The Kids Are Alright

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Yeah, I know, it’s not spelled that way. It’s a Who reference, OK?

So my proposal is that we review our acquaintances and see the 20-somethings who are doing all right in life even though maybe they weren’t taking Differential Equations when they were 9. I’ll start.

First, there’s my new DIL, who majored in non-profit management and is doing very well at a large national non-profit with local, autonomous branches. She just got a 30% raise, in fact. Though she did take Calculus, the reason for her success is her good work habits, attractive personality and appearance, and excellent social skills. And of course she’s quite bright.

From church, there’s a young couple with a 6-month-old and 2 1/2 year old. Young Mama has $140K in student loans, but she has an MSW and a license to practice therapy, and she makes around $40K per year. Her hubby majored in engineering for 2 years, hated it, quit, and became a CNC engineer. He makes $45K base salary and usually pulls in $60K because of overtime. They do all the right totebaggy things to get out from under their debt — no cable, no Internet, Grandma watches the kids for free, etc. They never eat out. They’re burning down the debt and should be okay in a few years.

Also from church, we have (yes!) a nurse and a correctional officer. They have reasonable salaries and good bennies. They have one 2.5-year-old and hope to have more. They own a house waaaaay out towards Kansas, so they have long commutes in to Denver. They also have a Grandma watching the kids for free.

Come on, in addition to all the young people who know who are drowning, you must know some who are doing okay, even if they aren’t Mark Zuckerberg. Let’s hear about them.

Basic Investment Rules

by Grace aka costofcollege

Do you think your investment portfolio is diversified?  Morgan Housel at the Motley Fool believes there’s only one way to tell if you’re truly diversified.

You are only diversified if some of your investments are performing worse than others.

Losing money on even a portion of your portfolio is hard for some people to swallow, so they gravitate toward what is performing well at the moment, often at their own expense.

In other words, some people gravitate toward selling low and buying high.

That was one of 16 Rules for Investors to Live By recently published by the WSJ.

Do you agree with these rules?  Which ones seem particularly important to you?  What rules would you add?  Have you been happy with your investment portfolio?

ADDED:  If you’re having trouble seeing the WSJ article, try clicking this link to Google and then select the first result.

Do Schools ‘Require’ Helicopter Parenting?

by saacnmama

Teacher sends father a stern note scolding him for his daughter’s ‘unhealthy’ pack lunch of ‘chocolate, marshmallows, a cracker and a pickle’ – unfortunately for the school, dad’s a doctor

We’ve had lots of sideline chatter about “requirements” to be helicopter parents recently. If we want to bring it front and center, this is as good a starting place as any.

Friday Fun: The Experienced Parent

by Louise

As my kids pass each stage, I have learnt a lot. For example, in the early years I would give more of the “make your kid smarter toys” as presents, now I gift the cheesy fun toys that the recipient will actually play with.

I remember to have a few snacks floating around, wet wipes for certain outings, when to sign up for certain activities, the list goes on. What have you learnt as a parent? If not a parent, then observations from your own childhood or as an aunt or uncle.

Coffee Talk: The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

by Honolulu Mother

The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

According to this article, the flexibility to work from home tends to come with more, not fewer, hours worked; and for workers in general, the office has encroached on the home. The article concludes:

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, the limitations of technology set a firmer boundary between work and home: If you weren’t at the office, you often couldn’t do your job. But that’s no longer the case.

“Technology now sets no work boundaries,” Williams says. “So we have to set these work boundaries through social norms.”

The only problem, she says, is that we aren’t doing that.

“I’ve been working on this problem for 25 years, and I actually have come to the conclusion that these organizations just aren’t going to change.”

What do you think? Are social norms a realistic way to get the office out of workers’ personal lives?

Small Gestures Make A Big Difference

by Grace aka costofcollege

Three small things

Long term relationships and marriage are hard work. But take some cues from older couples who’ve shared the secrets to keeping the spark alive after decades together: It’s all about the little surprises.

Dr. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, writes on Psychology Today that the elders she interviewed for her books said that the most effective things they’ve done for their relationships is build a habit of doing small, positive things for their partners. Specifically, these three types of gestures: surprises (spontaneous nights out or buying flowers for no specific holiday), chores (taking over an odious chore unexpectedly), and compliments (who doesn’t like positive feedback?).

This makes a lot of sense to me.  Often it’s just the small things that make a big difference.  Besides marriage, this principle can also apply to friendships, business colleagues, and many other types of relationships.  For example, an unexpected written note can make a big impression on a new business contact.  What are small things you do, or should do, that help relationships endure.  Are you the recipient of these types of gestures?  Any advice on this?

Differences In Educational Privilege

by saacnmama

Teacher: I see the difference in educational privilege every day. I live it. I am disgusted by it.

We’ve discussed this as a side issue several times. Do people want to focus on the differences in educational opportunity and what can be done about it? Note that there is a link to an article on race towards the beginning of this piece. We might want to draw it in as well.

What’s Wrong With A Services Economy?

by Fred MacMurray

Something I thought about recently as we are doing some projects with costs requiring DW and I agree on before proceeding.

Things on the immediate list include:
• Updated wills, including powers of attorney and healthcare proxies
• Having some of the rooms upstairs repainted
• Refreshing the landscaping
• Replacing our furnace (and maybe the air conditioner)
• Refacing our kitchen cabinets
• Updating the sinks/counter in the family bath

My line of thinking…so what’s wrong with a services economy?

As the economy has recovered, oftentimes in the monthly (un)employment report there’s a comment along the lines of “…most of the news jobs were in the services sector, where pay is lower…” (than in manufacturing, for example).

