Fund-Raising and Participation

by L

Totebaggers, many of us have experience with mandatory fund-raising as part of a group. We may have been part of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts as kids (with cookie- or candy- or gift wrap-selling expectations), or now have kids in those programs; we may be board members of a nonprofit; we may be officers of a church; we may be part of a non-profit social group, masonic lodge, etc. Or our workplace may do an “optional” fund-raiser with the United Way.

My small non-profit had a very poorly attended fund-raiser recently. Many of the members of the group, and about 1/4 of the board members, did not attend! Should we be forcing members to attend or buy tickets? If so, what would be the best way to communicate this expectation to the group? If you have experience with this type of fund-raising, what strategies have worked best for you and your organization? If your workplace sponsors a United Way or similar fund-raiser, do you contribute (and if so, do you feel forced to contribute)?

How Are You Paying For College?

by Grace aka costofcollege

As the deadline for high school seniors to choose a college approaches, the challenge of how to pay is has been a recent topic of discussion for many families.  Totebaggers are savers and unlikely to qualify for much need-based financial aid, so this timeline may not be relevant to many readers here.  But it does show some generalized steps along the path to saving and paying for college while giving us a starting point for discussion.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.  Still, it makes sense to look at all the pros and cons of 529 plans.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, which is the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to avoid selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, and defer bonus or other income if possible.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is the financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.

What’s your approach in planning on how to pay for college?  Do you feel well prepared, or a bit nervous about how you’ll handle the costs?  If your kids are older, tell us what you learned.  Share your wisdom and ask your questions.

(A version of this post previously appeared in Cost of College.)

What Works For Children Of Divorce?

by Anonymous

Almost everyone has been touched by divorce. Many of you are divorced, some remarried, some have step-kids. If you’re blessed to have been happily married to only one person, you probably have a friend who was not so lucky. Or maybe your parents or your friends’ parents are divorced.

My question to you today: What is really best for the kids? What custody sharing arrangements have worked (or not), in the same town, across the country, or somewhere in between? What strategies worked (or not) to help children with the transition to separate homes? What worked (or not) in planning for expenses, like extracurriculars, cars/insurance, and college? Please share both the successes and failures you have had or observed with co-parenting.

Moving During Retirement

by L

What Mistake Do People Make When Moving in Retirement?

Grandparents Uprooting Their Lives to Move Near Grandchildren

Depending on which stage of life Totebaggers are in, either they or their parents might consider moving to be nearer their grandchildren or to live in a warmer (or lower-tax) state. Have any Totebaggers (or parents of Totebaggers) gone through a move in early retirement? What do you see as the pros and cons?

Tortes and Tarts

by Louise

“Mini tarts for an aging tart”. I loved this line and I have come to think of Totebaggers as Tortes (the guys) and Tarts (the girls).

BTW, my neighbor called her friends, women over seventy “the girls”.

As you, Tortes and Tarts have gotten older, what are things you do, that are the privilege of being a certain age? Speaking your mind, two glasses of wine, instead of one, a full cookie instead of half? What are your thoughts on aging?

Here is a snapshot of people who are 100 years old – there is drinking, dancing and marathon running.

David Bailey: this is what 100 looks like

Sex Ed

by saacnmama

My son recently brought home a paper from school:

Your son/daughter will be receiving instruction about AIDS/HIV/STDs in the 7th grade. Because of the present lack of a medical solution to AIDS/HIV/STDs, prevention has been identified as the only viable alternative for controlling AIDS/HIV/STDs. Education is the first step to prevention.

The six areas of study will be

• Abstinence
• Facts concerning AIDS/HIV/STDs
• HIV and the immune system
• The transmission of AIDS/HIV/STDs
• Risk behaviors and preventative practices
• A general overview of other sexually transmitted diseases
• Peer pressure refusal skills

Emphasis will be placed on abstinence from sex and drugs as the most effective ways to prevent AIDS/HIV/STDs.

This unit will be taught in Science class. They are just wrapping up a unit on mitosis and meiosis, so this follows logically. Over the years, I have answered lots of questions from my son. Our approach has always been biological. Explaining that the reason sex feels good so that people and animals will do it and procreate, but they sometimes do it “extra” because of that good feeling, makes sense to me as long as he sees no other reason for it. I do not know if the state we live in (Florida) is one of the states required to focus on abstinence, but that would not surprise me. This article gives some interesting information on abstinence teaching and why it may not be most successful at reducing disease and teen pregnancy. The approach it seems to suggest would be very hard to implement as just one parent, because it involves societal values.

