In which #1 rants about Pinterest English assignments

@#$@#$#@

After increasingly stupid “book report” assignments for DC1’s monthly novel, including things like having to make 15 “matchbooks”, illustrating the outsides of each, and putting in a summary (not chapter summaries, but 15 summaries no matter how many chapters there are in the book) into each “matchbook”, DC1 and I were joking about what kind of ridiculous assignment the next one would be.  Hir teacher surpassed our wildest expectations (though, to be fair, the accompanying and unexpected “non-fiction” book report project included a few of our guesses, like making a rap song).

DC1 has been assigned a “t-shirt” book report project.  What is a t-shirt book report project?  Well, it’s something the student is supposed to design, but the parent is supposed to help with.  It’s supposed to be wearable art that your student will LOVE LOVE LOVE making and wearing.  It is definitely all over @#$ing pinterest.  It’s even one of the “11 best creative book report projects”.

The front of the shirt is supposed to be a hand drawn/ironed on/glued/painted copy of the cover or what you believe the copy should be.  The left sleeve is a picture of the main character.  The right sleeve has the “setting and the problem” including a picture of the setting.  The back somehow fits words and graphics of the student’s favorite scene as well as a summary of the book and the student’s opinion of the book.  Not sure how all of that is going to squish into a size 8/10 shirt, but maybe DC1 will write small.

UGH.

So maybe I have no joy in my life.  But!

1.  We had to immediately change books because there is no way DC1’s art abilities could do justice to Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.  After strongly considering Flatland but rejecting it for the misogyny, we settled on Fahrenheit 451 even though DC1 will be reading it again junior year of high school.

2.  The fricking assignment says that parents are supposed to do most of the art work except for doing the design itself(!)  DC1 is a better artist than either DH or I, and that is not saying anything at all.  Us helping is not going to make this @#$3 shirt look anything like the etsy-level ones shown in the pictures that the teacher sent home with the assignment [update:  these pictures aren’t even from her former students, they’re from the internets, taken without attribution] .  I don’t mind spending time helping with DC1’s math homework if zie needs it, or if zie ever wrote an essay for school I’d be happy to proofread it, but doing arts and crafts for my kid is a huge waste of my time.  (So I’m not going to– not that the teacher would be able to tell if I’d done it– my t-shirt art ability is pretty much frozen back to 1989.)  (Have I mentioned that DH and I suck at crafts?  Yes?  Multiple times?  That’s because it’s true.)

3.  WTF.  Student has to buy clothing and things to decorate the shirt with for a shirt that zie will not be caught dead with in public?  Seriously?  I doubt that Pinterest surveyed any students when it claims that the students will love creating and wearing these shirts.  Maybe 3rd graders would.  But not 7th graders.  And, as always, what about the kids for whom just going out and buying stuff has a measurable effect on the family finances?

4.  All of the assignments so far have involved spending a huge amount of time cramming text into bizarrely shaped spaces.  At least with the matchbook project DC1 got permission to type things out and paste them in, which cut down on the hassle considerably, but this t-shirt thing doesn’t have that option.  And it’s not like mistakes can be bleached out.  Writing on cloth is not fun!  Writing paragraphs on cloth is even less fun!  And I just don’t think the time spent on this is generating any useful skills.  (What about iron-ons, you ask?  Well, if we could get that to work with the printer, chances are that’s still not going to work with the amount of text needed, plus we don’t have an ironing board, though oddly, we do have an iron.)

(Speaking of no joy in my life:  Our new dean has decided that we must all wear ugly sweaters and participate in an ugly sweater contest for the annual holiday brunch.  I used to like the holiday brunch, but this year it’s getting a big side order of NOPE.)

DC1 hasn’t had a friend over or played a computer game in weeks because every moment of his non-school time has been spent making movie posters and matchbooks and crossword puzzles and on and on and on.  Not on reading books and writing essays about them, but on crafting cutesy projects.  It would be one thing if zie were learning art skills from these craft projects, but zie isn’t.  There’s no formal art instruction, just time consuming hassle.

And it’s not just DC1’s teacher. ALL of the English teachers across the entire grade are giving these stupid assignments in advanced English and regular English. So we can’t escape by switching teachers at the semester. At least 8th grade looks like the assignments are more of the “learn how to write” variety.

How do you feel about middle-school Pinterest projects?  What do you think she’s going to have in store for DC1 next month?

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A small rant about bad retirement options

It all started when we asked SIL if she could open a 529 account for her second child so we could contribute to it as we’d been contributing to that of her first child.

She told us that her financial advisor at work had told her not to open a second 529 plan.  I wondered at the quality of that advice as we’d recently done an ask-the-grumpies post on that very topic.