As I look at the list of things we are looking to spend maybe $20-25k on, it looks to me that maybe 75% of the costs are for “services” (attorney, painter, landscaper, plumber/hvac, carpenter) and maybe 25% are on the goods (the actual furnace and a/c unit, plants, hardscape, countertop). All of those services providers make pretty good money, IMO.

Both DW & I work for services providers, as do/did many of totebaggers (attorneys, professors, nurses, banking, consulting, not-for-profit management). What’s your take on a services economy?

Feeling Poor In Silicon Valley

by LauraFromBaltimore

A blast from the past:

In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich

This article hits a number of favorite Totebag topics, like why high-income earners don’t feel “rich,” overspending/keeping up with the Joneses, and the uncertainty/fear associated with trying to get ahead today. My personal favorite line was “Over the years, he has tried to live off his salary, but not always successfully” (dude. Think we figured out the problem).

I wonder, though, if the article missed a critical point about the rise of the professional class. If you think back to the Richie Rich days, people got rich off of other people’s efforts: they built factories that made things — or built railroads or bought oil leases, etc. — then paid other people to do the work. It’s what Rich Dad, Poor Dad described as “other people’s time” and “other people’s money.” This required tremendous amounts of efforts to get established, but once you got over that hump, you could hire managers, delegate most of the day-to-day work, and continue to collect your profits or dividends without much effort.

In Silicon Valley, on the other hand, people are becoming rich largely by their own brains and labor (and luck): they have jobs that pay salaries and give them access to many stock options and bonuses, which provide the hope of great wealth if the company hits it big. But when you work a job instead of own a company, you can’t simply hire managers and delegate 75% of the work and wait for the dividend check — your options are to stay full-time on the treadmill, or quit. And quitting is terrifying, because you are completely severing the very income stream that got you wealthy in the first place. Of course, they could invest their nest eggs and live off of the dividends, like the old-time capitalist. But I have to think that when you’re in an industry that changes so rapidly, with companies starting up and failing right and left, that itself seems even more risky. So they keep plugging away — and then spending most of it for all of the reasons addressed in the article.

Of course, it could also be selection bias (the kind of people who are drawn to the excitement of Silicon Valley are also the kind of people who are not going to be satisfied kicking back when they have saved $3-5MM). Or any number of other things.

And as an aside, I would dearly love to see an update piece to see how — or if — some of these folks weathered the crash.



Digital Assets

by L

The latest wrinkle in estate planning: Digital assets

Wisconsin Family Struggles to Obtain Access to Deceased Son’s Facebook and Gmail Accounts

Digital assets are the new hotness in estate planning. With so many of us doing our banking, investing, and correspondence online, not to mention social media, many forward-thinking estate planners (ahem!) are struggling with how to manage planning for clients’ digital assets.

Recently, the Uniform Law Commission completed a draft of a new uniform law to address the problem:

“The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act solves the problem using the concept of “media neutrality.” If a fiduciary would have access to a tangible asset, that fiduciary will also have access to a similar type of digital asset. UFADAA governs four common types of fiduciaries: personal representatives of a deceased person’s estate; guardians or conservators of a protected person’s estate; agents under a power of attorney; and trustees.”

Have you thought about what will happen to your digital assets if you become incapacitated or pass away?

Child Genius

by Louise

Risely brought up this program, so I gave it a go. I haven’t made it all the way through but probably will by the time this post goes up. It is a competition that tests children of high IQs in various areas like math, vocabulary, anatomy, astronomy, geography etc.

There is one child at ten, who has graduated high school and is now taking college level courses.

There are kids who are very motivated and study for long hours for the competition in addition to their packed schedules. Looking at the printed schedules in their rooms made me dizzy. The schedule was packed. There were driven parents no doubt, but two parents in particular stood out the classic Asian Tiger Mom and another Asian Tiger Dad. Then there was the bright but budding rebel who chose Boy Scout camp instead of spending the weekend studying for the competition. The prize is $100k for college.

Totebaggers many of you have high IQs. Many of you are gifted, have many interests and did very well academically. What do you as adults think of a childhood defined by the child genius label? In what way is your life better or worse?

If one of your kids was gifted how would you handle it? Enter them in competitions, spend a lot of time studying or would you say a competition is fine, but go ahead attend the Boy Scout camp?

Education: Better, Faster, Cheaper?

by MooshiMooshi

This article was in the Chronicle of Higher Education the other day. The pertinent quote, for me is ‘Middle-class college students should have more opportunities to “get the best skills possible,” as quickly and cheaply as possible, and making community-college tuition free would help achieve that goal, President Obama said’.

“Obama Says Students Should ‘Get the Best Skills Possible,’ Quickly and Cheaply”

All I could think of is that old project management triangle “Good, cheap, fast: you only get two”.

The Project Triangle

Do you think that is the case here? Can we provide quality education that is also cheap and fast, or does the project management triangle hold for education too? Since this has to do with Obama’s proposal that 2 years of community college be free, the implication is that kids can get a quality education in 2 years cheaply. Do you want your kid to have good, cheap, and fast? Or would you rather that your kid take his or her time and spend the traditional 4 years? As an aside, many commenters on this article note that Malia is visiting only traditional, expensive 4 year colleges as she does her campus visits. No free 2 years of community college for the Obamas!

How about K12? Is good, cheap, fast possible there?

Or will the fundamental laws of project management always hold?


Kids And Money

Moxiemom and Lauren both submitted this article, along with commentary:

Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make

And Milo sent this in:

Fun, NY-centric obsessive peace about rich people and those who are forced to watch their kids envy them.

‘Daddy, Are We Rich?’


Saw this article in the NYTimes. Love the guy who brought all the actual money home and showed the kids where it all went. Genius move and kind of Montessori.

