Open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

For the last regular Totebag post of 2016 we’ll have an open thread.  Here’s one topic to get the conversation going.

If you don’t make New Year’s resolutions, how about choosing a “theme” for 2017.

A Fun Way to Make a New Year’s Resolution: Choose a One-Word Theme for 2016.

… for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.

My sister Elizabeth often does this kind of resolution, too. Last year her theme is “Novel.” One year was the year of “Free Time,” another, “Style,” another “Hot Wheels” — that year, she got a car and started driving; she and I have both struggled with a fear of driving, which was much tougher for her, given that she lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York City.

Another friend of mine does the same thing. One year, I remember, was “Dark,” another was “Make.”

For 2015, I chose “Upgrade.” In this post from January 2, I wrote, “I want to take many areas of my life to the next level.

This may sound gimmicky, but if you were making a resolution what theme would you choose for 2017?  (You can cheat and use a two or three words!)  Also, what theme word(s) would you use to describe your 2016?



128 thoughts on “Open thread

  1. Question for car experts and everyone else:

    How much risk would I be taking if I didn’t perform every bit of maintenance specified for my one-year old car? What are the chances that they would still honor my warranty should something go wrong? Here’s the thing. I only drove the car 3500 miles in one year: had the 6-month check-up at the dealer. For my 1-year check my trusted mechanic thought it was unnecessary to change the oil and ac filter because of the low mileage. He said synthetic oil didn’t need changing, and advised me to come back in six months and he’d do it all. Should I insist on getting all this done now anyway?

  2. CoC – I like your word from 2015 – upgrade. I’m using it!

    re 2016 for me…opportunity

    DW & I took a couple of trips, one big(ger)/different/not on anyone’s bucket list, one smaller/more normal, I bought a new car well before I was intending because the price was really right, all 3 kids did good things because they could, not because they should have, DS1 seems to be making the most of his independence / income / newfound education drive, DS2 is finally taking advantage of resume-building non-academic things at college, DS3 having been accepted to 3 colleges he really likes has great opportunity looming. No health issues got in the way of us doing anything we wanted to do.

  3. Newer cars should have filters changed based on mileage provided they are being driven regularly. You should be fine within the warranty provided you are following reasonable maintenance as dictated by mileage.

  4. Reach is my 2017 word. Move beyond my traditional job scope and have some way out of the norm family experiences.

    Balance was my 2016 word. So didn’t work out that way.

  5. CoC – my gut is your mechanic is probably right about the AC filter, so yeah that can be skipped. He’s probably also right about the oil & filter change given it’s synthetic, especially if you drive your car a few times a week so stuff does not just sit around.

  6. How much risk would I be taking if I didn’t perform every bit of maintenance specified for my one-year old car?

    Two things, there is the maintenance the manufacturer suggests and there is the maintenance the dealer suggests. The dealer stuff is optional and really not required. The manufacturer stuff is mandatory in my opinion.

    I only drove the car 3500 miles in one year:.. For my 1-year check my trusted mechanic thought it was unnecessary to change the oil and ac filter because of the low mileage.

    I totally disagree with him on the oil change. Is your mileage low because you’re making a lot of short trips? If you are water will accumulate in the oil and it will never got hot enough to boil off, this will lead to corrosion inside the engine. Also, water lubricates differently than oil so water in the oil will increase wear and shorten engine life.

  7. This is going to sound terrible my word for 2017 is aging.

    While genetics and luck play a big roll you do have some control over how you’re going to age. To that end it’s time to spend more time and effort of keeping fit and flexible both physically and cognitively.

    And…maybe it’s time to botox that wrinkle between my eyebrows. It’s getting deep!

  8. I love making New Year’s Resolutions – but unfortunately I’m the only one in my family who does. It would be more fun if I had someone to do them with.

    I’m still working on mine for 2017 but one of them is definitely to go hiking more. I went on 3 hikes last summer and found them to be so restorative.

    I also want to add in some strength training to my exercise routine. I run regularly – but am not good about doing much in the way of strength training. And it seems like it’s something that will be increasingly important as I age. This weekend I’m going to figure out exactly how to build this in more (I don’t want to join a gym). Suggestions are welcome!

  9. For me, 2017 is going to (hopefully) be about getting my groove back. I’ve been in mom-to-little-kids mode for the last few years and I really want to focus on taking better care of myself – getting back to a happy weight, getting more sleep, putting more effort into my appearance.

    Off topic hijack – I’d love to hear posters opinions/experiences with late-birthday kids and starting kindergarten. My DS1 will turn 5 in August, 2 weeks before the kindergarten cut off. He’s a very bright kid, and well behaved in his pre-k class. I don’t have any reason to hold him back from starting K in September, except that family/friends are telling me I should hold him back to give him a year to build confidence/maturity. I feel like I’m making this huge life decision.

    Hijack #2 – I’d love to hear opinions/experiences with charter schools. We currently rent in one of the better districts in RI, and I’d be totally comfortable sending my children to the regular public schools. There is a charter that we’d be eligible for that does appeal to me though – it’s a much more diverse population (racially and economically), they have a longer school day, and 2 teachers per class. The school has done very well on standardized tests. Downside is that it seems to be growing very quickly (maybe too quickly) and teacher tenure is very low – lots of first year teachers and lots of turnover.

  10. I can’t at the moment think of a one word theme for me – but I can for my kids.

    DD – survive. DD is a high school junior and is finishing the second year of the International Baccalaureate program – which means she has a ton of work and exams this year. And then fall of 2017 will be the college application process. I hope she survives both.

    DS – transition. DS started middle school (6th grade) this year. In 2017, he will be moved to a new school, he will turn 12, and he’ll start 7th grade. I’ve already started seeing signs of the moody mercurial tween years we are about to experience.

  11. My DS1 will turn 5 in August, 2 weeks before the kindergarten cut off. He’s a very bright kid, and well behaved in his pre-k class. I don’t have any reason to hold him back from starting K in September, except that family/friends are telling me I should hold him back to give him a year to build confidence/maturity. I feel like I’m making this huge life decision.

    How difficult is it to skip a grade? If it is relatively easy, I would suggest holding him back. If you hold him back, he might be in with his agemates and if he wants to play sports he will have an advantage. And, if he is bored, then the fix is relatively simple. Put him in his age group.

  12. Providence –
    around here kids get evaluated for kindergarten readiness by the school district. I hope you have something like that where you are. You should use their input.
    The cutoff here is 12/1. Our guys have July, Sept, Oct, b’days and all were definitely ready for K without waiting. The younger two were 5 and 4.9 when K started. All did just fine. YMMV. Good luck!

