“Pretending” to be a Darth Vader husband is not cool or funny.

There’s this personal finance blogger who often “pretends” to be a jerk to his wife.  It’s a running gag with him and he puts in her commentary as editors notes.

For one of these he spent the entire post complaining about how much laundry she does.  It read very much like a painful other side of a captain awkward post.  So in the comments I told him it wasn’t funny, and explained why.

Two days later we got a bunch of blog hits from him mocking me for calling him Darth Vader (which I didn’t—I was explaining why that humor isn’t funny in the context of Captain Awkward).  Turns out he elevated my comment to a post, twisted it, and accused me of reading incomprehension because he didn’t understand I was complaining about his failed attempt at humor.

So, in short, “pretending” to be a jerk to your wife in a public forum isn’t funny.  Back in the day more people probably thought Ralph Cramden’s  repeated line from the honeymooners about sending his wife Alice to the moon with a punch right in the kisser was funny.  Now we are less likely to laugh about threatened spousal abuse.  I hope that one day doods like this guy will stop their controlling husband shtick because nobody finds controlling husbands acceptable anymore.  Until then, these kinds of posts further the patriarchy by making the unacceptable seem acceptable.  And that’s really not funny at all.

Scalzi says the failure mode of clever is asshole, and misogynistic humor fits right in there.  Even if the woman is “in” on the joke.


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….

Ask the grumpies: What is real when it comes to nutrition advice?

Sandy L. asks:

Nutrition advice. What is real. I find it hilarious that eggs and coconut oil were such villains in the 90s and now they are “the perfect food”. I bought an old cookbook a few months back and it was talking about avoiding coconut oil. It made me laugh.
Now fat is okay but sugar is bad.

First, a tiny rant from #1, “In which research on “nutrition” is nonsense.”:

#1: haha: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3793920/

#2: People underestimate how much they eat?

#1: People write articles based on stupid, meaningless data and then use those articles to influence policy recommendations.

#2: The nhanes is the best information we have for a lot of things.

#1: It’s true. But the nutrition stuff is messed up. When asked how they eat, people misreport. Then the researchers convert the amount of various foods into calorie amounts, using incorrect databases that are filled with wrong info. Then they change methodology. Then reports are based on those data…

Most of the nutrition database info (about how many calories are in the reported food intake) hasn’t been actually checked scientifically.

For example, on the plane I had some beef. What cut was it? I have no idea. But different cuts of beef can have TWICE as much kcal as another cut. Which one do they write down? it’s kind of random!

It’s a good thing our policy is so coherent… oh wait…

People should also read Dances with Fat.
Enjoy, Grumpeteers!

#2 notes that you may be interested in reading this article about the history behind sugar and nutrition .  A bunch of people in high school had/got to read a book about the vast Sugar conspiracy for their world history class at our high school back in the 1990s.  It had some pretty horrifying stuff in it about sugar and tea and trade.  The capitalist conspiracy is ancient and vast!  The sugar dynasty is powerful and has been for centuries.

But…. there’s also non-political-economy reasons we don’t know a ton about nutrition.  The first is that nutrition is incredibly complex and there’s a lot of heterogeneity so it’s just hard to tease things out.  Generally, we start with looking at correlational evidence from places like the Framingham nurse’s study.  Those correlations provide headlines about eggs being bad when it may actually be the nitrates from bacon (eaten with eggs) or a million other things.  But correlations are a good place to start when you’re trying to figure out how things work because it narrows down the testing frame.  Then after correlational studies we can move into animal trials or human trials.  Generally that’s when things don’t pan out– there really wasn’t anything wrong with eggs, so randomized controlled trials failed to find anything wrong with eating eggs.  There was correlation but not causation.

What is real?  Who knows!  It seems likely that eating whole grains and unprocessed food and getting fiber and nutrients is a good thing.  But maybe not for everyone and maybe not to extremes.  I’m interested in seeing where all the research on gut flora ends up going.  (And, TBH, I’m really interested in getting better smelling underarm flora…)  Should you drink milk or eat meat?  Who knows!  Me, I generally listen to what I’m craving and pay attention to how I feel after.  That doesn’t always steer me right– sometimes I lose my ability to comfortably digest say, beef or raw veggies and that ability has to be rebuilt, but it’s the best idea I’ve got.


(Mis-)Adventures in trying to get a whole house water filter.