My parents did a good job educating us about money, even had my brother and I write checks for them sometimes, but I also remember my father yelling from the other room to my mother asking her to justify some expense and I remember her writing checks for over at the grocery store just to have some money to herself. I vowed never to have that kind of situation. Luckily DH and I have similar values when it comes to spending and he keeps great track of expenses which we go over periodically. If we are spending too much, I will scale back but I won’t sneak around, ever. I think the biggest lesson I took from them was to be careful of your credit. They were pretty proud of their Sears card. This was back when credit was difficult to get!

As for the family that meets weekly to look at the budget, I kind of felt like that was a bit too much info. too much control to the kids and could make them a little obsessive. What do you think? Totebaggers, do you talk to your kids about how much you make and your expenses?


Our fifth grader wants to know how much money we earn, and she is interested in our savings because we have stressed that it is important to save for the future.

She thinks several of her friends are “rich” because they have large houses, and expensive cars.  We tried to explain that it is possible to be rich even if it doesn’t look that way based on your home or car.   We don’t want to share the actual numbers with her because we are fearful that she would tell her friends.  This article created a discussion in our home about whether we should tell our child about our money.  What do you think? Do you share this with your family?

When To Dig In For The Big Clean?

by saacnmama

In my email inbox right now, I have “Start D E C L U T T E R I N G right now ” from Better Homes and Gardens, an ad from the Container Store, Target telling us to “Save up to 20% when you go all neat and tidy”, and Pier 1 Imports telling readers to “Get organized and save”. There is clearly selection bias, as I did something to get each of these sent to me (signed up for a frequent buyers card, probably), and they do have products to sell, but still…

The end of a year and the first weeks of a new year tend to be a time for organizing and purging for many. “Spring cleaning” is a well-known trope. After all my years in academia, the end of summer seems to me to be a natural time to pull things together. I am jealous nearly every year of a friend of mine who is Jewish and therefore has G-d telling her to clean every nook and cranny of her kitchen for the high holidays. On the other hand, there are some people who do such a great job of clearing things out as they go that they never find it necessary to do big purges and organizational moves, and still others who simply leave it all to their heirs.

What about you? Do you have a certain time for big cleaning/organizing binges, an annual cycle, or some other system for keeping your place in order? Does it work well for you? How has it changed through the years with life changes?

The ‘Things’ We Really, Really Like

Both Finn and Dagney submitted posts that asked similar questions but from different perspectives.  As usual, we can learn from each other about “things” we’ve acquired that have made our lives better.

My Favorite Things

by Finn

When Oprah had her show, her annual “My Favorite Things” shows were always among the most popular.

While she no longer has that show, perhaps we can, at least partially, fill the void. What are your favorite things that you think your fellow totebaggers would also enjoy? Have you bought or received anything recently that was really the bee’s knees?

Experiences vs. Things

by Dagney

In Jonathan Clements January 3, 2015 article “How to Keep Your Portfolio on Track – Thirty-One Rules to Guide Your Investments This Year”, the rule that made me the most thoughtful was: “10. Think about which expenditures gave you a lot of pleasure in 2014 and which were quickly forgotten. Use that to guide your spending in 2015.”

“Experiences” would be my immediate response to the question of which type of expenditure gives me the most pleasure: experiences or things. However reading this rule caused me to dig more deeply into this question. There were two expenditures of things in 2014 that brought me a lot of pleasure. The first was the $9.99 100% Pima cotton white tshirt from Costco. This LWT (Long White Tshirt) made my list because 1) below the waist it was long enough that it stayed tucked into my low-waisted pants, so I didn’t feel sloppy, and 2) above the waist it had a flattering fit. The second on my list is an 8” Cuisinart Green Gourmet Skillet. This made my list because I’m trying to eliminate our old Teflon cookware. We have eggs every day, so this gets a lot of use. (And to give credit where credit is due, my husband does almost 100% of the breakfast cooking.)

So the expenditures that gave me pleasure were things that either made me feel good about myself, or made things work better for my family. Could one argue that in fact what was pleasurable about these things was actually the experience of using them? Maybe. And that gives me another reason to pause, because I would predict that the response by both my husband and our son to the question of which type of expenditure gives them the most pleasure would be things. However today my husband and I were at the beach having a spontaneous picnic. At a gathering next to us one of the Dads asked another Dad, if he had any tools to fix his daughter’s bike? The answer was no, so my husband offered to help. One of his acquisitions was good toolkits for each of our vehicles, so he grabbed the set out of my car and fixed the bike. So maybe his things are really just waiting for the right event for them to be “experienced”.

Totebaggers, what expenditures gave you a lot of pleasure in 2014 and which were quickly forgotten?

Where do you get your news?

by Grace aka costofcollege

The current travails of Brian Williams from NBC News made me wonder how many people regularly watch his evening network news show.  Well, it turns out that 37% of “Americans get their news about politics and government” from NBC News, presumably from Williams’ nightly news show.  Color me surprised.  The idea of regularly watching a national news show at 6:00 pm after a day of constantly checking developing news on the Internet seems so foreign, but I’m clearly out of touch with the habits of many Americans on this.

Pew Research conducted a survey last year, and the top ten news sources are listed below.

Source Have heard of Got news from Trust Distrust
CNN 95% 44% 54% 20%
Fox News 93% 39% 44% 37%
ABC News 94% 37% 50% 17%
NBC News 94% 37% 50% 19%
CBS News 93% 29% 46% 17%
MSNBC 89% 27% 38% 22%
Yahoo News 80% 24% 20% 16%
Google News 71% 22% 25% 11%
NPR 53% 20% 29% 9%
BBC 76% 17% 36% 7%

The Pew link has lots of information, including political profiles for consumers of individual news outlets.  You probably will not be surprised to see that The New Yorker and Glenn Beck attract viewers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum.

