On life and planners

Yesterday after work I went to Staples and got myself a small planner.  I’m gonna get my life together!  (Well, ok, *sort of* together.)

It has a pretty cover.

In my previous job, I had a google calendar on my work account that other people could see, and I could see theirs.  This made meeting planning more easy.  For personal life, I wrote things on scraps of paper.

In my academic job before that, I had a large paper planner with 1 page per day and I wrote EVERYTHING in there, which was the only way I stayed sane.  Haircuts, office hours, meetings, to-do lists, deadlines, birthdays, everything.

Now, I have too many scraps of paper and work calendars aren’t great.  I was hoping to share an electronic one with my boss, but she has an idiosyncratic system so that’s not gonna work.  So!  For the first time in like FOUR YEARS I am going back to an integrated calendar for work and life.  It’ll be on paper so I don’t have to log into anything to see it wherever I am.  And it’s pretty.  I discovered I needed it when I (finally!) made a haircut appointment and had no good place to write it down.

Isn’t it great how many varieties of little notebooky things there are these days???

It’s really hard to find perfection.  I spent a long time at Staples.  The good news is, they have many customizable and build-your-own options there, so you can put in the types of pages you want.  (task-planning?  to-do list?  month-per-page?  day-per-page?  etc.)

I think there’s some metaphors for life in the above.

#2 has a Moleskine notebook that isn’t perfect, but she’s satisficing.  (Perfect was the free calendars that various professional groups used to give away each year before everyone had online calendars on their phones instead.)  Her DH keeps all the family stuff on Google calendars, but #2 hasn’t switched over yet (plus her work is still on Outlook calendar(!)), though she does have google calendar on her computers and phone.  There’s still something nice about being able to flip through a paper book to see things and to be able to write things down with a pen instead of thumbs (plus I’m bad about keeping my phone on me– I often leave it attached to a charger, whereas my dayplanner generally stays in its dedicated spot in my Binh bag when not in use).

How do you plan your life, your work and everything?  Are you old school paper?  100% electronic?  100% memory?  100% personal assistant?  Do you integrate work and life or have separate systems for separate spheres?  How has your planning changed over the years? 

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Options for handling the long unpaid summer

Academics and teachers are often on 9 month contracts rather than 12 month.  That means that there’s often not a paycheck coming in for 3 months out of the year.  For folks used to budgeting the 9 month paychecks as if they were 12 month, that can be a problem.

There are a number of different ways that people deal with the summer months.

Let the school do the math

Perhaps the easiest (though not economically optimal) is to ask the school to prorate the 9 month salary and pay it over 12 months.  Not all schools offer this option, though some offer it as the default (it is very common for K-12 teachers, for example).  The benefit to doing this is that no planning needs to go into this option.  The negative is that you get three months worth of income later than you would have otherwise, which means you miss out on debt repayment savings or investment gains while you wait.  Back when she was an academic, #2 chose this option. She calculated the interest she could earn on the extra money if she got it over 9 months, and it was something like $11. She decided it was worth $11 to her in order to get the same amount of money every month.

Get more $

An attractive option is to earn additional summer money, although this requires extra work.  Summer money can come in the form of teaching summer classes, taking on additional administrative roles, or getting summer money through grants.  For people who do not have university options, it is possible to take on another job or make some additional money via consulting.  #1 loves getting grant money, but it doesn’t happen every year.

Another attractive option is to be married to someone who makes enough money to live on during the summer without having to save, although this requires either luck in love or sacrifice.  This option requires not lifestyle inflating to the point where you cannot live on the spouse’s salary alone for three months.  This summer #1 is sort of doing that, but with a hefty back-up emergency fund that she’s been saving to refill after our most recent car purchase.

Save when you’re paid

For many of us, saving is the best (or only) option.  There are different ways to save.

If you generally make a lot more than your expenses, you can just save what you don’t spend and then figure out what to do with the leftover money in the Fall when you get your first paycheck of the new school year.  This method requires you to be putting away more than your required summer expenses during the school year and to be able to moderate your optional expenses based on how much you have in the bank.  This method is basically what we did the first few years when we were living like graduate students on professor salaries.  That additional money would end up going into IRAs every October.  Ironically, this is how we handled money when we didn’t have as much money because we also didn’t have enough of an emergency fund to have many luxuries built into our budget.  As our savings and income grew, we were able to take more risks with spending (ex. eating out once or twice a week), and our monthly spending has become more predictable.