I’m allergic to the water in our area.  If I take a bath or the shower filter wears out, I end up with super-flakey skin and sometimes it itches.  Generally we handle this with a shower filter in the master shower and a sink filter for drinking water in the kitchen.  But then I started getting an itchy spot on my back where one of my bra straps hits (sort of on the right side), and we thought maybe instead of a blemish (there’s no bumps) or some kind of neurological problem it might be me becoming allergic to cloth, specifically the water it’s washed in (we’ve already narrowed down laundry soaps I can use).  I’m not convinced that the itchy spot is from the water, but we figured this was something to try.  Add to that that DC2 seems to have inherited a lot of my skin allergies, and the praise one of my colleagues who is allergic to chlorine gives his whole house water filter, we decided this was worth trying.

In fact, we decided it was worth trying back this summer when DH started getting paid again.  (This was our celebratory purchase.)  We decided it so much that I ended up buying a whole house water filter on “60%” sale from aquasana off amazon (quotes because it’s always on at least a “40%” sale).  From online searching, we determined it would probably cost another $700 -$1K to get the thing installed, and we were fine with that.

We still don’t have whole house filtered water.

My colleague had told us it was so easy.  They just hook up to the waterline and put it in your garage, he said.

My colleague does not have a corner lot where the garage is on the other side of the house (with the pipes imbedded in the concrete slab under the house).  There is no real feasible way to put the filter in the garage.  It has to be attached where the waterline comes into the house.

So we had the plumbers out and they said first we’d have to find the water line, which they could do but they didn’t have the specialized equipment so that would mean digging up a good portion of the lawn searching for it.  So they recommended a service who doesn’t do plumbing but just finds leaks.  That guy found our water line… and a leak (a real leak– that part of the lawn was definitely much greener than the rest of the lawn, we just hadn’t noticed).

So we had the plumbers out again to fix the leak.  Our home water pressure improved noticeably.  They still needed to get back to us on the cost of installation of the water filter.

Then weather happened and the plumbers couldn’t do non-emergency stuff for a while.

Then school happened and we didn’t have time to contact the plumber.

Then our sprinkler system started leaking, so we had to have a new sprinkler repair person out.

Then some hose connections started leaking (at which point we began to suspect that the increased pressure was busting out wherever it could bust) and we had the plumbers out again and they were able to get us an estimate on the whole house filter while they were out.

Then we accepted the estimate and made an appointment.

Then the two plumbers who were supposed to come out couldn’t because one had a wife in the hospital and one had a baby in the hospital (both emergencies, though with the baby it was a preemie so not entirely unexpected and the prognosis and eventual outcome was good).

Then they rescheduled for the next week when I was out of town for a conference.  They came out and fixed another hose connection thingy.

Upon further inspection, they realized that the hot water closet didn’t have enough room for both the water heater already housed there and the whole house water filter and told DH to get a shed.  DH took the day off work and went out and purchased a $300 ugly grey plastic shed and spent $30 on truck rental to get it home.  Then he put it together.  Then he realized he’d need a concrete floor or something to use it for the filter.  Then he realized the plumbers wouldn’t be coming back that day.  Then he realized the shed violated our HOA agreement.  [Update:  he has since resold the shed on Cragislist and so is only out $130, not $330, and we no longer have the ugly thing in our backyard waiting for the HOA to notice it.]

After much discussion, we decided to contact the HOA architectural committee for advice.  They didn’t give advice (the helpful lady had stepped down and was replaced by a guy who spent a long time explaining to DH why rules are important) but they gave us a horrifically lengthy and detailed document we would have to fill out if we wanted to get a shed (only wood are allowed, and boy are they pricey and difficult to find as small as we would want).

Then Thanksgiving happened.  Then Christmas happened.  And today is New Year’s.

So now we have three options which may or may not work.

  1.  (The one we’re leaning towards):  Install the filter without the pro kit (looks something like this but is 10-year, not 6-year).  This cuts the width from ~44 in to ~22 in and might allow it to share the outdoor closet with our water heater.  We don’t know yet and would have to have the plumbers out again.
  2. Remove our tanked water heater (which is going to have to be replaced in a year or two anyway) and replace it with a tankless water heater.  Then install the entire filter.  This should be possible, but it may cost another $2K, one K for the tankless water heater, another $1K for installation.  We have to do more research on this.  If money were no option, we’d be in the ideal situation for tankless as this water heater services two bathrooms and nothing else (meaning if we all took showers and baths at the same time we’d only be using 8 gallons max) and we’re in a warm climate.   Apparently the installation of tankless water heaters could be difficult or could be easy depending on where the hookups are and how big the tubes are.  Some newer tankless heaters have more standard hookups than did older models.  But we have to figure out which is which.  (Our garage water heater replacement will be another tank because we like running the dishwasher and clothes washer at the same time.)
  3. We could keep trying to get a shed just for the water filter.