  13. The word for 2016 was survive. I had a long term health issue, hopefully resolved. DS was diagnosed with a chronic condition that we are learning to manage. DD left for college, which I find hard to deal with, and she had a rough first semester. The drought and regulatory nightmares continue.

  14. Providence – DS (who is now 11) also has an August birthday. We started him in kindergarten right when he turned 5. He was already reading and we felt like he’d be pretty bored staying in his pre-k program another year. Overall, I would make the same decision again. He’s done very well academically. Emotionally/socially, he was a bit on the younger side. He didn’t have any issues at school or making friends – but when he was in kindergarten – second grade, had frequent meltdowns in the evening at home. I don’t know if there would have been fewer of these if he’d been older for his grade. Now that he’s in 6th grade, I feel like he’s caught up with his peers in terms of emotional maturity.

    I’ve always wondered if holding kids back really gives them an advantage. Yes, things will come more easily when they are in the early elementary school years – but how will they do in middle school and high school when the age difference doesn’t make much of a difference and the work is more challenging? If they are used to academics coming very easily, will it be more difficult to adjust?

    There was one kid in DS’ kindergarten class who had a May birthday from the previous year whose parents held him back to give him an “advantage.” He was totally on track academically, socially, physically so there wasn’t any reason for holding him back. His parents then spent all of kindergarten complaining about how bored their son was. I wanted to say “Yes – that’s because he should be in first grade. Of course he’s bored.”

  15. Providence – on #2 – I don’t have any experience with charter schools – but I would look at the principals and teachers at both schools. Are they well-respected principals who know how to maneuver in the system, hire good teachers, and move out bad teachers? Is there a lot of teacher turnover? What is the parent support like – is there a strong PTA? I would lean towards the school with the stronger principal, lower teacher turnover, and strong parent community.

  16. Yes, things will come more easily when they are in the early elementary school years – but how will they do in middle school and high school when the age difference doesn’t make much of a difference and the work is more challenging?

    As a guy, I would say that in middle and high school being somewhat older and bigger is easier than being somewhat smaller and younger. Even in this day in age there is a still a bit of a Lord of the Flies/prison thing going on.

  17. Providence – Hi! I don’t have any suggestions because I’m not there yet (and both kiddos will be almost 6 when they start kindergarten based on RI’s cutoff). BUT, if you ever want to catch up, email me – graduatestudentlife at gmail dot com! I’d love to hear from you.

    I like the theme – mine will be survive. Emotionally, physically, financially. We are stuck in a mess right now with DH’s job reclassification, daycare costs, an impending new car, and a house project we need to take on to make our living room more livable for 2 small people. I found a bandaid for most of it, but not the project. And I may cry because I want that project done. I keep telling myself that this is all temporary, but right now it seems like forever.

  18. My younger DS is tiny and we thought about holding him back due to his size but he is an October birthday and September is the cutoff and he was already reading 2 grade levels ahead. He definitely has anxiety about his size and he is still tiny. But he would be bored if we held him back and then he would be complaining about his age relative to his peers.

    Have to say, the kid does so much better outside of school when he can get started on his own time schedule. He needs at least 10 hours of sleep per night and really doesn’t get going until 9:30am. Poor thing has consistently had math at 8:30am since kindergarten!

  19. Rhode – hope it all works out – that is a lot of balls in the air at one time. Having two very small kids and working full-time are hard when finances are tight. I would not take on the house project unless there was a life-safety issue.

  20. Our kids went to a K-8 charter school, DD is in 8th grade this year. The elementary school was great (through 5th). The middle school was mostly great until they hired a new principal a couple of years ago. Things started going to crap last year, then a bunch of great teachers left after the end of the year, and then the principal was fired over the summer. It’s not the same school that it used to be. But seeing how far ahead DS is in HS this year is pretty amazing, so they clearly got a great education.

    Ultimately it depends on the individual school. Just being a charter doesn’t make a school better or worse.

    I’ve always wondered if holding kids back really gives them an advantage. Yes, things will come more easily when they are in the early elementary school years – but how will they do in middle school and high school when the age difference doesn’t make much of a difference and the work is more challenging? If they are used to academics coming very easily, will it be more difficult to adjust?

    There was a seminal study a few years back on Canadian hockey players. The gist of it is that there are significantly more Canadian players in the NHL with birthdays early in the year than later in the year. This is because Canadian youth hockey leagues go rigidly by calendar year of birth, starting at very young ages – where a 3 or 6 month age difference is significant. So the older kids with the Jan-March birthdays tend to be better players at those ages, they get more playing time and attention from the coaches, which translates into being better players at the older ages where 6 months in age doesn’t make a difference.

    I haven’t seen any research into how this effect translates in academics. It probably ties back to yesterday’s discussion and if they can be in a situation where they will be challenged adequately at the younger ages if they are older than their peers. If so, then I would think there would be a similar effect that they would do better academically later on. If not, then there might be a reverse effect as they get older because they aren’t used to being challenged.

  21. Thanks for the car comments. I’ll discuss it a bit more with my mechanic.

    seattlesoccermom — In 2016 I began hiking more and doing strength training, which really goes hand in glove. I started out very weak, so sometimes the basic scrambling up and down rocky slopes was a challenge. I’m still not as strong as I’d like, but have definitely improved. My method has been to do high-intensity workouts, which only take about 10 minutes. I based mine on the 7-minute workout, modified for my goals. Bear in mind I started out at a very low fitness level, but now I do chair steps with relative ease when before I could not even do one. (I am short so a basic step up to a chair is harder than for most!) This year I plan to slowly increase the duration of each exercise from 30 seconds to 1 minute.

    Maybe my word for 2016 should be “feet” since I plan to increase my hiking and social dancing activities.

  22. Thanks COC – did you do the 7 minute workout that was featured in the NY Times a while back?

  23. Yup, the workout from the NYT. There are many other versions, too, but I’ve stuck with that one.

  24. My oldest has a birthday a day before the cutoff and was actually due (almost 3 months early) well after the cutoff where we live, so he is THE youngest kid in his class. We sent him on time (turned five the day before K started). I obsessed about it for a long time before making the decision. He is bright. He is well-behaved and had no problem with the sitting still/paying attention part of school. He is an old soul. And he is not athletic. For the most part, we have been happy with the decision. He goes to a school that keeps the classes fairly small and keeps close tabs on the social stuff. If that had not been the case, I think we would have held him back for am as I think he would have a hard time. The biggest issue has been the social part which is exacerbated by not being very interested in sports, although he seems to have found one that he likes so we are really encouraging that part. The school where we sent him was also open to letting him repeat K if necessary, which is not always an option at every school. Middle school worries me a bit, but I didn’t want to hold him back for some future that may not actually be a problem.