If your gap between income and spending isn’t that large, then you’ll need to do some math.  You can figure out the expenses needed for 3 months, by taking your annual expenses, dividing by 12 and multiplying by 3, though if any big bills come due in the summer (property taxes, life insurance, etc.) those will also need to be taken into consideration.  Then you can save up until you hit that target number.  Alternatively, you can divide the total amount needed by 9 and put the same amount away every month, possibly via an auto-deposit.  #1 saves up to the Target number and then pads it with some additional emergency fund (the emergency fund part is larger when her DH is unemployed than when he is employed– likely this summer most of that money will just roll over to next year).

If you have the resources or have problems with impulse control, you can put money in CDs or Termshares that come due when you need the money in the summer.  Some credit unions also allow “Christmas clubs,” where they automatically deduct money from your account that you can’t touch until a pre-determined date, that are more general than just saving for Christmas, though they generally charge you money rather than giving you interest for the option.  Back in grad school when #1 got paid 2x/year, she put a significant portion of her first paycheck into a CD due 9 months later so that we’d have money to live on during the summer (interests rates were high and my income was low, so the $200 or so that we got in interest via doing that was highly welcome).

If you have a lot of resources, you can undrip dividends from stocks during unpaid months, though it’s not clear this would be optimal unless you have a lot of wealth but not a lot of income (maybe if you’re one of those mythical trust-fund humanities profs that people on the Chronicle forums loved to complain about).

Trick yourself

Sometimes it is just hard to save money when you have it.  When that happens, it is likely that the summer will be leaner than it should be.  There are a few ways to trick yourself into spending necessary money when you have it so you don’t have to pay it when it runs out.  For example, you can prepay required summer expenses like insurance or summer camps during the paid months.  Another thing #1 used to do when money was tighter was to put off getting reimbursements for things like daycare or credit card rewards until Summer– those little credit card rewards were really helpful when checking got low near the end.  Another trick is to put reimbursements and other “found” money in a bank account that is separate from your main one and then only tap it when you need it or make regular transfers from it in the summer.   #1 is a big fan of hiding money from herself in online savings accounts as a way to decrease unnecessary spending.

Those of you on 9 or 10 month contracts, give or take, how do you handle the unpaid months?

Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member

Susan asks:

it looks like I may interview for [a new job] soon, so here’s a somewhat urgent question: do you have suggestions for how to sharpen up my interview skills (like the chalk talk) as an already-tenured faculty? The last time I interviewed was as a postdoc, so there were plenty of coaching opportunities, but now I need to be covert. I think I’ll be ok with the talk itself, but it’s all the other soft skills

Disclaimer:  neither of us has applied for a tenured job after being tenured.  #2 has applied for non-tenure-track jobs after, but #1 has really only done one year faculty development leave stints.  However, #1 has been through the hiring process for the other side about a bazillion times both for her department and for related interdisciplinary departments that sometimes need to call in more (female or maybe just well-behaved?) economists for their searches.

Really the job talk is probably the most important thing, so if you’re ok with that, you’re ok!  Depending where you are in your career and what they have asked you to do, you’ll either want to be presenting a new piece of research or giving them an overview of a big chunk of your research agenda (as well as how it fits into your teaching and service).  If they just want a piece of research, you should easily be able to get people to listen to your practice talk just by telling them you need to practice for your upcoming talk.  If you’re doing one that has an overview of your entire agenda, you may want to stick with folks outside your department and/or close friends if you’re keeping things on the down low.

In terms of other soft skills… honestly, I don’t think you will need to practice them.  You’re an already-tenured faculty.  You don’t *need* this other new job.  You’ve most likely been on the other side of interviews and know more about what matters and what doesn’t matter for applicants.  (I am embarrassed now by what I thought mattered but nobody actually cares about!)  Just be a polite slightly more extroverted version of yourself (if you’re an introvert) and you should be fine.  Talk about research and teaching and service.  If it’s for an administrator position, talk to people at the department in advance so you have ideas for what the issues and concerns for the unit are going forward.  It’s ok not to have ideas and to just talk about how you make decisions based on faculty input, but you should be aware of any landmines as well as being able to do some discussion of the pros and cons of major issues.  If it’s for a faculty position, just pretend you’re there to give a seminar but add some more questions about things that you care about, whatever they may be.  Senior hires give so much more power to the candidate and are so much more relaxed than junior hires.