Where do you get your news?  Do you regularly watch an evening network news show?  What’s the future of these shows?  Do your political profile and news habits align with the results from the Pew survey?  And what’s your take on the Brian Williams story?

Friday Fun: Life’s Little Amusements

by WCE

One of my twins was excited to discover that a local establishment had a play area, as evidenced by the “Play Here” sign he read on the door below. (He didn’t know ALL the words on the door.) He was disappointed to learn that there was no play area. What has amused you at work, at the fitness center, or within your family?


Retirement Dreams

by LauraFromBaltimore

What’s your (realistic) dream retirement hobby or pastime? We’ve talked about how we’d spend our days in retirement, but is there a big “thing” that you’d like to do if you didn’t have to work for a living, raise small children, etc.?

For us, it will likely be a new house. I love real estate, I love designing kitchens, but most of all I love imagining how a space will feel and how I would feel living in it — family get-togethers, reading books in warm, cozy nooks, sitting by the fire or in a hot tub as the snow falls, etc. And DH loves woodworking, tinkering, building, and generally making stuff. In short, I like to build pretty pictures in my mind of what life would be like in that space, and DH likes to turn all those pretty mental pictures into reality. But we are both constrained by all of the other demands on our time and money. We have built one house and extensively remodeled another, and we have laid flooring and done trim and other bits and pieces, but DH has never built me kitchen cabinets — it would have taken him 6 months of nights and weekends, and we just didn’t have that much time (nor did we want to devote all available spare time to such a massive project).

But I recently realized that “new house” is a perfect early retirement project — either building from scratch, completely to our taste, or buying an old one and taking our time to make it exactly what we want for the next phase in our life. We will have time to spend on it, we won’t be in a rush, and if we sell our current place, we’ll have a reasonable budget to work with. And it is an opportunity to redefine where and how we live and who we are. Sounds pretty cool to me.


Instant Pot 101

by Honolulu Mother

I’d never cooked with a pressure cooker until we bought an Instant Pot in December, but since then our household has been busily learning the pressure cooker ropes. I checked a stack of pressure cooker cookbooks out from the library, looked online, and have been experimenting. A few of my initial observations are:

  • I think what we mainly need in the way of a cookbook is something that lists typical cook times for different foods and basic pressure cooker techniques. I don’t need a recipe for, say, coq au vin so much as a guide for adapting whatever recipe I might already have to the pressure cooker.
  • That said, we’ll probably end up getting the Miss Vickie book I checked out because my older son (who is very taken with the Instant Pot) marked up a bunch of recipes he’d like to try and I’m happy to encourage him to cook more.
  • It’s not that fussy in terms of the timing. Guesstimating times from traditional recipes, from recipes intended for stovetop pressure cookers, or just for things I’m throwing together off the top of my head, has worked pretty well.
  • It seems to work best for recipes with a long simmer time, especially given the need to let the pressure come down and vent the steam before opening. Cutting a 20 minute simmer time by 10 or 12 minutes doesn’t save you much time, but cutting a 1.5 hour simmer down to 25 minutes can make a weeknight dinner option of something that would otherwise have to be a weekend meal.
  • It does an amazing job of swapping the flavors of your various ingredients, and it seems to retain the flavors instead of losing them to the air.
  • When I have it full of liquid I should definitely wait until the steam vent has completely stopped hissing before I try to open the lid. When it’s not so full or the contents are less liquid, it’s more forgiving. (Unfortunate incident making stock from lamb neck . . .)
  • It does work just fine to go between the saute function, the pressure cooker function, and the slow cooker function. For instance, it often makes sense to brown your meat or cook your aromatics in oil on saute, and then close the lid and switch to pressure for what would be the long simmer. And you can use pressure to quickly do an initial step (like presoaking dried beans or doing a stock) and then switch to slow cooker for the next step (cooking the beans or the strained stock together with the soup ingredients) while you’re out of the house.
  • I should have bought one years ago.

I haven’t tried cooking eggs yet although I’ve read that they come out very well. Nor have I tried the Instant Pot’s rice cooker or yogurt function. We’ve mostly done pressure-cooked soups, stews, and braises so far. One thrown-together recipe that’s joined our family repertoire is:

Quick supper

Put in the cooker, from the bottom up,

An onion, peeled and sliced up
Bratwurst, gourmet sausages, or similar — can be frozen
Diced potato and/or carrots
Chopped cabbage or kale

Pour over it all

Bottle of hard cider or beer

Season to taste and set the cooker to do 10 to 15 minutes on high pressure. After it finishes, let it cool for 10 minutes and then vent the steam, and open the lid when it’s vented. Dinner is served!

This recipe caused my oldest child to ask me to buy more kale. More kale! Because we’d run out. He’s been making this meal for himself too.

Other recipes can be found at the Instant Pot site, or elsewhere on the net.

Totebaggers, do you have pressure cooker tips or recipes to share? Do you have tips specific to the Instant Pot? Can you recommend any uses or tricks I haven’t discovered yet?

Jack Lew, Me, And You Too

by saacnmama

Do you sign your name better than a 7th grader? Looking over my son’s end-of-semester grades, I asked about a “zero” in one class. “That’s because you were supposed to sign my graded quiz”, he said. A little more questioning revealed that I had indeed signed it, and he had turned it in. It was right there in his notebook, signature whited out when the teacher accused him of forging my signature. I was never one of those girls practicing handwriting at the board for fun, but not good enough for his teacher? That’s quite a distinction! My scrawl being pretty much the same each and every time, I’ve always figured it was “close enough for government work” and don’t usually give it much thought. I scanned in my driver’s license, signature and all, and emailed it off to the teacher with a brief explanatory note. I never heard back, but the grade changed to an acceptable “100”.