  25. As a guy, I would say that in middle and high school being somewhat older and bigger is easier than being somewhat smaller and younger. Even in this day in age there is a still a bit of a Lord of the Flies/prison thing going on.

    Definitely. It’s much better socially for boys to be older.

  26. “It’s much better socially for boys to be older”

    There may be some aspects of this that are particularly true in a co-ed school but mine went to an all boys school and though they were among the youngest in their classes, in that environment no one cares what anyone’s age is/was. They were in the junior class or whatever. If any had been small/shy maybe some of what Rhett mentions could have happened to them, but guys in each class look out for each other. I think the school being single-sex takes some of the age issue away.

  27. Here are my thoughts on the kindergarten question. I went to kindergarten when I was five and then to a second kindergarten when I turned 6. I have no memory of going to 2 different kindergartens. You could start the kid at private k and then send him to public school for the second kindergarten year. My point is you should start him this year since you can relaunch him again next year if this year is glitchy.

  28. There is a district around here that allows older 4/younger 5 year olds to go to a special K program, and then at the end of the year the kids can either go straight to 1st grade or repeat K. I know families who have advanced to 1st and others who held back another year and they all say it worked out great for them.

    On the hockey cutoff – my nephew has a late fall birthday. He is also on the shorter side of the growth curve. When he started several hockey families told my brother to not invest heavily in equipment or time, unless he was was serious about this being his only sport, because his young age and size was a huge disadvantage. He lasted 2 seasons, and at 7 it was clear that the January – June kids were much bigger and more advanced at skill and general understanding of the game. No loss from my brother and nephew, as they weren’t really into hockey, and have since found other activities.

  29. My sister skipped Kindergarten (Oct b-day), but had to do 2nd twice when she switched to a more competitive school. Another friend (early Aug birthday) did K on the early side and then did 2nd twice. Same school. At least 30 years ago, things seemed to shake out by 2nd grade.

  30. My brother (and I) were both near the cut-off and we started when we were 4. It was fine for me, though I am not sure it was the best choice. It was really hard on my brother. However, he was small and had some behavior difficulties. School was going to be socially difficult for him no matter when he started, but I think it would have been easier to be almost 6. He was bored to tears either way, so that didn’t matter much.

  31. My 2017 theme is don’t sweat the small stuff. Little things drive me nuts, and I need to ignore more of these minor problems because I am letting too many dumb things get to me.

    I went to a meeting yesterday with DD. She is bridezilla in training, and I hope she learns to chill a little too.

    The cutoff here is December 31, so very few people would ever hold an August bday. I do think it can be hard to be the youngest in a grade, so that’s something to think about if your cutoff is 8/31.

  32. K has changed in certain states due to common core. If my DD started in 2016, she would not be bored vs. 2009. The reason is that there is little to no time for play if kids are supposed to be reading and doing simple math by the end of K.

    It obviously varies by state, but the most of the first grade curriculum was shifted to K in NY state. If kids had to be writing and reading a certain number of words by the end of first grade, this is now the requirement by the end of K.

    This is a major change from just a few years ago when my daughter just learned the alphabet and to read 3 letter words.

  33. It is generally not an advantage to be the youngest in a class. If most parents red shirt kids born near the cutoff date, then a child who is theoretically the right age will be put at a disadvantage with classmates who are fully a year older. That is the only reason that I would consider in red shirting a child. When we were making the decision for DS1, the school refused to disclose the age range for the kindergarten class. We decided to send him and because so many kids had lived overseas with very different cutoff dates it was fine.

  34. My boys both started K at 4. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution for kids born close to the cut-off date. For mind, starting K when first available put them at a reasonable academic level but lagging in maturity and social / athletic skills, but the alternative was to be at a level that might have been a better match for maturity / social/ athletic but would have left them bored stiff with the academics (which would have been really bad with my youngest who turns criminal-minded when bored). I think the best you can do is guess where it’ll work best based on your own child’s strengths.

  35. I think the school being single-sex takes some of the age issue away.

    My experience is that with boys, so much of the social hierarchy is based on athletic and physical ability, so I’m not sure why that would be different in an all-boys school. Maybe without the competition for girls, that is lessened a bit?

  36. Exactly what HM said – I am thankful that my kids are months away from the cut-off- no decisions for us to fret about.

  37. DD,

    It’s also true for professional baseball:

    Since 1950, a baby born in the United States in August has had a 50 percent to 60 percent better chance of making the big leagues than a baby born in July. The lesson: If you want your child to be a professional baseball player, you should start planning early. Very early. As in before conception…For more than 55 years, July 31 has been the age-cutoff date used by virtually all nonschool-affiliated baseball leagues in the United States..

  38. What were everyone’s favorite gifts this year, to give and receive?

    The framed pictures I had taken of Florida water birds nearly had my mom in tears, so that was a success, especially because I like DIY.

    Favorite gift I received was from my mom (unusual for us, especially for exchanges in both directions to go so well). I’ve lost 30 pounds, have 20 more to go, so I asked for and received a pair of work pants in a “goal” size.

    I’m kicking myself because I didn’t write down that DS would love a projector, so I forgot it til he’d already opened the gift card from me (which was what he said he wanted). It’s on my phone calendar for his birthday, in October.

    CoC, the crucial phrase in Mia’s car advice is “provided they are being driven regularly”

    Providence, I think the most crucial question is if your son is ready for the kind of learning that is expected in the kindergarten he will attend.

    Seattle, if opposites attract, then maybe we should be workout partners. I want to add in running, at least some sprints/HIIT to my walking, but I hate running. I just got new shoes and workout clothes in my “new” size, which are supposed to motivate me. I have been lifting, which I love. I have a weight bench (with back that can tilt up/down and places to attach things for leg extensions, bicep curls, etc if I want) and a pull-up bar (which I mostly use for leg lifts). I read something recently that said for a home gym, those plus some kind of dip equipment are what you need, with 100-200 kg of weight plates and both long and DB handles (I use two stools for dip-type exercises and am OK so far with 140 lb) and 4 square meters of floor space (nearly exactly what I have set aside for this). Other stuff I have: resistance bands, mini bands, a Swiss ball, a foam roller (and a Monkey Bar suspension set that I’ll hang up from the ceiling the next place we live). I’m buying an ab wheel. I work out by myself; my best motivators are a couple of trainers I follow on FB and some successes: the stairs at the waterpark are easier every time we go, and when I finally got back into the pool last week; I was pleasantly surprised at how well I did my workout. Buying clothes a size or two too small helps too, especially now that I’ve had the pleasure of something fitting that was too small.