But maybe you’re wondering what kinds of questions you should be asking?  I get a lot of questions about the public and private schools (and I volunteer that information for everyone even if they don’t ask), housing, food, restaurants, distance to the nearest city.  More senior candidates feel more comfortable asking about quality of life information than do junior candidates.  I don’t know if they realize it is important or if it actually is more important or if they feel more comfortable signaling personal information.  Additionally more senior candidates are more likely to have make-or-break things– if X isn’t met, then they don’t really want the offer, and they’re happy to let us know that.  I also get more questions about how people in the department get along and how everyone gets along with the chair and the dean and so on, though sometimes that signals that the person is coming from a more dysfunctional place which can be a bit of a red flag– it’s usually best to signal that you’re happy where you are but you’re excited about this new opportunity for some other reason (like less snow or family or it’s ranked higher or you have friends on the faculty etc.), but not always.  Other than that, talking about interesting research, yours, theirs, other people’s, is always good (unless, of course, it’s a department where nobody does research).  And it’s easier to do as a senior person when you realize you don’t have to know the minutia of every person you meet’s cv than it is when you’re junior and don’t realize it’s ok to ask about things you don’t know or understand (or maybe that was just me).

#2 notes that for the two jobs she’s gotten post-tenure, the interviews were more like conversations.  She wasn’t even really aware the one for the second job was an interview.

So, we don’t really know, but we’ll throw this up to grumpy nation, and maybe send a signal over to historiann to ask for a boost.

Grumpeteers, any advice for Susan?

A mostly unscheduled weekend snapshot

One weekend:

Saturday:

Extended morning cuddle time.
DH and DC1 go grocery shopping:  8-9:45
DH takes DC1 to robotics (last Saturday before tournament, DH is there because the last two times DC1 went by hirself we got complaints from the teacher about DC1 wandering around):  10-4
I take DC2 out for lunch:  11am-whenever
Kids chores (I help with workbooks) and homework
I do so much laundry and dishes (kids fold their own clothing– usually DH joins too but I did his stuff while he was at robotics) and made a bunch of food (start beet salad, freeze the rocky road liquid that DC2 and DH made the previous night).
Finished and scheduled a bunch of blog posts.
DC1 and DH watch Paddington Bear in preparation for seeing Paddington 2 in theaters. It is too scary for DC1 and we spend the next few nights with hir complaining about being too scared to sleep. Paddington 2 is nixed.

Sunday:

Extended morning cuddle time.
DH does online gaming with friends (I help kids with chores and putter with other chores): 9-12
DH helps my students with a tricky programming problem:  12-1
I finish making beet salad and make tuna noodle casserole.
DH and DC2 make angel food muffins with the eggwhites leftover from the ice cream we made Friday/Saturday.
Did a bunch of financial/family chores (2018 IRAs, ordered a book from the library for DC1, emailed about getting on the middle school math practice mailing list, etc.  I had a list of about 9 things that needed to get done sometime that weekend and worked on them in between answering math questions.)
DH and I kiss a bunch.
Cranked through some work emails in preparation for Monday.
Listened to a bunch of 1960s and 1970s songs and sang and danced. Taught the kids the mashed potato and a few arm moves from the 1970s (that I learned in kindergarten in California…) DC1 showed us hir preferred hopping dance move. DC2 has an impressive group of dance moves. I realize that I really need to wear a sports bra if I’m going to twist like we did last summer.
Help my sister with some activism stuff.

I just cannot schedule weekends.  It makes me really unhappy to have them scheduled.  I could be getting more work done, and before kids I worked 6 days a week, but I have a really hard time doing that now.  DC2 especially is really good at interrupting me when I’m trying to get something done that requires thinking.  I really enjoy unstructured weekends.

How do you deal with weekends?  Feel free to link up to your previous weekend scheduling posts if applicable.

In which #1 ends up singing about Dunning Kruger Homesteaders

#2:  My FIL watches a reality television show where this guy from Alaska goes around and saves people who tried homesteading but are doing a horrible job at it

#1: I’ve seen commercials for that. It makes me want to laugh in Schadenfreude.