But a messy signature won’t do for some government work. The uproar over Jack Lew’s signature apparently mirrors similar issues with his predecessor’s autograph, as seen here. You can have a bit of fun at his expense here, by having the “Jack Lew signature generator” come up with a loopy version of your own.

The one bit of distinction in my signature came in my last year of high school. I had been exposed to different scripts in different places, and decided to distinguish my own with a “new” version of my first initial. I gave it an additional stroke (like crossing a “T” or the first line of a “K”), and write it that way til today. Otherwise it is hurried and messy and wholly unlikely to make it onto legal US currency in your pocket, even if I am appointed Secretary of the US Treasury.

What about your signature? Is it messy, neat, or somewhere in between? Does it tell anything about you? Post your stories, signed sealed and delivered!

Follow-up Friday: Good (Or Bad) Advice

by Finn

We regularly request and receive advice on a wide variety of topics here, from preparing for a first kid, to car selection, to vacation planning, to dealing with schools and teachers, to college planning, to retirement plans.

How did the advice received here help or not help you? What advice received here would you pass on to someone else in that situation?

Personally, when planning travel on the continental US, my family now always checks on the proximity of locations of Shake Shack, Chipotle, and Chick-Fil-A.

(We have an upcoming post on the Instant Pot, one of the appliances I learned about from fellow totebaggers.  So please let’s defer detailed comments on that for now. — Grace)


by Louise

My parents are now attending funerals of family and friends at an alarming rate. When I hear of yet another one, I often wonder about the legacy I hope to leave behind.

A friend of my mother, a very generous woman who helped people had lots of members of the community at her funeral. In my community, a lot of different buildings be it a hospital wing, small theatre, community center are named after local entrepreneurs and banking executives. Their legacy is all around.

We as Totebaggers have often talked about the financial gifts we hope to leave behind to our children and grandchildren. Many of us are donating as we go along. Then there are the billionaires who have taken a here and now approach and are actively managing projects by which they will be remembered.

How will you want to be remembered?

Serial Podcast

by Hoosier Gal

The unexpected hit of the fall was the podcast Serial, which reinvestigates the 1999 murder of Baltimore County high school senior Hae Min Lee and subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. Sarah Koenig, the podcast host, takes us on a week-by-week journey through her investigative process.

Serial Podcast

Do you listen? Do you believe Adnan Syed is innocent? Would *any* conviction begin to look suspicious when looked at in the same detail (doesn’t every story have at least a few inconsistencies? who can remember exactly what they were doing two months ago at a specific hour?)

Was this podcast exploitative or an expose of the flaws in our justice system?

Ethical questions raised when a murder becomes a Serial podcast sensation

What “Serial” Really Taught Us

Why did it become so wildly popular, to the point that it’s been spoofed in multiple places:

Christmas Serial (ft. Amy Adams Golden Globe® 2015 Winner) – Saturday Night Live

Serial – The Best Buy Employee


And what’s the deal with Mail Chimp?

Added by Grace:  Any other entertainment obsessions you want to talk about?

More Money Than Time?

by GreenEyes

Totebaggers frequently quip that they have more money than time. It seems like many of us have some level of cleaning help, and some of us use meal prep services.

I will share that paying for grocery delivery makes my life so.much.easier. I can place the order from the app on my phone, and schedule delivery for right when I’m walking in the door after work (or, more frequently, on a day I’m working from home). Totally worth the cost!

What else do Totebaggers outsource?

Real Estate Reflections

by Grace aka costofcollege

Here’s a Zillow Home Value Index chart showing four trend lines.

  • Santa Clara County,CA (home of Palo Alto)
  • Westchester County, NY
  • Bloomington, IL (a Midwestern city two hours south of Chicago)
  • USA


The Westchester County numbers look about right, with a slow but steady housing recovery that began in 2012.

Are you planning on buying or selling soon?

When it pays to remodel your home — and when it doesn’t

What are home prices doing in your area?  What’s your outlook?  One predication is that despite the fed’s easing of lending standards, “housing may never spring back to its pre-recession levels”.

Coffee Talk: Office Crush, Office Spouse — Bad Idea?

by Grace costofcollege

Danger, danger! The workplace crush. You know it’s a bad idea; whether it ends in heartbreak or happiness, two jobs may be on the line. But you just can’t help yourself.

Is it dangerous, or just a way to make the workplace more enjoyable?  If you’re married, can an office crush stay innocent?

What about an “office spouse”, a colleague of the opposite sex with which you have a close platonic relationship?

Having someone you trust completely in the cubicle next door certainly has its advantages. That sort of close colleague may understand situations and anecdotes in a way your non-work friends or actual spouse may not.

The experts say boundaries are critical in keeping these relationships from damaging your marriage or your career.

Totebaggers, any lessons learned from these kinds of work relationships?  What are the risks and rewards?  You can tell your story anonymously if you’d like, or report on the experience of a “friend”.

Coffee Talk: Exercise Keeps Us Young

By Seattle Soccer Mom

The NY Times Active had an article in January about a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. The study found that older people resemble much younger people physiologically. From the article: “The findings suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.”

How Exercise Keeps Us Young

My mother did not exercise and she was also significantly overweight. It really affected the last years of her life negatively and is a huge motivator for me to stay active.

I exercise 4– 5 times a week – mostly running and I go to a boot camp with friends once a week. I used to exercise 3 times a week – but was able to boost my exercise last year by joining a group where you pledge to exercise 1,000 minutes (or more) a month – and put in $20 as your commitment to do so. If you don’t meet the 1,000 minutes, you lose the $20. It’s been really helpful to get me to increase the amount of time I spend exercising.