  39. Rhett, I’ve seen May 31 as the cutoff for baseball these days. Softball goes by calendar year.

  40. WCE, are they still in that age when they love to sort? You could have them help go through clothing or clean out the pantry (When he was 3, my little nerd loved to dump all the recycling together and then sort it again). How about board games? If they’ve played a bunch already, then have them make up and play their own. They could make snowflakes many ways–crystals, then folding and cutting paper, then from pipe cleaners, etc. Are they still young enough that they like wiping things off, ie dusting and cleaning mirrors? Cutting out/stamping/coloring Valentines could take all afternoon, whether it’s fancy ones for relatives or an assembly line for school (OK, not making their own for school, but if they sign each one, then put a stamp or sticker on each, then put each in an envelop and then maybe attach something like a pencil or magnifier to each, it could still take a while). Or see this book

  41. DS has a summer birthday. Most boys who have summer birthdays here are red shirted. But we didn’t know this at the time as we had just moved. There was no reason to hold him back. He had been in daycare/preschool unlike many kids in his kindergarten class who mostly did half day preschool. He also tested fine. So far so good.
    My DD was on the other side of the age cut off. The state changed the cut off date from Oct to Aug, so my DD had to wait almost a full year to start kindergarten. Again she tested fine and I was hoping to get an exemption to send her but the school wouldn’t budge.
    I agonized far too much about each of these decisions. There is no magic mirror to foresee every issue that arises or to make life perfect for your kids. Do what you think is the right thing and move on.

  42. Nah, they’re middle elementary school and have spent the past ~4 hours playing Catan, probably in part because DS1 knows he has to finish cleaning his room when they’re done. Baby WCE needs constant attention in order not to mess up their game, and she had a couple potty successes. And my house is in a different state of disorganization. (‘Cause I do a ton of work to maintain the level of chaos around here.)

  43. CoC, I agree with Rhett– it really depends on the type of driving you do. If it’s a bunch of short trips, that type of driving typically comes with a recommendation for shorter oil/filter change intervals in both time and mileage.

    Were I in your shoes, I’d change the oil and filter at least once/year. If the filter is easily accessible, it’s an easy DIY task, and even if you have it done, it’s relatively inexpensive (I’d guess ~$70 for synthetic) insurance on your engine.

  44. Mia – thanks. I’m stressing over an entire year when I need to focus month to month. 2 little kids are expensive and money will be tight. That’s just the way of it. If we have to cut back here and there we will. If we can’t get it all done, at least we’ll have money towards the car and home project for next year. As long as we keep swimming we’ll be fine.

  45. SSM, since you already run, I’d suggest you add some strength training into your running workouts, e.g., sprints, hills, stairs.

    If you have a regular TV watching schedule, that can be a good time to work in some strength work.

    You might consider also setting aside some time just before you shower for some strength work. It could be anywhere from a couple minutes, enough time for a few sets of pushups, to 30 to 60 minutes or so, enough time for a full upper or lower body workout (alternating days).

    Or you could throw in some lifting when you finish your runs.

  46. Our driving is mainly several short trips, 2-8 miles each, weekly. I had the oil changed 6 months ago. It’s not a big deal* to change the oil every 6 months, which would mean every 1800 miles. Given the type of driving we do, it may be advisable.

    * Actually, it’s kind of a big deal because I just hate dealing with adult maintenance stuff like this. Don’t even ask me how often I see my dentist or have my hair cut. Thank goodness I have good teeth. :)

  47. “You could start the kid at private k and then send him to public school for the second kindergarten year.”

    The opposite was common here, when public schools had a Dec 31 cutoff, but most privates had earlier cutoffs. Late born kids often went to K in public school, then repeated K at a private.

    DS went to K twice, and I’m really glad for that. He’s done very well in school, and more importantly, has really enjoyed school, although I’m not sure that he wouldn’t have done as well an enjoyed it as much had he gone straight to 1st grade after his first year of K.

    But the main reason I’m glad he repeated K is that we have one more year of him before he flies the nest. I have thoroughly enjoyed having him as my kid, and that extra year is priceless.

  48. CoC, if you lived here, I’d say once a year is good. But you deal with extreme weather, so more frequent changes may be called for.

    The type of driving you do sounds like an electric car would be appropriate for you, which would obviate the need for oil changes.

  49. “And then fall of 2017 will be the college application process. I hope she survives both.”

    I encourage you to not look at the college application/admissions process as something to survive. Embrace it as something exciting you can share with her, leading to what many consider some of the best years of their lives.

    I also encourage you to not wait until fall of 2017. That can make it very stressful, taking a lot of the joy out of the process.

    I suggest instead that she take the SAT and/or ACT at least once as a junior, then do a lot of her investigative work during the summer, possibly even starting her essays if the prompts are available. I’d suggest applying early to at least one EA or rolling admissions school; having an acceptance in hand in the fall of her senior year will not just reduce the stress, but will reduce the number of apps she’ll need to fill out and the time spent on them.

    Quite a few schools will accept apps on October 1, and many parents on CC reported acceptances in Oct.

  50. I think my word for 2017 is struggle. I really need to focus on some things that are a struggle to me – like the strength training others have mentioned, flexibility, time management. I’ve given up way too easily in the past (my 7 minute workout commitment lasted about 2 weeks when I first heard of it during the totebag 30 day challenge, so I hail you, COC!). Maybe this will help me struggle through the habit building effort rather than just pouring another cup of tea and turning on HGTV.

  51. Thanks Finn for the advice – that is helpful. I definitely plan on having DD work on her essay over the summer. I haven’t decided if I’m going to shell out a couple thousand dollars to send her to a weeklong day camp to work on it (two of our friends have done this and recommended it – but it seems like a lot of money).

  52. We drive the MDX about 5- 10 miles per day during the week because it generally sits at the train station unless I swap cars because I have to drive a carpool. The MDX sends an alert on the dash when the oil needs to be changed, and this is usually around 6000 miles. We bring it in for oil changes every 8 or 9 months.

    Does the Subaru send you an alert? We used to put 7000-8000 miles a year on the Subaru, and I didn’t bring it in for extra oil changes.

  53. My word for 2017 is “Cherish”. Too many funerals in 2016. So I want to make time for other people – family of all ages and in my larger community.

    I cannot stress how unbearable it is for a kid to be bored all day in school. It breeds a lack a respect for the entire process of education. Most socially awkward kids can be taught a few tricks, as Rhett often mentions. Starting out a year older, if you parents are clueless nerds as well and you have no helpful cousins or family friends to teach you the ropes, gains nothing.