#2: He recounted one of the episodes with a TSTL* couple for us. It was a bit astonishing. They’d planned like Pa Ingalls, which his to say not at all.  [*too stupid to live]

#1: I have spent enough time on a farm to know the daily slog is NOT for me.  (I hope they get Lyme disease) [ed:  not really]

#2: Even if they’d been doing everything perfectly, their land wasn’t big enough to homestead on, and they were not doing anything right. I don’t understand people who would want to homestead. It takes up so much space and it’s so much labor. Economies of scale! Comparative advantage! Efficiency! Gains from trade!

#1: I mean, you CAN build your own house but you should be some sort of engineer first. And some sort of agricultural specialist. And an herbalist. And a veterinarian. And, and, and….
“Flush toilets exist but we’d rather play house in the backyard until we die of dysentery.”
Let’s make soap! First, lye…(ugh, lye soap)
When ur animals inevitably die, you can boil their hooves for glue….
Also, I wonder if they know what poison oak looks like…
Did you know that goats can get polio and pigs can get rickets? If not, u shouldn’t be homesteading….

#2: How do you know so much about homesteading?

#1: I watch a lot of shows about veterinarians in rural areas.
If you have cows, you gotta know the right (and wrong!) way to pull a calf out alive.
Can you properly sterilize and stitch a wound? If not, don’t homestead. Can you set a simple broken bone? If not, don’t homestead.

*whistles nonchalantly off to my appliance-equipped kitchen*

Also if you hire labor, you’d best know your tax law!

*whistles another tune about rabies and tetanus combined*

This song goes, “Would you like to drain an abscess in an animal’s hooooooof?”

dum de dum, giardia doot de doo….

On knowing what’s out there: loosely connected thoughts from vacation with the relatives

Over the holidays, DH’s newly retired parents kept talking about how truly blessed they are.  None of their kids are in jail.  All are gainfully employed.  They themselves have more money than they ever dreamed and will actually be able to increase their quality of life in retirement (or rather, FIL now has both time and money for all those hunting trips he’s been wanting to do), at least while the stock market is booming.  (A couple of weeks ago, FIL called up to ask DH to ask me whether or not it was ok to have 90% stocks/10% bonds…)

DH’s relative that we’ve talked about before is not doing so well.  He’s got arthritis, which makes being a construction worker difficult.  His oldest two both had children as teenagers (the oldest is living at home with her toddler, the second moved West with her two kids to live with the biological mother who abandoned her as a baby).  His wife is recovering from brain cancer.  His third attempted suicide via electricity socket recently and is depressed because he’s too blind to legally drive.  His fourth has gotten in with a bad crowd and started stealing from family and was recently on suicide watch at a hospital.  We didn’t hear much about the fifth this time around except that she was driving the oldest’s car when it got totaled by an uninsured driver (which means the relative is now chauffeuring everybody around).  Also one of his two much younger brothers (his brothers are the same age as his oldest daughters) has been jailed for possession of stolen materials.

Focusing a bit on that third kid– he graduated from high school last year and the plan was to take the year off working (he’s washing dishes at a restaurant) and then spend the next year at community college.  Community college is about an hour away, so he would have to be driven.  He’s really depressed that he will never be able to drive and it’s not clear that he’s actually going to do community college next year, or ever.  He’s smart and has the grades and GPA to go to the flagship school or one of the closer regionals.  The flagship’s admission deadline has come and gone and the closer regionals have passed their priority deadlines but still have rolling admissions.  Over break, he and DH talked about careers and DH tried to convince him to just fill out one of the two page regional applications for either of the closest schools (while DH was there to pay the $40 admission fee), but no luck.

And the thing is, this kid has never been anywhere with public transportation (or even taxis!).  He has no idea what it’s like to be someplace where you can take yourself where you need to go without having to depend on the kindness of someone else to drive you.  It would be best for him to skip community college and to just go straight to a 4 year college with an extensive bus system and counselors.   He should be eligible for plenty of need-based financial aid and what’s left we can pay.  But… he doesn’t know that’s best.  He doesn’t know what is best and his parents don’t have 4-year college degrees (his mom never finished high school) and his dad has been on his own since 16, so they’re letting him do what he wants since he’s officially an adult.