Fellow totebaggers – do you exercise regularly? How many times a week and what are your favorite types of exercise? What’s your motivation?

Ask The Totebag: Cutting The Cable Cord

by MBT

Every January, I spend a little time revisiting all of our spending, getting new insurance quote, etc, to see if we can shave any of the spending creep that occurs in our house.  One of the things I think I’m going to do this year is try dropping cable and my landline.

I’m the only one who uses the landline, which is actually forwarded to my cell phone right now, so this choice impacts no one but me. I like having a line separate from my cell number to give out when I need to provide a phone number, and just generally feel weird not having a “house” phone.  So this is a baby step for me to cutting the cord. I think I’m going to go with a service called Ooma that will provide free basic phone service once I buy the router-type device.

The bigger change is dropping the cable service. We already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon, but I think they’ll just be a little adjustment in having to go to multiple sources to find what we want to watch. Right now I mostly set shows to tape and watch off of the DVR. I’m assuming I’ll need to get some sort of antenna to get network shows, but other than that, I really just watch HGTV.  Their website says they offer some episodes online, but I have to have a cable subscription to get a larger selection.  I found this article which offers some advice:

Cord-Cutting Calculator Shows How Much You Can Save by Ditching Cable

I saw that there is a new service coming out called SlingTV that is a subscription to just a few of the key channels I want (HGTV) or someone else in the house may want (ESPN).  Has anyone that will actually cop to watching TV abandoned cable, and if so, what streaming services do you recommend? Are there any that aren’t worth the money? Is a Tivo system or other DVR necessary?  I’d welcome any tips you may have.

Laundering Money

by Grocery Bags

I am not a Doomsday Prepper, but I do keep an emergency kit in a plastic tub in a closet downstairs. It has some food, water, money, and first aid kit, among other things. It is designed so that some of it could be grabbed quickly if we had to evacuate with no notice or we could use the contents if we had to shelter in place.

A few years ago, I attended a presentation by a civil engineer who specializes in evaluating structures after earthquakes. He made the comment that in his experience, it takes about three days for help to reach disasters, so for three days you are on your own.

While my emergency kit is unlikely to help me if my house collapses on me in an earthquake (or help me in a lot of other situations, I concede), the “you are on your own” message stuck with me, so my emergency kit gives me some peace of mind.

Once a year at the end of the year, I check on the emergency kit. I replace the food, replace my husband’s medicine, etc. In August, my husband pulled out the first aid kit to take on a camping trip and when he replaced it, he must have jostled the contents. Hard. When I opened the plastic tub last month, the first thing I saw was the moldy nylon bag of the first aid kit. I pulled out the rest of the contents to find a half inch of water in the bottom! One of the water jugs had leaked. It was gross.

Cash in another nylon bag had sat in the water at the bottom of the tub for four months and it was covered in mold. I tried to clean it with bleach and water, but only some of the mold came off. I took it to the bank hoping they would exchange it for me, but the bank wouldn’t take it! They ordered me a contaminated money kit that will be mailed to my house. Then I will take the kit to the bank and the bank will mail it to the Federal Reserve for me.

So my simple chore of replacing some food and double checking that I had what I wanted in the tub became a more laborious task of cleaning or replacing many items and trying to launder some money.

Totebaggers, what level of emergency preparedness do you have? In your home, in your car, for your children? Also, what actions have you implemented with the best intentions that only turned into more work and became more of a burden?

Race, Multiculturalism, & Diversity

by Grace aka costofcollege

These topics seem fitting for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Controversy at the Oscars

For only the second time in nearly two decades, the 20 Academy Awards acting nominations went to a group made up entirely of white actors and actresses.

Is this a big deal?  Or misplaced entitlement?

Fear on Rise, Jews in France Weigh an Exit

… “It is a war here,” said Jacqueline Cohen, owner of an art store on Rue des Rosiers in a Jewish neighborhood lined with falafel and Judaica shops where many businesses were closed Monday morning. “After what happened, we feel safer in the center of Tel Aviv than we do here in the heart of Paris.”

Glenn Reynolds has this observation:  “Modern history suggests that when the Jews are fleeing your country, bad things are going to happen, probably self-inflicted.”

Here in the United States diversity is rising.


USA TODAY used Census data to calculate the chance that two random people are different by race or ethnicity and came up with a Diversity Index to place every county on a scale of 0 to 100. The nationwide USA TODAY Diversity Index hit 55 in 2010, up sharply from 20 in 1960 and 40 as recently as 1990….

How diverse is your county?  Click this link to find out:  Check diversity where you live

The results can be deceiving.  My county scores 71%, but that number doesn’t reflect the many local communities where diversity is low.  Totebaggers may relate to the reasons for this.

Rich People Love Diversity, Until They Have Kids

But then, it can be argued that there are pros and cons to diversity.  It “makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working”, but also creates “a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems”.

Do you live in a diverse community?  Is diversity an objective when seeking a place to live?  Is diversity per se always a good thing?  Are you commemorating MLK Day in any special way?  And what’s your pick for best movie in 2014?

Beauty And Grooming Tips?

by Seattle Soccer Mom

I’ve received some of my best make-up tips from the Totebag. I now use Dr. Jart’s Beauty Balm and Clinique mascara – both of which I tried based on Totebag suggestions. I also really like Clinique’s Chubby Sticks. Fellow Totebaggers – any make-up suggestions? Do you change your look with the seasons or do you stick with one look year-round? Do you even wear make-up? I used to not wear any makeup. Now that I’m in my 40’s and I’ve found a couple products I like, I generally wear beauty balm, mascara, and tinted lip color.

Male Totebag readers – any favorite grooming products? Do any men still use aftershave? Thoughts on electric shavers?