    If the local Kindergarten’s academic and/or behavioral program is too advanced for the developmental level of a a child who makes the cut off, it is best to find a different program for a couple of years and then phase him in. Youngest grandchild has a September birthday so she will turn 6 two weeks after she starts kindergarten. There is zero chance she would not be ready a year earlier. I understand the Lord of the Flies reasons that parents redshirt boys, but there are very few girls who would benefit from being held back in towns with Sept 1 cutoffs. Getting your first period in May of 4th grade is not a good thing.

  54. CoC – My six month oil change (I drive about 5000 mi per year) service costs somewhere between 25 dollars and 75 dollars, depending on whether the filters need changing. They rotate the tires at the same time, which does need to be done. (We don’t put on snow tires – good quality all season tires do just fine). I understand if you hate to make appointments to do things during the day, but the oil needs to be changed occasionally, even if it synthetic. Maybe once a year is fine for that – I don’t know details on the more expensive oil -, but no less often. I don’t know that the warranty can be voided for failure to maintain on a schedule, but that should be right in the document. I know that they can’t make you do it at the dealership – you used to have to get little stickers in a book.

  55. Ssm,
    My brief tenure as an outside reader at a selective but not single-percentage admit school informs this comment — spending too much time (and worse, too much money) crafting the perfect essay is probably a waste. Notwithstanding the narrative about holistic admissions, the crush of numbers means that admissions staff spend only a few minutes, if that, scanning the essays. We were specifically instructed not to read every word, either of essays or teacher letters, but to scan for a few key words or sentences and move on. Two minutes tops. I spent far more time but still couldn’t read as carefully as if I had been grading it for a class.

  56. SSM, I’m not sure how much your DD will be able to work on her essays during the summer. A lot of the prompts aren’t made available that early.

    This year, the Common App standard essay prompts were the same as last year, so DS wrote a draft for that during the summer, but didn’t finish it until fall because he asked a couple of teachers to review it for him.

    I suggest that during the summer is a great time to investigate schools and come up with a list of possible schools. At a minimum, a couple of schools to apply to in October should be identified.

  57. Completely off-topic: I just dropped cable and picked up DirecTV Now. It is $35/month for quite a few channels, with no contract, and if you prepay 3 months, you get a free AppleTV. (I had just priced the Apple TV at $150, so am very happy to be getting a free one.) The promo ends the first week of January, if anyone is interested.

  58. MBT – we just dropped DirecTV for Playstation Vue. We are now getting ridiculous incentives to go back to DirecTV. I really liked them and never had any issues with them, but my DH was tired off having to haggle with them annually for better pricing. I find Vue to be sufficient (along with amazon prime and netflix), but my MIL hates coming over to watch the kids because she can’t figure out how to watch anything. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of satellite/cable tv.

  59. I suggest that during the summer is a great time to investigate schools and come up with a list of possible schools. At a minimum, a couple of schools to apply to in October should be identified.

    Summer before senior year seems pretty late to me to start the process of looking into schools. I’m usually on the “low-key” side of the college admissions process, so I’m surprised to be disagreeing with Finn this way. I hope by that time DS already has a solid list and we can do final visits that summer if we need to.

  60. SSM your link goes to the “advanced” 7-minute workout, which is probably appropriate for people in reasonable good shape. I still do the original workout, which doesn’t require weights.

    I saw the article made reference to this routine being “monotonous and demotivating” so it should be mixed up with other exercise. I actually find the monotony to be an advantage — I can do it quickly without thinking. (I also run on a treadmill for cardio.)

  61. On the question of the day, my word for the new year is “experiences.” I want to get all of us out more and doing more.

  62. “Summer before senior year seems pretty late to me to start the process of looking into schools.”

    I’m not suggesting starting that process then. As I’ve mentioned before, 8th grade, when planning out HS courses, is a good time to start looking at colleges (e.g., make sure that if the colleges you like require 4 years of science, you start taking science in 9th grade, although that can be remedied by the use of summer school and doubling up).

    What I’m suggesting is that by having SAT/ACT done by then, you will be in a position to identify whether any school is a safety/match/reach, and realistically pick which schools make sense within an overall application strategy.

    Also, SSM’s DD is already a junior, and cannot (to my knowledge) turn back time.

  63. My DS had a summer birthday (school cut off of 9-1) and we decided to have him wait. The kindergarten teacher at their school was the one doing the K readiness evaluation, and she felt that he would better waiting, and I trusted her judgement. It also helped that if he had gone “on time” he would have been the youngest kids by about 3 months, and in a class with a lot more girls than boys, and a lot of queen bees in training. The class he entered was much nicer. He was emotionally young, and I think in that respect he was better served by being the oldest rather than the youngest. Academically, not sure. He did well in school but took a year in both high school and college to pull himself together grade wise.

  64. We are doing our first college tours MLK weekend – we are going to check out University of Victoria and University of British Columbia. Mainly because DD finds the idea of going school in either Victoria or Vancouver appealing – she wants to get out of Seattle but doesn’t want to go too far away. Currently DD thinks she wants a university of around 20,000 – but I’d like her to consider smaller liberal arts colleges as well.

    I’m planning on meeting with a college counselor (private) at the end of January as I have the feeling DD will listen to this person far more than she would to me. This particular counselor is supposed to be good at helping kids tease out what factors are most important to them and then helping them develop a list of colleges to check out. I’m figuring we will spend our April spring break touring colleges.

  65. I’d tried to start the process with DD last spring but I was having a hard time getting her to engage. So I decided to wait until she showed more interest. And now that most of her friends have already toured several colleges, she’s engaging :-)

  66. Finn, it’s one of the small ski areas, it’s about 20 minutes from Winter Park. That’s where my kids learned to ski, it’s a nice little place. We’ve been going there once or twice a year for the last few years because they have cheap night skiing.

    They haven’t released any details about how they fell or the cause of death yet.

  67. What I’m suggesting is that by having SAT/ACT done by then, you will be in a position to identify whether any school is a safety/match/reach, and realistically pick which schools make sense within an overall application strategy.

    I agree – I thought it was standard practice to take the SAT junior year. (But we also took the PSAT sophomore year so what the heck do I know.) Then you have a good idea of your chances for the schools you are interested in.