The days of the biological scientific approach are limited. His schoolmates apparently give him plenty of examples of sexual desire at work, and he reported that one of the principle ways girls at the first and only school dance he’s been to danced was running their hands up and down their own bodies. I am sure it will not be too long until circuits are connected and his lights and buzzers start going off. He has already begun to ask me questions about my own experiences (beyond the initial “you did that once? I know you did, to make me”). I have far more experience than I think is healthy to discuss with him. I have already mentioned that I did not do a good job picking out a husband or his father (to which he snorted and agreed), that I do not want him to follow in my footsteps, that I want him to have a long and good relationship with his partner. Right now, the system is powered down and this sounds good to him. When his questions become more detailed and insistent, my plan is to switch to “don’t kiss and tell”, including how girls’ reputation, more than boys, can be ruined by this, and that he should never discuss what or he someone else has done sexually.

All of us have been through this ourselves, “in the Dark Ages”, and many of you have guided one or more youngsters through it. What do you recall, and what recommendations can you make?

Totebag Demographics

by Grace aka costofcollege

Have you tried the Esri Zip Code Lookup?  It shows you median income and age, population density as well as the predominant demographic segments for your zip code.  Try it HERE.

Take these polls to share what you found from the zip code lookup:


Do the results match what you observe?  Any surprises?  How about the demographic segments?  Which segment matches you best?  Where would you rather live — your ideal zip code?

The Good Old Days

by MooshiMooshi

I love living in today’s world. I love how DH and I can settle friendly arguments by whipping out a smartphone and hitting Wikipedia. I love that I can see constant photos of my DH’s baby relatives posted on Facebook. I love, love, love navigating with Google maps or my Garmin. It makes me far more willing to drive to unknown places. I am happy that I rarely have to enter a big box store like Kohl’s or HomeDepot. I am thrilled that I can stream Bollywood movies, or obscure Japanese art movies, or old episodes of West Wing, whenever I want.

I like a lot of the changes in the world, too. The fact that I have been to China three times, and that I realistically can visit Vietnam or Tibet, just boggles my mind. When I was 18, I never would have envisioned that. Granted, the middle east is a scary place, but it has been a scary place for a long time.

But there are some things I miss from the old days. Some of these things make me sad. I miss bookstores – not the cheesy mall bookstores of my youth or weird dusty bookstores. I miss the oldstyle university bookstores, which used to be packed with intellectual, specialized books instead of logoware. I miss the fun of a trip to Borders, and spending lots of time hanging out in their comfy chairs looking at history books.

I miss getting lots and lots of Christmas cards, with actual handwritten messages inside.

I miss vinyl records, and big splashy album cover art.

I miss thinking that it was really cool that you could write a lowlevel C program that would shoot a message through a socket, and another C program on another machine could actually read that message.

I miss feeling like it was a big deal when I got a letter from overseas stamped AIRMAIL, PAR AVION,… with lots of fancy stamps

What do you miss about the old days? What has gone away that perhaps you hadn’t even noticed was gone?

Cars For Kids

by Finn

In a recent post, Fred mentioned that he might be buying a car for his DS in the near future.

Providing cars for our kids is not something we’ve discussed much here, and this seems as good a time as any. This is especially the case for us, as DS now has a learner’s permit, DW and I are getting tired of driving him to his activities and would like him to be able to drive himself, and DW has talked about getting a new car for herself and letting DS drive her current car.

Totebaggers with kids at or above driving age, have you provided cars for your kids? If so, what kinds of cars? What responsibilities did you tie to the use of cars?

If not, how did you juggle your existing vehicles to allow your kids to drive? Or, did your kids just not drive during HS?

Many years ago, a coworker told me he had his kids pay their own insurance premiums to drive, and educated them on how moving violations would affect those premiums, and how his kids were extremely careful as a result. Would you consider this?

Sources Of Inequality

by WCE

This article argues that parental IQ, not parental income, is the primary cause of inequality. I always appreciate analyses that look at trends in countries other than the U.S., whether that’s stock market performance or educational inequality. I also appreciate the point that society needs to value nonacademic character traits, those currently referred to as “grit”.

“All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases…

The more strictly that elite colleges admit students purely on the basis of academic accomplishment, the more their student bodies will be populated with the offspring of the upper-middle class and wealthy—not because their parents are rich, but because they are smart. No improvement in the SAT can do away with this underlying reality.