Am I wishing that I’d held off buying this filter?  YES.  Especially since my back hasn’t had that itchy spot for a while (it went away whenever I traveled, so right now my primary suspect is a different environmental allergen).  And the plumbers aren’t returning our calls.

We could cut our losses at this point and either try to return the filter at a loss or sell it on Craigslist at a loss.  But it would also be nice to take a bath from time to time without having to shower afterward (or regretting it later).

So I had hoped to have a happy post about how great whole house water filters are and how it’s changed my life etc…. but… instead I have this warning post about how corner lots and HOA suck and man, home improvement sure can suck away a lot of time and energy.

Have you ever gotten a whole house water filter?  How about a tankless water heater?  Any advice on getting a small (under 6 feet) wooden shed (and does it need a concrete bottom)?

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?

There really is a big difference between comfortable middle class income and upper middle class income

One of the things that annoyed me about some advice for working women is the insistence that if you were making more than 100K you should just buy all the things that make life easier, with an underlying current of it being ridiculous if you didn’t.  The person giving this advice, of course, has a husband who makes substantially more than 100K on top of her own 100K+ income.

During our brief time when DH and I were both employed full-time and we were making upper-middle-class $$ (remember all those irritating posts on “what should we do with this extra money now that we’ve maxed out our 401K” etc.), it became really easy to see why when you’re making that much it is easy to believe that just spending money is the solution.  When you’re making upper-middle-class incomes for long enough (and don’t go crazy with spending on really big ticket items) you really can just say yes to everything.  You don’t have to worry about having a large precautionary cushion because in the case of an emergency, next month’s income will refill the gap, or maybe the month after that.  The answer is always, “yes, we can afford that — even if the roof falls in tomorrow, we’ll be fine.”

But now we’re back to having a comfortably middle-class income on my income alone.  Technically we’re in the long unpaid summer, so we have 0 income, but even with DH employed I saved up for the unpaid summer in case he lost his job (and in this case we saved a bit more than that because we knew there was going to be a layoff… and we, you know, had extra money after maxing out retirement).  And now if we want to spend randomly large amounts of money on something, we have to think about it.  We can have some of the things but not all the things.

So… we could get a new car, that’s in our emergency fund (recall mine is 12 years old and has been having regular issues, DH’s is 11 years old but seems fine), but we couldn’t do that and renovate the kitchen, unless we wanted to sell stocks, at which point we’d be depleting our secondary emergency fund.  So, technically, we could have both, but potentially sacrificing our future security for wants.  And since we spend close to my take-home pay when I have income, it would take a while to replenish our emergency funds without cutting back.  We could buy a refrigerator even though the old one isn’t broken and/or I could see a dermatologist to get skin-tags removed and/or hire a personal trainer and/or have someone else fix our sprinkler system and/or eat out every day and etc. etc. etc. on top of all the things we already spend money on but we can’t do all of those things without dipping into savings or cutting down on our tax-advantaged savings.  We have to make choices that involve money, not just time or desire.

We have to think about where on the need/want spectrum something is.  And thinking about that takes effort.  It’s easiest to default to “no” unless something is important or the cost truly is low.  And yes, sometimes it is worth it to pay for help– DC2 is still in daycare even with DH laid off.  But that doesn’t mean that decisions are obvious and easy.

This is true even if we’re still spending a little bit under what we earn, because we can’t predict emergency expenses in the future.  When the gap between earnings and spending is really large, the emergencies aren’t that important.  When the gap is small, those emergencies could set you back, so ironically, you need a larger emergency fund when you earn less than when you earn more (assuming similar spending).  And it’s harder to refill that emergency fund with a smaller gap, meaning you have to cut back more on spending when you’ve got an emergency.  But most likely, the spending that you’re cutting back on is stuff you wanted less than any new thing or service that you think you might want but haven’t purchased yet.

So no, I’m not saying that people making 100K shouldn’t buy things that make their lives easier.  Just that when you’re making 2 or more times 100K, it’s nothing to say “are you crazy, why wouldn’t you buy that?” Purchasing “that” is a bagatelle in comparison to income.  But when you make less, you have to prioritize and not just on really expensive luxuries.

I’m also not saying that 100K is nothing!  It’s a comfortable income in most of the country (yes, you probably do need a bit more to comfortably support a family in some coastal cities, though probably not as much as most people who complain will tell you) that pays for all of your needs, lots of retirement savings, and lots of wants.  But not all the wants.

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)?