  68. Providence, My son was a summer birthday and we chose not to hold him back, because he had been successful in montessori and we thought he’d adjust well enough. It turns out he had some developmental issues with fine motor skills and writing that caused him to really struggle relative to his peers, and his teachers put it down to being young. Because he was passing, they wouldn’t let us hold him back, so we had him repeat first grade. He had kids in his kindergarten and first that were more than year older than him, so after we had him repeat he was still not the oldest kid in the class. Contrary to what some people are saying, we found that a lot of sports used birthday for cut-off, not grade, which meant that he was on teams with kids a grade ahead of him. That was not what I would have preferred.

    On charter schools, I agree with DD that it is really more about the school than whether or not it is a charter. We moved ours from the neighborhood public school to a charter in middle school. It was a better fit for him because the charter had about 75 kids per grade, compared to the 600 per grade in his overcrowded previous school. However, the smaller school had fewer options for languages, electives, and extracurriculars. The charter did have much better discipline, no tolerance for fighting, bullying, etc, which made it generally a better environment. I really like the cultural and economic diversity, as well. So for the things that mattered to me, it was a better fit, but for someone with a different set of priorities, the neighborhood public would have been the “better” school.

  69. Anybody have experience returning stuff to Amazon, or any other online retailer?

    We’re looking for a tuxedo tailcoat for DS online, since we haven’t been able to find anyone local selling them. Our concern buying online is fit and quality, so we’d like to be able to try and, if necessary, return.

    I’ve only returned stuff to Amazon once, when a viola case we bought didn’t fit a viola it should’ve fit per the description, and that was really easy and painless.

    The tux he’s been wearing for his orchestra concerts was bought off the rack, but fits him perfectly, so we’re hopeful that he’ll be able to fit something off the rack.

  70. Finn, my experience is that returns are easy and painless with Amazon, Zappos, Nordstrom and other major retailers. Two of our sons wore lovely polyester (and fully machine washable) tux tailcoats for performances but we weren’t involved in the purchasing so I can’t point you to an online vendor. You might contact a local college with music performance groups for their supplier.

  71. Finn, Amazon has a great feature where they say if there are free returns for a product in the listing. As Scarlett said, even if the return isn’t free (you pay for return shipping), it is still incredibly easy.

  72. Am I the only one who is tired of all the “2016 sucked” posts on facebook? Or maybe it’s just my friends. It seems everyone is posting about how awful they thought the year was. From a personal standpoint, I had an awesome year. I haven’t posted that because I don’t want people to think I’m bragging or rubbing it in or anything.

  73. Denver Dad – I know what you mean! I had a lot of great things happen this year, but certainly feel out of place mentioning it. Im

  74. “2016 sucked” is a general theme I’ve seen, also. My guess is that people are focusing on celebrity deaths and Trump’s victory. They should focus on the stock market, a good 2016!

  75. We discussed this at the dinner table last night — I just don’t get that sad about celebrity deaths, but many others take them more personally. Me, meh.

    We did watch Star Wars New Hope the other night, sort of in honor of Carrie Fisher. Oh boy, it was more fun than I anticipated. Plus, other viewers in the room kept repeating pieces of dialogue along with the actors, Rocky Horror style. I had forgotten how many iconic (well, to me) phrases came out of that movie.

  76. I’ve found Amazon returns to be easy, of course especially when they’re free. Lucky for us, we have a nearby store that serves as a UPS drop off.

  77. CoC,
    There was a piece in the WaPost the other day about the death of Carrie Fisher and other celebs in the year “when we needed them most.” Amazing. I kept checking to see whether I had stumbled on People magazine by mistake.

  78. A video crossed my facebook feed this morning about positive things that happened in 2016. Olympics! Cubs! Pandas are off the endangered list! I enjoyed the reminder that good things happen all the time, too.

  79. Finn, Amazon and Zappos are related. Returns to Zappos are extremely easy, so my guess is they would be to Amazon as well. Or you could just order the tux through Zappos.

  80. I had no idea that Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were related until they died. And, I had no idea what Debbie Reynolds did. I only knew her as a middle aged lady who appeared on talk shows.

  81. I am not into celebs so I don’t get upset when they croak. Everyone has to go. Although, when Joey Ramone passed on, I was kind of sad

  82. I know it’s sort of un-totebaggy, but I want my theme for 2017 to be “enjoy.” I’m turning 50 this year. My recent emergency surgery reminded me of what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to grow old, so I want to savor the year and the milestone birthday. I am going to enjoy our trip to Europe this summer and not fret about the money we’re spending. My children also have milestone birthdays this year (DS becomes a teenager, and DD hits double digits), and we’ll spoil them a little by letting them re-decorate their rooms, so that they can really enjoy their surroundings. And I just want to try to enjoy the day-to-day rather than worry about the day-to-day (which is my nature).

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  83. Denver Dad – I agree. I keep wondering about my friends who had babies in 2016 and wonder how they feel about all these “2016 is the worst ear ever” posts. And for me, the Seattle Sounders winning the 2016 MLS Cup was definitely a highlight.

    I liked this post from PBS on 13 undeniably good things that happened in 2016 and will probably post it on my Facebook page. Some things include: world tiger count increases for the first time in 100 years; teen birth rate at all-time low; Olympics; high school graduation rate reaches all time high; unemployment hits pre-recession low.

    Globally, things have never been better (though not if you’re in Syria): child mortality, % of world population living in extreme poverty are at all-time historic lows. Global literacy rate is at an all-time high.

  84. Hi from Taos. No clue what my word is – need to figure out what I want from the rest of my life. DD had a health scare right before Christmas (one of those “probably nothing, but could be a brain tumor” things), and it was just so clear that I would quit instantly if it was serious. But quitting and having no such purpose just seems so listless, and I like having the extra income. And DH and I have different views on what we require in retirement — we were on the mountain having breakfast before the lifts opened, and I said, you know, we could get part-time jobs here on the mountain, ski at lunch and before/after work, give us something to do and support the ski habit (and get the big employee discount) and make a little cash to boot. And he just gave me that “who are you and what have you done with my wife?” look. Same response to “let’s just take a summer and drive around the country in an RV with the kids before they leave” suggestion. I think, much as he likes to bitch about the job, he loves the stuff he does and having a purpose and making the money, so while he will talk repeatedly about early retirement, he doesn’t actually want to quit.

    @Providence: concur with advice to just make your best guess and don’t look back — you know your kids best and are therefore in the best position to decide whether the size/behavior vs. boredom issue is more important. My DD was placed ahead a grade based on academics, but she really struggled socially and with teacher expectations (being 6 in a class of 8-yr-olds is hard enough, but add ADHD to the equation, and it was an epic failure). We ended up changing schools and having her repeat second grade to be with kids her age, where the behavioral delta was smaller and less noticeable.

