Retirement savings

by Grasshopper

Do you think 401(k) plans and IRAs will work as retirement savings for most Americans?
Are most of your friends and relatives saving enough for retirement in 401(k) plans and IRAs?
What have been your best 401k investments?
Do you think Teresa Ghilarducci and Hamilton James’s plan as described in the linked article would work?

A Smarter Plan to Make Retirement Savings Last – The New York Times

The current system — a mix of 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (I.R.A.s) — is broken. These plans are individually directed, voluntary and leaky. Just over half of workers don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans between the ages of 40 and 55 have retirement savings of $14,500, when they will need between 20 and 30 times that amount. Many people take money out before they retire. And the wealthy tend to pay lower fees and get higher subsidies for their savings.


Hot political issues

Today’s post includes two submissions, both offering the writers’ perspectives on what they consider crucial issues surrounding this year’s presidential election.


by Sheep Farmer


Our recent discussion on health care made me realize how important this issue is in this year’s election cycle. For me, it will probably be the deciding factor as I head to the polls for my state’s primary next week. My family has benefited greatly from the Affordable Care Act, and I would hate to see it dismantled. The ACA is a great start, but as shown in our discussion last week, health care in this country is still too expensive and complicated. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. The economy, government spending, social issues, foreign policy, and immigration are all issues mentioned regularly by the candidates. If you are headed to the polls in the next few weeks, what issues are driving your decision?


By Mémé

Why I fear a Republican President

I put this post off for a long time because I didn’t know how to say what I meant clearly without giving possible offense to other members of our online community. But after a couple weeks of pointed political discussion in our new and less timid iteration of the Totebag, I have decided to go ahead.

It comes down to one word. Religion. The conservative religious supporters of the GOP have been loyal for 30 plus years and have received little or nothing in return. The bill for services rendered will be presented to a Republican President and Congress and it will be paid. (The Supreme Court without Scalia, even if the new Justice is appointed after the election, is always a wild card. We could get a corporatist or even a true libertarian.)

So why do I care? Plenty of economic but not social conservatives, including non Christians, are not particularly bothered by the idea that so-called individual religious liberty will become the first criterion in determining the hierarchy of civil rights when there is a conflict. That government will be forbidden to enforce any law or regulation that anyone objects to on religious grounds. Social moderates often assume that the inability to enforce will lead to lifting of legislative and regulatory mandates, so that the market and common social norms will be decisive. It will require adjustment from people (usually not “people like us”) whose current rights and freedoms (many of which were established over the past century, bit by bit) will as result no longer be guaranteed. They will gradually take their business elsewhere or move to more hospitable localities or home school or find workarounds or accept the conditions that their forebears endured – after all, many of the things the social conservatives want to see changed resulted not only from changing social standards but also from government granting and enforcing rights that the conservatives consider immoral or that impinge on their personal freedom. And this does not even take into account the likelihood that the legislative legacy will not be entirely libertarian/reduced government, but will also include new morally inspired restrictions (and more government interference) on personal freedom that is deemed to have crossed over into immorality or socially destructive behavior.

Ross Douthat, in a column on Islamophobia sets out the terms of the ideological conflict from his conservative religious point of view. “[C]osmopolitan liberals… are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.”

I really don’t see how a requirement to serve all comers in a public business or gay civil marriage or Season’s Greetings means that anyone’s institutions or liberties are being constrained. Please, conservative Totebaggers, explain this to me. I do from my own people’s experience see how religion has been used for millennia as an excuse to limit personal and property rights or worse – periods of acceptance/inclusion/honor alternating with periods of actual persecution, so I don’t buy the argument that the march of progress and economic power means that it won’t happen again.

Luxury housing and affordability

by Honolulu Mother

Our local news seems to take it as a received truth that building new luxury housing is at best neutral and probably harmful to the cause of creating affordable housing for local residents. This is something that usually causes me to rant to my husband, while clutching the paper, about how that is incorrect because there will always be something at the top of the market and someone with the money to buy the best available, so building new expensive housing (which is what developers are motivated to do) will push each preceding generation of housing slightly downmarket, and the ultimate effect is that the top-of-the-market housing of 20 years ago eventually becomes the middle-of-the-road housing of today, and ultimately more housing is more housing. This theory has in the past been based on My Personal Analysis rather than Actual Research, with examples drawn from aging condo buildings around town.