Ask The Totebag: Planning A Disney Trip

by L

Totebaggers, we are planning on taking our first trip to Disney in late September of 2015, to coincide with a family reunion elsewhere in Florida.  My concerns are as follows:

  1. Will it be too hot for me and the kids?  This is not trivial.  I might rather take 2 trips to Florida instead, so that we can go to Disney in the winter.
  2. For how long would you take the kids out of school?  It is the 3rd week of school, and child #2 will be in kindergarten.  I am thinking less than a week (the family reunion is on a Saturday), like Thursday through Tuesday, but tell me if this is too much or too little time.
  3. Any travel sites you would recommend?  Does Costco do Disney?
  4. What are your must-see places?  Kids will be 3, 5, almost 8.

Other notes:  I am planning on booking a hotel in the park itself, so we can get up and go.  Will we need 2 rooms for 5 people?  I am also not planning on nickel-and-diming the trip.

Coffee Talk: Is Climate Control Making Us Fat?

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve speculated in the past on environmental factors that may provide an additional reason beyond diet and activity level (or an excuse) for widespread weight gain in the U.S. and elsewhere. This article discusses climate control, and specifically the lack of exposure to moderate cold, as a possible factor.

The Benefits of Being Cold

Could climate control play a role? Are you willing to turn down your thermostat, sleep without a blanket, or even wear an ice vest?

Ask The Totebag: A Quicken Alternative?

by Denver Dad

I’ve been using Quicken for about 20 years, and I’m getting fed up with it for a variety of reasons. Does anyone know of a decent alternative that’s not cloud-based?

I’m just looking for something that will keep account registers, import downloaded data, and reconcile the accounts. Some basic reporting would be nice, such as spending by category. All of my accounts only have Quicken, MS Money, and CSV as download options. I know Money isn’t really supported anymore by MS. Are there any programs that are reasonable options?

How many states does it take to equal one New York City?

by WCE


I’ve never been to New York City, but I have driven in the least densely populated states (Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah). I liked how this map gave a visual representation of population density — center your circle around Yellowstone National Park to minimize your population density!

How do you think population density affects individual opportunity, especially employment/educational opportunity? Should federal government mandates consider population density? What do you think will happen to low density rural areas? (I observe that most young professionals move to urban areas, both for their own career advancement and because it’s almost impossible to be a dual career couple in a low-density area.)

Here’s the map:

Equal Population Mapper

Friday Fun: What Are You REALLY Thinking?

by Louise

This series of articles told from the perspective of different people is funny, sad and eye opening at times. Totebaggers can you come up with your own “What I’m really thinking” posts?

What I’m really thinking: the careers adviser

What I’m really thinking: the safari camp host

What I’m really thinking: the jilted wife

What I’m really thinking

Coffee Talk: How Busy Are You?

by Honolulu Mother

This article suggests that the reason we feel pressed for time is partly a matter of perception, and partly a real change in the distribution of leisure time:

Why is everyone so busy?

I would guess that the stage of life of most Totebaggers has something to do with it too, as we’re mostly in the thick of child-raising and also in our prime working years.

Why do you feel short on time? (Retirees and others who are not short on time, feel free to add your own smug reflections ^_^.)

Ask The Totebag: Bad Sports Dilemma

by Denver Dad

I have a situation with my son’s baseball team that I’d like to get some feedback on, and I thought we could use it as a general discussion on youth sports. I apologize for the length.

Last past spring, I coached my son’s baseball team along with another guy – he was the head coach but I had a lot of input. We agreed that we wanted to focus on giving all the kids opportunities to play different positions, give equal playing time, etc., and then near the end of the season and playoffs we would switch over to playing our best lineup and playing to win. Most of the parents were on board with this, but we there were a couple who really didn’t like it and thought we should be playing more to win the whole time. We went 3-9 (with 2 ties) in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.

In our first playoff game, head coach wasn’t there so I was running things. I took our stud pitcher out after two innings, because of the innings limits and how the brackets were set up, we felt it was better to save him for the next day. We lost the game, and we had a good chance of winning if I had left him in. After the game, one of the dads laid into me about the losing the game and the whole season in general. I also found out from my son and another player that his son was talking trash about the other coach and me during practices and pregame warmups a lot.

The thing that really annoyed me about it was that his son wasn’t that good – if he was on a more competitive team, he would have just played the outfield. We put him at second and third quite a bit and let him pitch a few times. But I think his dad actually would have preferred if he played less on a winning team.

Head coach isn’t coming back. Stud pitcher’s dad is going to take over as head coach, and I’m going to stay as the assistant. Registration has started so we’ve been asking parents if their kids are coming back. I’m not sure whether to invite this kid back. If the issue was just with the dad, I would do it without hesitation because I don’t think you should penalize kids for the actions of their parents. But I don’t want the kid to be a bad influence on the team. My son said he doesn’t want him back, for what that’s worth. In case it’s not clear, I’m leaning against it, and he might not want to come back anyway.

What do people think – should I invite him to come back?

Your Best And Worst Investments

by Fred MacMurray

The Best (and Worst) Investments They Ever Made
Luminaries in Finance and Other Fields Reveal Their Greatest Hits—and Biggest Misses

On the topic of actual financial investments, the points that resonate the most with me are:
(1) You can’t time the markets
(2) Invest in a low-cost index fund, mentioned multiple times
(3) It’s ok to have a bit of your money for “fun” investments
(4) No matter how beaten down a price is, it still can go to zero, meaning you can lose everything
(5) Make sure you understand what you are investing in
(6) A college degree is worth the effort

And the comments to invest in the relationships you have with your spouse, family, and friends. These may be the most valuable.