    DS, OTOH, just barely missed the age cutoff, but the school wouldn’t make an exception and let him start K at 4 yrs 11 mos, even though he was doing K-level work (and after the bad experience with DD, we didn’t really push). Turns out he was bored shitless – he was the tallest kid, so constantly stuck in the back row, and most of the class time was spent on things like teaching letters to the subset of kids who didn’t know them yet, while he had moved on to chapter books. He pretty much thought school sucked until about second grade.

    The funny part was that his K teacher complained to me about his behavior, which she said surprised her, because he was older and had been in daycare and they usually didn’t see that sort of fidgetiness from the daycare kids, etc. This is my mellow, easy kid, so my response was ??????? So I sat through class one day, and watched him know every answer and be largely ignored and left on his own in the back row and thought, well, no shit — if this is a normal day, you should be thanking your lucky stars he’s just destroying his own shirt.

    But in the school’s defense, it wasn’t more than a few weeks after that that the first assessments came in and they went “oh” and started pulling him out for “enrichment.” And the bigger point is that both kids survived their less-than-optimal starts and are doing just fine now.

  85. I have long felt that my oldest kid should have skipped K and gone straight into first grade. He didn’t need socializing – years of daycare had taught him how to line up and use his words and share. He was reading well and could do all his addition and subtraction. He had no trouble making friends. So a year spent waiting for the other kids to learn 2+3 and simple phonics and how to use their words instead of kicking was very boring for him. By the end of K, he really hated school and had started mouthing off to the teacher.
    On the other hand, I look at all the issues he had in 8th grade, and am glad he wasn’t a year younger in 8th grade. So maybe staying with his age group was for the best. But then again… maybe he acquired some of his bad habits during his years of boredom in early elementary school. Aagh! One can really overthink this stuff!!!

  86. So, there was one good thing about 2016 if you were invested in the markets – more money! We check all of our accounts at YE and there was a decent uptick for 2016. We are overweighted in financial stocks from our employers, and that is why we lucked out after the election. We both had some lean years where we got paid in stock, and now those shares that were flat for years had a decent rally this year. It’s all on paper, but it still feels much better than the years where we had significant losses in our accounts.

  87. LfB, a radio station here has one of those folksy morning shows, and they put a lot of their segments up as podcasts. One time when I was looking through them, they had one titled “Vacation disappointments.” My immediate thought was Taos. DW and I went there a couple of years ago and were very disappointed with the town, I think I posted about it.

    I listened to the podcast, and the main host said Taos was his big disappointment. He said he goes to Santa Fe a lot, and people there kept telling him he needed to go to Taos. He said he finally went and didn’t see the attraction at all. I thought it was interesting that he had the same feeling that we did.

    I would still love to ski there some time.

  88. @DD – yeah, I remember that discussion. Sorry you didn’t like it; it’s definitely not for everyone. If you are looking for cute ski town, Breck or Telliride will beat it hands down. It is definitely dry and flat and not cute mountain town. But, man, the view of the mountain and the gorge as you come out of the canyon just gets me every time. And I just feel
    Comfortable here — much less upscale, no “show” at all (normal people still live here), but there is also a funky edge to it, with a lot of art (some that we love and visit every year), and just some really great food, if you’re into New Mexican. And the mountain rocks, with probably the best ski school around. We got very lucky this year — they had like a 26″ base the week before we left but got two big storms in a week, so it was fresh and smooth and soft as talcum powder.

    But, yeah, totally not for everyone – I doubt I would have come back twice if DH hadn’t already fallen in love with it, which of course predisposed me to like it. Which is fine, too — we had lift lines this year, and boy did that suck. 😉

  89. DD, was it the town of Taos that disappointed you, or was it the skiing?

    DW and I took a NM ski vacation once. We stayed in Santa Fe and mostly skied there, but drove to Angel Fire for a day, then had dinner in some small restaurant in Taos, and enjoyed both, but our time in in town of Taos was quite short.

    For a ski town experience, IMO it’s hard to beat Aspen.

  90. We came to DW’s parents for New Year’s. I was awake early this morning and went outside to take some sunrise pictures:

  91. Finn, we didn’t ski, we were there at the end of the summer. We were expecting what I consider to be a typical resort town – a walkable downtown area where you can stop in some shops or galleries, have dinner, then get some ice cream and stroll around town. Taos is on a highway and aside from the plaza, which is about a square block, it’s not walkable at all. There are some really nice galleries like LfB mentioned, the area is gorgeous, and it has a good vibe. We just really disliked the physical layout of the town.

  92. Milo, that’s a gorgeous picture.

    I was up for sunrise this morning because DS and I were going skiing. We were on the road about a half hour and he started throwing up, so we turned around and came home.

  93. Thanks for the advice on returns.

    Turns out Amazon has a free returns policy for a lot of clothes sold by them, as opposed to sold by someone else through Amazon’s website, and that policy covers shipping both ways.

    I found one tuxedo tailcoat set that might fit DS and also qualified for free returns, and ordered it. It was apparently the last one in that size.

    It also appears that there’s not much of a market for tuxedo tailcoats, especially in DS’ size, which was a surprise to me. I thought there’d at least be a market for those for rental companies that would rent them to high school promgoers, as well as wedding parties (I got married in a rental tailcoat).

  94. Gransci summarized my feelings about New Year’s Day more eloquently than any of us could.

    very morning, when I wake again under the pall of the sky, I feel that for me it is New Year’s Day.

    That’s why I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your irresolution, and so on, and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates.

    They say that chronology is the backbone of history. Fine. But we also need to accept that there are four or five fundamental dates that every good person keeps lodged in their brain, which have played bad tricks on history. They too are New Year’s. The New Year’s of Roman history, or of the Middle Ages, or of the modern age.

    And they have become so invasive and fossilizing that we sometimes catch ourselves thinking that life in Italy began in 752, and that 1490 or 1492 are like mountains that humanity vaulted over, suddenly finding itself in a new world, coming into a new life. So the date becomes an obstacle, a parapet that stops us from seeing that history continues to unfold along the same fundamental unchanging line, without abrupt stops, like when at the cinema the film rips and there is an interval of dazzling light.

    That’s why I hate New Year’s. I want every morning to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself, when I feel drunk with the intensity of life and I want to plunge into animality to draw from it new vigor.

    No spiritual time-serving. I would like every hour of my life to be new, though connected to the ones that have passed. No day of celebration with its mandatory collective rhythms, to share with all the strangers I don’t care about. Because our grandfathers’ grandfathers, and so on, celebrated, we too should feel the urge to celebrate. That is nauseating.

