with a knife edge, then I applied a coat of white paint and sanded it. [13-oneCoat] Finally I applied another three light coats of white paint. [14-threeCoats] The doorframe has some texture, so the patches aren’t noticeable, and I took the opportunity to touch up some other places where the paint had been rubbed off the doorframe.

There was one other issue, which was the top/bottom fit. The doorframe has a very slight lip where the metal plate sticks out. [15-baseLip] My plan had been to rest the screenframe on that lip, and I assumed that the casement clips would hold the frame tight all the way down to the bottom. In reality, the screenframe is flexible enough that it would just slip off and fall to the wood floor, which left a slight gap at the top of the door. First I tried adding weatherstripping foam at the top and bottom of the screen frame, but it did not seem sufficient. So I used more Sugru to add three feet [ed:  the little bump kind of foot, not the 12 inches kind of foot] to the outside face at the bottom of the screenframe, and those feet rest on the metal plate to hold the screen up. [16-foot]

Looking back, this project taught me several things about making screens, but I wouldn’t change any of the core ideas. The screen works, it looks nice enough, and it stays out of the way when not in use. If we decide to sell the place, I can just remove the casement clips and patch the holes before we show the place to buyers. Most importantly, DW [ed:  that’s me!] was right that having a screen “door” there is wonderful, and I’m glad I was finally able to make it happen.

More thoughts on the adult allowance

Here’s a post from yetanotherpfblog that inspired this one.

Long-time readers of the blog may be aware that DH has a weekly allowance, and I don’t.  DH keeps track of this allowance himself.  I *think* it is currently set at $40/week and an additional $400 for Christmas and another $400 for his birthday (I think it got bumped up the last time he got a raise).  So… if my math is right, that’s $2,880 in discretionary spending each year that he does that we don’t talk about.  It covers everything he wants to buy that he doesn’t want to talk over first except things he buys at the grocery store and meals out with at least one other family member.  It does not cover clothing, and it wouldn’t cover the gym or medical stuff if he had it… but we talk about those things first.  (So coffee out by himself comes out of his allowance, but if he takes one of the kids with him to get a hot chocolate it doesn’t.)  Usually things like subscriptions to audible or blue bottle would also come out of it (but not Tea Runners because the herbal quarter of each delivery is mine).  He also uses it for most of his hobbies, fancy food things he doesn’t buy at the grocery store, presents for me, and the occasional paying for a mistake kind of thing to make me happy (ex. parking tickets).

The most recent change was me getting tired of him buying awful Starbucks beans from the grocery store (so they don’t count against his allowance) and telling him to put a blue bottle subscription on the family budget because gosh darn it we are rich and we do not need to be drinking burned coffee.  (He is fine with more robust coffee than I am.)   The bad beans are because he’s been saving up– he’s trying to decide between a 3D printer and an RC plane.  I am hoping for the printer because we already have at least two mostly unused RC flying objects in the house (3 if you count the one the kids have that can’t be controlled).  But it’s his money, so he gets to decide.

He likes his allowance because it lets him manage his own budget without affecting the general budget and I like it because there’s a predictable amount going out.

One thing we do sometimes is the cost of a low-end or average thing will come out of the joint account but if DH wants a really nice version the difference will come out of his allowance.  So if he wants an office chair, we’ll pick an amount that a reasonable office chair would cost (say $500), and if he wants a fancy $1K chair, the additional $500 would come out of his allowance.  We tend to do this with things like monitors or the one video projector replacement we’ve done.

I don’t have an allowance– I do all the money stuff so I don’t need to spend a predictable amount for me to do planning since it’s my spending and don’t have the need to spend all the money vs none of the money that DH has and I don’t get enjoyment out of the shopping process like he does. Generally this means we talk about every penny I spend that’s not on grocery/utilities/etc., although since we’ve gotten rich I’ve started making lots of $25 donations without telling DH about it right away.  I just don’t buy things frequently (my MIL is so generous with the kids that we rarely have to buy more than socks, underwear, and the occasional orchestra outfit).  I buy clothing in one fell swoop once every two years on a full day shopping trip and shoes every few years. The things we talk about are things we should talk about like what kind of stove to get or whether to replace the projector or what summer camp to send our kids to or to drive vs fly. Also I tend to put smaller things on my amazon wishlist throughout the year and people buy them for me at Christmas.

When we were younger and poorer we discussed more individual purchases, but these days we can afford to buy whatever can be bought at the grocery store out of the joint account. When I buy something I mention I’m going to do it and he says ok.  It’s not so much permission as discussion and informing. Money is a tool to provide happiness, and we want to balance what it can do in terms of present vs future consumption.

It really hasn’t been a big deal to discuss our spending beyond DH’s allowance, at least not once we instated the allowance.  Back when we couldn’t afford all our wants I’d have looked at our cash flow and emergency savings and I would have been able to say if it was going to put too much pressure on the joint account or if we could handle it.  There were some startup costs when we were first figuring things out and we were getting on the same page but it got easier.

How do you (and, if applicable, your partner) deal with discretionary spending?