I haven’t used the word “meritocracy” to describe this because it doesn’t apply. Merit has nothing to do with possessing a high IQ. It is pure luck. And that leads to my reason for writing this.

As long as we insist on blaming inequality of academic outcomes on economic inequality, we will pursue policies that end up punishing children whose strengths do not lie in academics. We will continue to tell them that they will be second-class citizens if they don’t get a college degree; to encourage them to accumulate student debt only to drop out or obtain a worthless degree. Worse, we will prevent them from capitalizing on their other gifts of character, grit and the many skills that the SAT doesn’t test.”

The reason I’m sending the article, of course, is that I think Charles Murray is mostly right. But I know many people think inequality is a problem that government can or should solve. Is the role of government in reducing inequality limited to income transfers from the poor to the rich, or can the factors underlying inequality be changed more than Murray argues?

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’

(Google the title if the link doesn’t work)

Business Travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

What are the benefits of business travel?

201503.eMiscMarPhoto1BI

A lifetime supply of hotel shampoo may be one benefit, but what else?  Chances to travel to places you would otherwise never go?  (That could mean Paris or Peoria.)  A break in the office routine?  (Too many breaks can be stressful.)  The ability to build up mileage and the associated perks?  (Even deluxe airport lounges can’t make up for too much time away from family.)

My perfect travel schedule would probably be one trip about every other month, planned well in advance, to destinations that have attractions above and beyond mundane office parks.

Do you like business travel, or hate it?  Do you travel much in your present job?  What would be your ideal work travel pattern?  Tell us your best and worst travel stories.

Best Cleaning Products of 2015

by WCE

My favorite spray stain remover, Tide Boost, has been discontinued so I’m looking for a replacement. Thankfully, my wonderful mother-in-law found and bought me 8 bottles on close-out so I have a little time to experiment. When I read this article on cleaning supplies, I decided to try Shout Triple Action. (I’m underwhelmed by the old Shout gel and Resolve/Spray ‘n’ Wash is just OK.) I already use Cascade dishwasher detergent. I may try the Great Value disinfectant wipes for cleaning the camper kitchen on our next trip but I’ll probably stick with my favorite dish soap, Palmolive, instead of seeking a particular variety of Method. Bar Keeper’s Friend is already under my sink. Weiman carpet cleaner doesn’t seem to be available locally and last year my current carpet cleaner, Resolve, won the contest so I may wait for potty training before my next round of carpet cleaner experimentation. I use the original Murphy’s Oil soap occasionally and use a rag and a bucket, rather than a mop, for heavy cleaning. I use Clorox toilet bowl cleaner and Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner already. Fels Naptha soap and Kids n Pets (good on mattresses) are missing from the list, but otherwise I thought it was thorough.

I became interested in cleaning supply performance when some friends took jobs with Procter and Gamble. On the rare occasions I care about germs, my biologist friend convinced me that Lysol, Pine-Sol and bleach are the most effective, and which is most effective depends on the germ. I will study this more if anyone in my house ever has a weak immune system.

Where I live, lots of people limit their cleaning supplies to water and vinegar, in order to avoid toxic household chemicals, so I can’t have this discussion with local friends. The regulars know I don’t worry much about chemicals.

Do you think about cleaning or cleaning supplies? What recommendations do you have? Or are you thankful you don’t have to deal with cleaning because someone else does it for you?

Friday Fun: Dessert Buffet

by Louise

The discussion of cakes – buttercream vs. fondant had me thinking of desserts. My parents used to go to a wonderful restaurant serving continental (French) food and the finale was a dessert cart. There was a chocolate cake, a black forest, a pineapple cake and a chocolate ganache cake. A soufflé and other assorted treats. I would look forward eagerly to dinner there. The restaurant changed over the years and although their food is still good and they serve individual desserts after a meal the dessert cart has vanished into the sunset.

Totebaggers what is your favorite dessert?
Do you have any recipes to share?
Are there any favorite dessert places or treat shops that you frequent. Share with us your dessert haunts.

Slow Or Fast Reading?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Maybe you should slow down your reading speed.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore….

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

Clicking on links may actually lead to lower comprehension.

Screens have changed our reading patterns from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information.