DH asked who her advisor was.  Turns out it’s some company named AXA.  If I say too much that’s terrible about AXA, their lawyers will likely contact us, just like they did the owner of the finance for teachers site.  AXA features (along with a similar company named Legend) in the  NYTimes article(s) below about 403(b) plans that are a terrible deal for teachers because of their high fees and lock-in periods.

It makes me so mad that we’re doing this to our teachers!  Especially since teachers from my parents’ generations have great defined benefit pensions, while those starting out now are, like the rest of us, largely dependent on putting money from our take-home pay into defined contribution plans.  It is terrible that for many of them, their only 403(b) options are eating away at their retirement savings with high fees and bad advising that pushes them into higher fee funds.  K-12 teachers (especially those who aren’t high school math teachers and maybe should know better) should be able to trust that their employer is going to pick out a good plan so all they have to do is save money for retirement.  Why can’t TIAA-Cref manage more K-12 403(b) plans?

I mean, it’s bad enough that my FIL’s company uses Edward Jones.  (This summer upon retirement, he informed me that he would be saving 10K/year rolling over his retirement assets to Vanguard on retirement.  My MIL noted that’s equivalent to 4-5 online classes she does not have to teach.  Made that generous $200 donation his EJ broker gave each year to his local hunting club fundraiser seem pretty negligible.)  I am so glad we got him that Bogleheads book on investing after his nth email asking us about some risky single stock his EJ broker was pushing on him.

Do you have decent 401(K)/403(b) retirement options at work?  How big are the fees on your plan?

Saving isn’t necessarily “easier” for people who save more: A deliberately controversial rant

One of those bloggers who makes a ton and spends a ton and is always complaining about debt/bragging about purchases/letting other people buy hir necessities often talks about how it’s just *easier* for other people to not spend money on luxuries and trips.  Other people just don’t enjoy such things as much as zie does.  Other people aren’t *really* sacrificing.  Other people don’t know what it’s like, having friends who like to go out and spend money, wanting to go on trips, wanting to buy nice things.

Every time I read something like this, I want to say @#$#@ you.  I mean seriously.  You are not a special snowflake.  @#$@# you.  Sacrifice is NOT fun.

It isn’t easier for me to not have things I want.  I don’t get my kicks from saving instead of spending.  I would *love* to take vacations and eat out all the time and live someplace amazing and buy all sorts of fancy stuff.  But I don’t.

Why don’t I?  Two main reasons:

First:  That feeling you’re always complaining about?  The one where your budget comes up short and you don’t know where the missing money is going to come from?  The one where you’re getting lots of sympathy from your blog followers?  That one.  I HATE that feeling.  I hate it so much that I have something called an emergency fund.  I hate it so much that I set my fixed expenses low enough that there’s some extra every month.  So much that we’ve never had consumer debt and we paid off our loans ages ago.

Second:  You know how your family bails you out when you don’t have money for a broken appliance or the kids’ tuition or a whatever the latest emergency is?  Yeah, I don’t want my parents, my parents who make less money than I do, to be bailing me out as an adult.  I don’t want them to @#$3ing sacrifice their wants because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my own.  Emergencies happen on a pretty regular basis and you should plan for them.  If you can’t, then you can’t really afford those trips with friends.

So yeah, @#$@ you.  Sacrifice sucks for everybody.  That’s why it’s called sacrifice.

And maybe it’s easy to spend less for people like Mr. Money Moustache or Frugal Woods, but you don’t have to be an early retirement extreme junkie to be responsible with your finances.  And even with MMM and FW, it may just be that their values for the environment or for early retirement are stronger than their desire to spend.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to spend, just that there’s something more important to them than spending.

It’s not easier for other people to not spend.  It’s easier for you to let people bail you out or to have those regular feelings of panic than it is for the rest of us.

Reject the double-bind of female success

As should be abundantly obvious from this election season if nothing else, women are condemned if they are anything less than perfect, anything less than 120% or more of their male counterparts.

On the other hand, they’re also generally hated if they seem to be perfect, seem to be better than average, or seem to have their excrement together.

You see this on the political stage.  You see this on mommy blogs.  It, as part of the patriarchy, is the water we drink and the air we breath.

Woman are constantly calling “perfect” women out saying no, they’re not actually perfect.  They secretly suck but just don’t show the parts where they suck.

In order to not be hated, women talk about how no no, they’re imperfect too.  Their house isn’t always tidy.  Or whateverthef patriarchal standard they’re not meeting, no matter how successful they are in other spheres.

And other women are soooo grateful.  You are so brave to talk about your imperfections.  This makes me feel so much better.

It’s a common narrative and it sucks donkey gonads.

When you see someone is successful, here’s what you should try to do.