Growing up I knew I wanted to be upper-middle-class because I knew people whose parents were upper-middle-class and I had an aunt and uncle who were judges, and I thought, I want that.  I want to not have to worry about money and to have the temperature always set to something comfortable.  DH never had those thoughts, but his parents were doing pretty well compared to everyone else in his family, and at boarding school he learned a lot about what all was out there.  And his mother had a wide variety of experiences growing up and she told me this most recent trip that she always thought it important to make sure her kids saw places outside the small town, so they went to camps (or in DH’s case, boarding school) and visited relatives (from her side of the family) up north and so on.  She also took them to get professional career testing before college and told them not going was not an option (for DH she also controlled where he was allowed to apply), just as her father had told her that not going to college was not an option.

Going back to DH’s family’s place at Christmas does tend to make one feel #blessed because it reminds us how well we’re doing and how well DH’s immediate family is doing.  It also forces the comparison of how hard it is for so much of America to get ahead outside of our highly educated McMansion-owning bubble.  DH’s relative is plenty smart, but his life diverged dramatically from DH’s at 16 when he got married and left home and had two kids.  But there were also a lot of factors that led up to that point and after– his parents also had two kids by age 18.  Our kids’ lives will diverge even more dramatically.  His kids are not our kids, and we don’t know how to help, or if we even can help.   So, we will continue to feel #blessed and to keep things in perspective while doing what we can to make it easier for poor kids more generally to get ahead.  We have our oxygen masks on, but there are still a lot of people out there who need assistance with theirs, and even more who don’t have access to oxygen masks at all.

Being breadwinner

can be stressful

Right now #2 and I are both breadwinners of our respective family units.  In case you were wondering about #2, after her FIL died, her DH got very depressed and is taking a break from paid employment.  There’s probably a bit more than that, but it’s not my story to tell.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been the sole income of the family– if you recall, DH quit his tenure-track job without anything lined up, so for a few months we weren’t sure what our income situation was going to be like until he got employed.

One of the first things I’ve noticed about being breadwinner is that I feel the need to increase my income.  Asking for raises, getting grants, taking consulting opportunities, all of these seem to be more important now than when DH is also bringing in cash.  Getting my research done and out so that I can be more attractive should we need to move takes on greater urgency.

Combined with this, I let DH take on greater responsibilities at home.  We already have a pretty egalitarian household, and when DH isn’t earning, he starts taking care of more of the daily and weekly chores, especially kitchen stuff and chauffeuring.  And I feel less guilty about him doing so.  I imagine this is how some women get shunted into home production even when things start out equivalent.  I do spend more time on our finances when I’m the only one earning, but it doesn’t make up for the time I’m no longer spending on regular chores.

I do like having DH take care of things at home, but I also like the stress of not being the only person earning money.  I think I like it best when we’re both enjoying our jobs and earning a lot of money.  I would like it least if I disliked my job but had to keep my job because mine was the only income.  My next least favorite would be being the homemaker if DH was the sole breadwinner and hated his job.  I’m not sure how I would rate hating my job vs. being a homemaker if DH was happy with his job.  I guess it might depend on how easily I could find a new job in that situation.  I suspect that I would rather have each of us make 150K than have DH make 300K with me required to make nothing.  I might prefer making 300K myself and having DH at home to either scenario though.  (Note:  I am happy to test any of these three propositions!)  Smaller dollar amounts would probably lead to different preferred combinations.

As we’ve noted before, this time we’re in a better position than last time DH stopped bringing in income.  As I look through that old post discussing what to do with finances, I am happy that we don’t have to move so much around.  There’s no mortgage to stop prepayment on.  No private school to save tuition for, no mother’s helpers to pay (though we do have summer camp and daycare throughout the summer).  No IRAs to fund (though if DH’s jobless situation continues, I will be eligible to contribute again).  And we have a nice cash cushion.  My plan is to convert this cash cushion into tax-deferred savings (by continuing to max out my 403(b) and 457, even as we dip into savings) with the thought that doing so will make us more likely to be eligible for financial aid when DC1 goes off to college.

I also don’t know how long I am going to be the breadwinner.  DH’s company is supposed to be getting back on track in July, but i’s have not yet been dotted nor t’s crossed on the contract that will put the company back to work for the next couple of years.  We can wait, as can DH’s direct boss, but much of the rest of the company cannot afford to take more than one month unpaid.  If waiting for the contract lasts too long, the company might just go under and the contract will fall through entirely.  My bread-winning this time around may end up being longer term than we had hoped.

Have you ever been the sole breadwinner of a multiple-person household?  How do things change?  Do you feel stressed?  Do you have a family income combination that you prefer (breadwinner/homemaker/dual-income, etc)?