But now, how sweet to learn that Actual Research is backing me up! The study reported in this article found that building new luxury housing actually does increase the supply of affordable housing in an area.

Is affordable housing a hot issue in your area? Do you think the conclusion drawn from this study applies, or do you think there are other factors to consider in your area?

How to be persuasive

by Grace aka costofcollege

How to change someone’s mind, according to science

A new paper from researchers at Cornell University sheds some light on how and why people are convinced to change their minds. The researchers analyzed nearly two years of postings on ChangeMyView, a forum on the internet community reddit where posters present an argument and invite people to reason against them….

Their research suggests that the arguments that end up changing people’s minds have certain dynamics. Numbers are important: The more people that try to persuade the original poster, the greater the likelihood of changing their view. So is timing: Those who write back first to the post first are more likely to persuade the original poster than those who write later, as the lefthand chart below shows.

Interestingly, the researchers find that some back-and-forth exchange between participants is a sign of success in convincing someone, but that a lot of it is a sign of failure …

More on this study:

Why are people more persuasive when they use language like “it could be the case”?

A Subreddit Sparked a Scientific Inquiry Into How to Change Someone’s Mind

What do you think?  Have you seen these dynamics play out on this blog or on other online forums?  How does this relate to real life discussions?

She Blinded Me With S̶c̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ Funding

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Here’s a discouraging article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed on the way funding agencies can manipulate science. From the article:

I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.

I wouldn’t expect private funding sources to be any better than the government ones. Is there a solution?

The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken

The right amount of exercise

by L

How much exercise do Totebaggers get? More or less than you need? Right now I get far less than I need, but at this point my desire for sleep overcomes my desire to increase my exercise level. For several years in my 20s, I exercised far too much and more than was good for me; growing up I only exercised occasionally.

Physical activity guidelines: How much exercise do you need?

High deductible plans = fewer, not cheaper medical expenditures

by Mémé

A widely reported study last fall, summarized below in a Vox article, found that high deductible plans do not lead to cost shopping, but to lower utilization of medical services.

This study is forcing economists to rethink high-deductible health insurance

The researchers had a particularly fortunate natural testing pool. A corporation changed from a Cadillac plan to a high deductible plan, and deposited 3750, the amount of the deductible, into a Health Savings account for each employee. Economically, the fact that a formerly fully covered service would have a visible cost should have had no effect on behavior. (The article does not state whether the company provided a medical credit card that would draw from the HSA account – I suspect that cash outlay was required followed by reimbursement.) However, people reduced costs by simply not going to the doctor at all, even those with chronic conditions who would easily blow through the deductible quickly and re-enter the fully covered stage early in the year.

I personally noted a change in my behavior – when I have to pony up the “full” health plan reduced cost (I never reach the deductible) for something, I don’t bother to consult the doctor and just use Dr Google and non-prescription remedies. I can certainly afford it – I have a self-funded HSA with a Visa attached. But it just seems wasteful to spend 150 just to be told to put liniment on an aching joint. I used to go to the company nurse for minor complaints when it was free or to the HMO when it was just a small co pay. Last fall I could not shake a cold/bronchitis so I spent the money and went twice. (She finally suggested a Neti Pot. One look at it and the how to video and I was “healed.”) In Sept I start with Medicare advantage and I assume my behavior will change back to my old habits.

For those of you with high deductible plans, do you comparison shop or forgo non-emergency visits? For those who don’t have high deductible plans, is that a conscious choice because of actual usage, or perhaps because of the psychological issue described above?

Would You Support a Four Day School Week?

by Honolulu Mother

As explained in this Slate article, the idea would be to give kids who struggle one day a week for extra tutoring, while other kids have the option to come to school for enrichment activities, or even to stay home on Fridays.

Can a Four-Day School Week Actually Help Kids Who Are Struggling?

It is true that after our state’s notorious experiment with “Furlough Fridays” six years ago, test scores actually crept up slightly. However, I think that was attributable less to some benefit of cutting instruction time by 20%, and more to the schools having pushed the kids extra hard (and having cut out or cut back on art, music, and PE) during the remaining days.