Money wise, my best investments have been my college degrees and sticking with a savings / investment plan since I started working out of grad school. My worst was letting debt get out of hand several years back when I was un(der)employed. That’s all fixed now, but it was a challenge.

People wise, I have done well with DW, our kids, and a few friends from high school, college, and grad school. Not so much here locally, where I would say I have few really close friends. So maybe I need to step it up in that area.

Totebaggers, what have been your best and worst investments?

2014 Year End Review

by Grace aka costofcollege

Happy New Year!  Here we are, still going strong two and a half years after the first Totebag post in 2012.  Who could have predicted it?  Let’s look back at 2014, and forward to 2015.

Totebag posts that received the most page views in 2014:

  1. Coffee Talk: Why Rich People Feel Poor
  2. Ask The Totebag: Choosing a School
  3. Coffee Talk: Should Students Get Do-Overs On Tests?
  4. Wage Theft in the Totebag Universe
  5. College Admissions: 15 Tips and Tricks
  6. Happy Anniversary!
  7. Man Down (… Again)
  8. Coffee Talk: Are Our Online Conversations Keeping Us Healthy?
  9. How Has Your Mother Shaped You?
  10. Coffee Talk: The Limits of Marriage as a Path Out of Poverty

Average daily page views in 2014 were about 2040, increasing 9% over 2013.  Over the past year our blog has continued to be a place for engaging conversations and valued relationships.  I hope it continues.

Going forward, a few changes are in the works.

On an ongoing basis, all blog posts and comments older than 18 months will be deleted from the blog.  Totebaggers have discussed this idea several times, with some expressing concern about privacy.  This change is expected to be implemented by February 1, so those who are interested have time to copy and save any posts that hold information they want to preserve for themselves.

We are going to try “Ask The Expert” posts, depending on interest from you all.  Topics will focus on areas where Totebaggers have expertise, like taxes, cars, real estate, electronics, legal issues, etc. Two or more Totebaggers could join to host a particular topic.  Questions can be sent in advance and submitted anonymously to the experts.  If we want to try this, the first step is for our experts to volunteer their services (or be volunteered).  So if you are interested in sharing your knowledge and answering questions about particular topics, let me know.

New, permanent pages for special topics will be added to the blog.  The first one will be “Travel”, and it is located in the blog header bar next to “Suggested Topics”.  For now it is content-free, but it is intended to be the receptacle for trip reviews and recommendations that otherwise would be deleted from the blog.  Any comments or posts can be copied and pasted to this section, upon approval of the writer.  For example, hotels or attractions that you liked on your last vacation can be put there for there rest of us to use in future trip planning.  Again, this will be dependent upon interest, and if works out we can add other categories.

Comments, questions, or suggestions?

No post is planned for tomorrow, but as usual we can keep our conversation going.

I’ve decided my New Year’s resolution is to “blow one nostril at a time”.  It may be tough, but I think I can do it.  Anyone else making New Year’s resolutions?

Coffee Talk: How Should Public Schools Handle The ‘December Dilemma’?

by Grace aka costofcollege

My Jewish child was asked to wear a Santa hat at school. Should I care?

… After decades of marking December with Christmas pageants, complete with devotion to God and Jesus Christ, public schools in the 1960s and 1970s began being forced by courts to reconsider those rituals. Legally, they must protect the free-speech rights of students while also taking care not to be seen as favoring any particular faith or holding anyone captive to non-instructional devotion.

But does respecting everyone mean having to eschew all tradition? Do you need to honor every faith? Or do you secularize the whole experience — and risk turning it into something that isn’t familiar to anyone? Is there any way to make parents happy?

Schools tend to take one of three broad approaches. The first is what you might call Modified Christmas, in which most or all activities are at least peripherally related to Christmas, be it performing a play about Santa or drawing wreaths during art. The second model could be called Christmaskwanzakkah, a multicultural mix that may or may not involve any teaching or acknowledgment of the divine. The third model is the No-Holidays Holiday: Schools avoid celebrating any holidays, though they may have an event or a song built around “shared religious values” such as “peace.”


Are you happy with the way your school handles holidays?  If not, have you ever complained?  And should schools close for additional holidays if they are celebrated by many of their students?

New law will let schools in New York state close for Chinese Lunar New Year, other religious holidays

Coffee Talk: Costume Dramas

by Honolulu Mother

As we know, Totebaggers love a good costume drama, and relish the chance to pick it over and speculate about the historical background. And this is a perfect opportunity to sit down with the family to watch something! I’ve dug up a stack of best-of lists for costume dramas, with less overlap than you’d think:


The 30 Best Period Dramas From the Last 30 Years

The 10 best costume dramas

Top-Rated Period Dramas

Which are your favorites? Do you want to live in them, or just visit from a same distance? Any lesser-known gems to recommend?

A Long Holiday Weekend

by Grace aka costofcollege

Most of us will be enjoying a long holiday weekend over the next few days.  Will it be cheerful and relaxing, or frantic and stressful?  The former, we hope.


Are you working this weekend?  Have you ever had to work on Christmas or other major holidays?  Many types of jobs require showing up on Christmas Day, so having time off is a benefit to be valued.

Sometimes holidays are difficult.

It’s no secret that the holidays aren’t a time of delight and wonder for everyone. Many people struggle to get through them. For people dealing with a loss from death or divorce, a serious illness or loss of a job, the season can be bittersweet, if not downright depressing.

Here are some “strategies on how to cope with the holidays if you’re not feeling cheerful“:

Time to Spread Holiday Cheer, Even When You’re Down

No posts are planned for tomorrow and Friday, but we can keep a conversation going here.  What are your plans this holiday weekend?  How did the gift giving go?

And we’re running very low on posts, so please think about submitting something over the next few days!