More academics and writers are advocating a return to absorbing, uninterrupted reading—slow reading, as they call it. One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Skimming news articles online is different than reading a book or other longer pieces that require closer concentration, and I can see how too much Twitter and Tumblr could create habits that impair reading comprehension skills needed in other areas.  Here’s an antidote:

At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

What’s your take?  How important are “slow reading” skills, or does a future filled mainly with videos and Tweets make them unnecessary?  Should schools change their instruction in any way?

Test your reading speed by clicking this link: How Fast Do You Read?  I’m betting most Totebaggers are fast readers.


QUESTION FOR EVERYONE:  ARE YOU INTERESTED IN A TOTEBAG BOOK CLUB?
 If so, would you like to suggest a book?  The idea of a book club has come up before, but I don’t remember if anyone expressed a willingness to organize and lead it.  If you are interested in taking on that role, please let me know.

Peeps Must Die

by saacnmama

We’re having a party! This Saturday, ‘saac is inviting his nerdiest friends over to destroy Peeps, a la http://www.toadhaven.com/Peep%20Science.html or the website peeped search dot com. The “science” will be entirely tongue in cheek, but the humor and creativity should be full-on.

I haven’t figured out yet if it will be indoors or out. If they’re indoors, they would be in the kitchen, where they could heat the suckers up on the stove (or in the oven), nuke ’em, and pour various things over them in the sink. Outside, we’d probably go to the shelter next to the pool. We’d take a bucket or two of water, and they could use the charcoal grill. When they’re done grilling, I could make Providence’s pizza while they jump in the pool. I’m not knocking myself out for this one, but am very open to your suggestions on how to make it easy and fun.

The Emptying of the American Countryside

by Honolulu Mother

The part of this article that most interested me was his point that rural areas of the U.S. are much emptier of people than they once were, which means that there are far fewer eyes to catch changes to the landscape and far fewer people with an ongoing connection to a particular and undistinguished little corner of the countryside (as opposed to having spent some time visiting a national park to see the natural wonders).

Farmland Without Farmers

We have an upcoming national-park-visiting trip planned, and the article made me muse on the difference between a pilgrimage to, say, Yellowstone, and regularly walking a circuit of the same few fields, meadows, copses, and country roads (like the area around my in-laws’ house) and noticing the small changes through the seasons and over the years.

Totebaggers, do you have a piece of semi-wild countryside that you feel connected to? How does that compare to a visit to the official wilderness in the form of a national park or surrounding area? And do you share the article writer’s concern about the people drain out of the country’s rural areas?

The Cost of Extracurricular Activities

by Louise

Kids’ Extracurricular Activities May Cost More Than You Think

Totebaggers – I was talking to a lady who was spending approx. $350/month on dance lessons for her two daughters. This didn’t include recital, costumes or other fees. Her daughters had been in dance since they were little but now as high schoolers their interest had waned and they were on the fence about continuing lessons. Their mother decided to cut the lessons out. “I’m tired and spending too much money”. There was some drama but the parent wanted a firm exit rather than continue to pay and have the kids not go.

Totebaggers, what do you think of all the activities your kids have been involved in ?
Worth it or not ? Are we collectively spending too much time and money ?
We have new parents who may benefit from the advice.

A New Mom’s Questions

by Rhode

I’m returning to work next Monday. My husband is taking 8 weeks paternity leave starting today.

How did moms and dads handle the transition between leave and return to full-time work? Any tips?

Also, now that my mom is moving, I’m staying with my in-laws when visiting NJ. I’m not terribly comfortable there. It is emotionally draining to be a better version of myself. With my mom, if I want to cry in a corner I can. With my mother-in-law, I need to be stoic and bite back any strong emotions. I don’t even feel comfortable enough to wear my pajamas to breakfast. Any tips from Totebaggers on how to get comfortable in their home? Any tips on how to let them help me parent my son?

Who Inspires You?

by Sheep Farmer

Several years ago, when my family was on vacation in Ohio, we made a stop at the John Rankin house. Rankin was a staunch abolitionist in the 1800s. He lived in a small house on top of a hill on the outskirts of the town of Ripley, just across the Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky. Rankin was instrumental in the abolitionist movement. As a Presbyterian minister, he preached about the horrors of slavery; he helped runaway slaves cross the river into the free state of Ohio and he fed and housed them before they continued on their journey north. Here was a man with everything to lose and nothing to gain by helping complete strangers, yet he felt that it was his moral duty to do so. I find his story inspirational and I keep a picture of his house on my desk. Totebaggers, who do you find inspirational and why?