What do you think of the four day school week idea?

Open thread on President’s Day

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread.  Any and all topics are welcome.

Would you be tempted to participate in a reality show in return for $40,000 in home renovations?

HGTV’s Property Brothers are returning to my area, and this caught my eye.

What’s the budget you need to have to be considered?

‘Buying & Selling’ is the best deal you’re going to get from any television show. It’s unreal; the homeowners contribute from $10-$15,000 and they’re getting a $50-$60,000 renovation. For one house, we just redid the entire exterior siding, which was lemon yellow, before we even filmed. It’s huge benefit to have this quality of renovation and to have this incredible team come in to renovate your house.


Love, lust, and longevity

by Grace aka costofcollege

Sunday is Valentine’s Day.  Here are some random thoughts on love.

Why is marriage so hard over the long term?

One of the main reasons is what science calls it “habituation.” Which is a fancy way of saying we get bored.

Early on, when a couple can finish each other’s sentences it’s romantic. But over time “predictable” is a huge negative.

Chris Rock puts it this way:

You stop talking . . . because at some point you’ve heard everything that person has said . . .

Read the article to see if you agree with these 3 Things That Keep Love Alive.

  1. Learn from arranged marriages.
  2. Focus on the good.
  3. Do more exciting things.

More food for thought:

Do you and your spouse lead parallel lives?

This question implies that a couple does “a lot of separate activities but still live under the same roof”.  Here’s a section from one comment in the discussion.

..I’m a firm believer that it can be healthy to develop one’s own interests outside the marriage – as long as it’s not hurting the marriage. Most of the time, if it’s beneficial to an individual, that person will bring the benefits and satisfaction back to the marriage. Just my theory.
I know people who did everything together – and are now split up. But I also know people who did most things separately and split up, too. I think it’s all about balance….

What about sex?

What Keeps Couples Happy Long Term
A large, new study on sexual satisfaction finds happy long-term couples share certain habits

I thought this was a pretty good way to describe the early stages of romance, at least from a woman’s perspective.  What do you think?

…  by “romance,” I know they mean the traditional version, the one that depends on living inside a giant, suspenseful question mark. This version of romance is all about that thrilling moment when you think that someone may have just materialized who will make every single thing in the world feel delicious and amazing and right forever and ever. It springs forth from big questions, like “Can I really have what I’ve been looking for? Will I really feel loved and desired and truly adored at last? Can I finally be seen as the answer to someone else’s dream, the heroine with the glimmering eyes and sultry smile?” And this version of romance peaks at the exact moment when you think, Holy Christ, I really am going to melt right into this other person (who is a relative stranger)! It really IS physically intoxicating and perfect! And it seems like we feel the exact same way about each other! Traditional romance is heady and exciting precisely because — and not in spite of the fact that — there are still lingering questions at the edges of the frame: “Will I be enough for this person? Will she stop wanting me someday? Is he as amazing as he seems/feels/tastes?”

What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage

Do you do anything special for Valentine’s Day?

The lessons of Prohibition

by Mémé

The popular view today of Prohibition is that it was a failed attempt by a repressive, primarily religious segment of society to legislate morality and conduct for the entire population. I decided to look into the historical record in relation to some serious concerns of mine about the current national political landscape. I read many articles on the era from all across the spectrum (from Cato Institute to Mother Jones), but here is a balanced one from the AJPH that might be of interest

Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation

Key takeaways from my reading are the following:

Alcohol consumption, primarily beer after the waves of German immigration, was a serious public health problem in the 19th century among men of the laboring classes. Alcohol was not consumed primarily in the home, but in saloons which were usually established by liquor manufacturers. Men spent time there instead of at home, often with pay envelope in hand, and had ready access to all of the manly vices. Wives and children suffered poverty and abuse with no recourse.

The origins of the “dry” movement were in white evangelical old stock Protestantism, primarily in the Midwest and the South, and women were a major force. The early movement was very successful on a local and state level in creating dry zones outside of the cities in those regions.