  1. Think about whether or not this is something you care about for yourself.  If you don’t care, then don’t compare yourself along that dimension.  Don’t hate the woman because she can bake or craft if you don’t care about baking or crafting.
  2. If you do care, first decide if this is something you really care about or if it’s just something that patriarchy makes you think you should care about (see: having a clean house).  If the latter, then refer to #1.
  3. If the former, then instead of hating on the other woman, instead of trying to cut her down to size, see if you can get tips on how to do it better yourself. If that’s something you want to spend time doing. Share your joy of doing whatever it is.  It’s not a zero-sum game.

Don’t get your self-value from comparisons to other people.  Work on yourself.  Value your progress.  Compare yourself to your ideal and work on getting there.  Don’t negatively compare yourself to other people.  Especially not along lines that have nothing to do with your own values and priorities.  Or even if they do match your values and priorities.  Move yourself forward, don’t push other people back.

We want the world to be a better place.  There’s enough pie for everyone if we keep making the pie bigger.  No need to force someone to take a smaller slice if it means a smaller pie.

Smash the patriarchy.

When economists prefer tossing economic theory to being woke

I seriously do not understand how so many economists (white male etc.) think that “cultural differences” explain things that are easier explained by “different constraints.”

As if we’re not all rational actors, only the white guys are.  Everyone else is doing worse because they are worse.  They’re either low quality or have bad culture.  If everyone acted like a white guy, then everybody would be doing as well as white guys.  As if.

It’s like, do you not listen to your own theory? How is it that when someone who isn’t a rich white guy is involved, all of a sudden you become a poor quality sociologist (who doesn’t really understand sociology)?

Are posts that are “raw” and dramatic more honest than posts that are happy or emotionally even?: A deliberately controversial post

Not necessarily.

Just like the accusations that (some? all?) people are making up their happy perfect lives, there’s also no doubt bloggers who are either dramatizing or possibly even making up their own drama so that they have something to write about.  Some people who seem as if their lives are trainwrecks seem that way not because they necessarily have horrible things happening to them, but because, like the (possibly fictional) “perfect” bloggers, they want attention.  They love being thanked for their “honest” and “raw” posts.

So they talk about fighting with their horrible lazy awful partners.  They talk about their horrible children.  They talk about their problems with money that they have created by taking on too much debt.  Some (that you will occasionally read news stories about) go so far as to make up diseases and put up crowd-funding.

It is true that there are people stuck in horrible relationships, or whose children have real psychological problems.  There are people who, through no fault of their own have money problems.  There are people who have life-threatening and chronic diseases.  And some folks with real problems do blog about them.

However, the Venn diagram of having a real problem and blogging about drama is not an “honest” and “raw” single circle.  There’s overlap, but it is far from complete.

Drama posts can be just as fictional as “perfect” posts.  And just as likely, some “perfect” bloggers are not lying about things going well for them.  Honest writing and happy writing may be completely uncorrelated.

Your turn, Grumpeteers.

Dear “broke” person on the internet,

[Ed note:  This somewhat mean-spirited post is from an embarrassing number of years back and has been hanging out in drafts waiting for it to no longer be connectable to any specific person and for us to be out of money Monday posts.  Did the person in question ever turn things around?  We have no idea!]

You make a lot of money.  I know this because you keep telling people how much you and your spouse make.  I was shocked the first time I saw it because you are always complaining about your debt (and how the world has been out to get you).  Until very recently, your family made more money than either of ours and lives in a lower cost living area.

But you also have spent a lot of money and you keep spending money.  For example, you bought a house that you should not have bought when you had major debt that you should have attacked first.  You got upset when your readers told you not to buy the house, and you bought it anyway.  Same thing with replacing your car with a fancy new model because cars get old after 6 years.

You need to pay down that debt so you stop wasting money on the interest so that you can actually life the lifestyle for your income-level.  You can’t live that 100K+/year income life until you get rid of that debt.  You have to live on less than that.  I’m not saying to give up the private school, but you don’t have to live in as nice a house or as nice a neighborhood or drive as nice cars or replace them so frequently. I imagine there are a lot of other luxuries that you think are necessities and entitlements.  They’re not.

You are probably not going to be able to stop spending so much without help, but I doubt you’re actually going to seek help.  I doubt that because your readers have suggested plenty of places to get help, from books to Dave Ramsey classes to certified financial planners, and you’ve done nothing.  You’re probably just going to keep complaining about your debt, bragging about your high income, and complaining about how the world is out to get you.

There’s probably something psychological going on.  And I should feel sorry for you, but seriously, you make @$@#$@ing lot of money.  A lot of people would pay down their @#$#ing debt and not feel so entitled to the house they couldn’t afford and whatever else it is that you’re wasting your high income on.  Then they’d have paid down their debt by now and would be able to live the life you’re living while saving for retirement!  But you’re going to have to make sacrifices at some point, and the longer you keep this high interest debt the more it’s going to keep dragging down your finances.

Which is why, of course, we’ve stopped reading you.