Around 1900 reform minded men, many of whom were not themselves dry or evangelical, redirected the movement toward the goal of a national ban on saloons and alcohol production. Their idea was to improve by legislation the social condition of members of the lower and immigrant classes who lacked the bourgeois virtues of restraint and delayed gratification, to use a modern phrase. They allied themselves locally and strategically with every possible progressive and regressive movement from the NAACP to the Ku Klux Klan. Opposition at a national government level waned with the imposition of the income tax. Prior to that, liquor taxes were a principal source of US Govt revenue. President Wilson imposed a wartime prohibition on manufacture supposedly because grain was needed for other purposes, and anti-German feeling was whipped up to add one’s Lutheran neighbors with their beer to the previously targeted big city Catholics with their whiskey (Irish) and wine (Italian). So the 19th amendment was ratified very quickly. Huge numbers of people were thrown out of work, but that was collateral damage to the national reformers, many of whom fully intended to keep consuming alcohol in middle class moderation in the privacy of their own homes.

The most interesting thing to me is that despite the religious overlay of the long standing temperance movement, the forces that actually achieved a national ban on liquor were do-gooders who thought that they knew what was best for other people. The fact that the wets were either sophisticated high church Protestants or city dwellers/ immigrants / Catholics made them “other” and eligible for loss of personal liberty.

Totebaggers, what parallels from this piece of history do you see to current differences in outlook between the regions, or to movements to impose one region’s views on another? Do you agree with libertarians that Prohibition was the camel’s nose under the tent that established government, especially Federal, power to regulate the daily lives of citizens? Do you think that legislated public health or moral/religious concerns should curtail individual freedom of choice? What if the freedom being curtailed for a secular purpose is indirectly religious in nature?

The Sandwich Generation

by AustinMom

I am a typical member of the sandwich generation that the article below describes – caring for an elderly parent and raising minor children. As regular Totebaggers know, I lost my father about eight months ago and, as an only child, have been taking on more and more caregiving responsibilities for my elderly mother, whose health is also declining. Thankfully, my parents worked very hard to ensure they have sufficient resources at this stage in their lives and I am not providing financial support. I provide almost all the emotional support to my mother as well as handle most of the major decision making and a fair number of day-to-day tasks such as bill paying and grocery shopping. And, I attend all doctor appointments and try to be present a significant amount of time during any hospitalization and visit almost daily when she is in any type of rehabilitation situation.

This article talks more about the statistics and less about the physical and emotional challenges of the sandwich generation. While some articles look at these issues, I find they fall into (1) how to prepare financially so that when you are the elderly parent you have sufficient income/wealth, (2) resources for you to wade through to find a community/facility/services appropriate for the elderly person, or (3) caution caregivers to be aware of their own symptoms, usually focusing on mental health. But, there doesn’t seem to be much about how to balance or appropriately handle all the different directions you are being pulled.

I have been looking for those articles because lately I am just feeling exhausted and very pressed for time. While I am thankful that my mother has been around this long in my life, I also feel that I am missing part of my children’s lives as they will soon be entering college and moving on. And at the very same time, I know my children are looking at my actions for what is reasonable and ethical behavior for handing elder care.

The Sandwich Generation

So Totebaggers – Are you part of the sandwich generation? Do you feel that you are always blazing the new trail or that one is there that is easy to follow? Are you that primary caregiver? If not, how to you feel about the other family member who is providing all this care?

Which live events are worth the money?

by L

EXPERIENCES. Which experiences are “worth it” to you? Totebaggers may disagree on whether the following are worth spending money on:

  • Concerts (non-classical).  For this Totebagger, concerts are uniformly not worth it:  too expensive, too LOUD, and too late at night.  I have only been to a handful during my life, and found the Depeche Mode one the best.  (I saw U2 in 2001, and Bono was unfortunately flat during many of the songs!)
  • Concerts (classical).  Definitely worth it, but at choral concerts I find myself wishing I was performing instead of watching/listening.
  • Opera – Nope, unless one of my friends is performing.
  • Ballet – yes for the Nutcracker or similar fairy tale; for the modern ballets, I would go more if I had a non-DH friend to go with.
  • Broadway musicals.  Worth it!  I plan to see “Hamilton” later this year.
  • Plays.  YAWN, except for comedies (“Noises Off” and similar).
  • Live sports.  Pass, other than the Red Sox once a year.
  • Kid shows (Disney on Ice and similar).  We have so far managed to avoid going to these!

What about other Totebaggers? I know some of you are bigger sports fans than I! What is the most you have ever spent on a live event ticket? My max is $150.

Should kids learn cursive?

by Honolulu Mother

This Vox article, by Libby Nelson, notes that several state legislatures have passed bills requiring cursive to be taught, and questions the necessity of teaching it.

There’s no reason for kids to learn cursive, but politicians keep trying to make them

I learned what must have been somewhere between the Palmer method and the Zaner-Bloser method (loops at the top of all the capital letters like Palmer, but the capital F looked like the later version). I now write chicken-scratchings when I’m marking something up or writing notes, and passable cursive when I’m sending a note to school. My kids’ teachers took a brief stab at the D’Nealian method somewhere around 2nd grade, and then quickly abandoned it. The kids print, but have all made the effort to at least be able to sign their names in cursive.

Do you think cursive should be taught? Do your own kids use it?

Grocery bills

by MBT

I am fascinated by those of you who have mentioned in the past how you spend so little on groceries each month for your families. I spend multiples of what the SNAP monthly allotment is, but several people on here said that the SNAP number was consistent with their spending. So because one of my goals for this year is to reduce some of my mindless spending, my overall grocery and takeout food budget is under careful scrutiny right now.

I often don’t meal plan, and just buy things I think I’ll use, which results in waste. So I am trying to start meal-planning on weekends and only shopping off of my list. But I want to know what some of your secrets are for a consistently low grocery bill. Here were a few of my questions:
– Do you buy store brands and/or generics?
– Does your total bill include wine, beer, etc?
– Does your bill include meat? (I order most of my beef from an online steak company, so my weekly grocery spending does not include this)
– Does your number include household cleaning products like paper towels, detergents, etc?
– Does you number include personal care products like shampoo, razors, etc?
– Do you intentionally choose recipes that require lower cost foods, or do you cook whatever your family likes?

What other things do you do to watch your spending, so you don’t end up with the $150 quesadillas?

Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’

by WCE

Helicopter rescue for Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’ who shuns modern civilisation

When I read this article about a woman who was born in Siberia after her family fled Stalinist persecution in 1936 and who recently requested medical assistance, I thought about how lonely her life is and how much trade benefits humanity. I especially thought about language (when discovered, her language was stilted from not having talked to other people) and metals (their cooking pots had disintegrated, making cooking difficult). I was happy that the governor has given her a satellite phone and regular gifts of food and clothing to make her life less difficult in her old age.

This article appeared at about the same time that bklurker posted about how speech signifies class, and how speech changes over time. I’ve read that distinct accents have emerged in North and South Korea since 1953. What does this article make you think about?

Open thread — food manners, Super Bowl recipes, or whatever

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread, with hijacks welcome.

Here’s a topic to get you started:

Don’t cut spaghetti, never ‘air butter’ bread and slice bananas on the plate: Expert reveals the correct way to eat the trickiest foods in public (politicians take note!)

I have never noticed anyone using an empty mussel shell to eat mussels.  I’m guilty of air buttering and other infractions.  Do you have perfect food manners?  What do you notice among other diners?  Any pet peeves?  Any embarrassing incidents?

What do you do when you’re a guest and you are served something you don’t/can’t eat or is unappetizing?  I recently ran into food that was too hard to cut with the flatware I was given, so I picked it up with my hand to eat it.  It was a little tough, but edible.

Any good Super Bowl recipes to share?  What else is on your mind today?

Also . . .
I’ve been using these open threads to fill in due to the recent scarcity of submissions. These open posts are fine to free up discussions for timely topics of our choosing, but if you submit more posts we can make sure they don’t become too frequent. As always, your ideas and comments are welcome.

Social media — what not to do

by Louise

The 10 worst parental crimes on social media

This is a piece about teens, their parents and social media. What are some things about people’s posts on social media that annoy you ? What shouldn’t people post ? Are there age limits to posting certain kind of pictures ? Are there things that are appropriate on one type of social media that are inappropriate on others ?