    I await socialism for this reason too. Because it will hurl into the trash all of these dates which have no resonance in our spirit and, if it creates others, they will at least be our own, and not the ones we have to accept without reservations from our silly ancestors.

    First published in Avanti! on January 1, 1916 and translated by Alberto Toscano for Viewpoint Magazine.

  95. I screwed up Gramsci’s piece by leaving the “E” off of “every”. Sorry!

    NoB, when DS was around that age, he was thrilled to get $100 to spend in Ikea. He got a desk and chair (both on close-out), lamp, framed picture, and a couple pencil-holder type things. I’ve no idea if your kids are bargain hunters, but my point is that at that age “redecorating their rooms” can come with a much lower price tag than you expect. They probably don’t have the capacity yet to envision the whole project of redoing everything. I believe one regular’s daughter got a similar thrill out of repainting her own room and getting a really cool chair from Pier 1. That’s more than we spent, but also not a lot.

    Finn, companies that rent them out would not buy retail.

    Mooshi, the NPR show “Sound Opinions” had a good explanation of why celeb deaths matter so much, at least musicians, but I think it applies to movie stars too: when you hear “that” song, or a series of hits from one musician, it transports you back to when you first heard it, in your younger days. The singer ages, but the song still feels young. So hearing that the singer had died is a horrible clash with that feeling of forever young. That is by far the best explanation of why it’s such a big deal that I’ve ever heard. Of course, there have been several times this year that someone “big” has died and we’ve learned about incredible charity on their part. The guy from Wham is like that for me. And I’m always glad when there has been some recent remembrance of a person shortly before their death, so they can enjoy it. An example is the renaming of the airport in Columbus to John Glenn Airport last June bringing on a whole celebratory “This is Your Life” event

  96. CoC, have you never seen a groom or groomsman wearing tails?

    I wore tails for my wedding, and didn’t have any problems finding rentals. I just looked at some wedding photos, and I was wearing exactly what DS wants to wear– black tailcoat, white vest, white bow tie.

  97. I’m with CoC – I’ve never been to a wedding or other event where men wore tails.

  98. What S&M said re: celebrity deaths. This year took four icons from my HS/college years (David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, George Michael), and the back-to-back of the last week was like piling on. It feels like it closes the door on a big piece of my life and reinforces my distance from my own youth. It’s like watching the first leaf go from yellow to red to brown and then drop off the tree, and realizing that you’re rather orange yourself.

    OTOH, I do enjoy New Year’s, for precisely the reasons Gransci dislikes it: because it is ritualized. I would love to wake up every morning challenging my own assumptions and delving deeply into my own renewal. But I don’t – I get up and go to work and make dinner and hang with my family and just generally execute normal life. And all the while time whizzes by, and parts of my life and people I used to care about fade away, and I just keep churning. So I like the forced stoppage of New Year’s, where we are all *supposed* to step away from the mundane and think about what is going right, what isn’t working, what we want to change, the people we have lost and what they meant to us, etc etc etc. Of course it’s not the *only* time to do that — that would be rather stupid. But it is a nice backstop for when I don’t stop and pay attention along the way.

  99. And one of the seven channels here has Guys and Dolls on, and Brando is about to start “Luck be a Lady.” Not a bad way to start the year.

  100. Before we left for the weekend, we put away all the Christmas stuff and purged a ton of crap. It now feels so good to be home where I’m Lord of the Manor again (not in someone else’s house), where it’s again uncluttered and fairly neat, where nothing needs to be done immediately, and when I have one more day off tomorrow. And I’m a third of the way through John Grisham’s new novel after completing “Crossing the Wake,” about a 50-something single woman with limited experience on the water doing the Loop in a Ranger 25. (Both books were Christmas presents.)

  101. LfB, that’s one movie I always record when it’s on TCM. I started watching it before DS was in the HS production, so I’d know the story and songs before watching their production, and liked it so much I keep re-watching.

    My favorite song was added for the movie, and thus wasn’t in the HS production, which followed the Broadway script and score. It’s when Sinatra sings, “Adelaide, Adelaide, every loving Adelaide,…”

  102. I HAVE seen a groom or groomsman wearing tails, but only in pictures and movies. Never in person.

  103. Groom and possibly groomsmen in tails? But of course! One BiL wore a morning coat, the other, and several other grooms I’ve seen, wore “normal” tails, whatever those are called.

  104. Financial advice request:

    I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to pay DS’ college bills (assuming he’s not getting some massive merit aid). We’d like to first spend down any accounts in his name, and the largest of those is a brokerage account with most of its assets in individual stocks and mutual funds.

    For his senior year of HS, we paid his HS tuition from our checking account, and then took cash from one of his custodial accounts to offset that. For college, I’m thinking we want to do something similar, but instead of cash, we transfer some of his securities to offset what we pay. Does anyone see any problem with that? Will such a transfer be considered a sale?

    I suppose DS could gift DW and I each with $14k worth of stock, which is something I should’ve thought about a little earlier so we could’ve transferred $28k in 2016 and then $28k in 2017.

    What I’m trying to avoid at this point is having to sell the stocks, and pay tax on CG. The individual stocks were gifts from his grandparents, and we don’t have cost basis information for most of them. I have several of boxes of papers from the GP to go through, in which I hope to find the cost basis information, but haven’t had the time for that (I did find cost basis for one of the stocks in one such box). Without that basis information, I think we’ll be stuck paying CG tax on all proceeds from any sale.

    I’m thinking that if we transfer the stocks to us, we can hold them until we either find the cost basis info and have a sale opportunity, we die and our kids can get the cost basis step-up, we use them for a charitable contribution, or tax laws change and LT CG rates drop low enough for it to make sense for us to sell.

  105. Finn – assuming he has the stock through a brokerage/in street name, I would call the broker and ask how they will report it. I think you are essentially loaning money to your child and having child pay you back with stock. See if they will be able to retitle it without making it look like a gift or a sale (so no 1099-B). I think the answer is going to be no. It is basically a constructive sale that probably triggers CG but maybe not.

  106. I love the movie Guys and Dolls – and it’s been far too long since I’ve watched it.

  107. Finn – I am very surprised that with all your financial planning for college you left substantial assets in the child’s name, but that is water under the bridge. The consequences for taxes are not the issue here (I’ll get to those in a minute) but on need based aid. The formula is that 20 percent of assets held in the child’s name are deemed available to pay for college each year. Since the grandparents gave the shares to the kids outright, and the financial aid forms in year 1 for DS1 will reflect the entire balance, that is where the effect on his aid will be felt. With a hypo 100K of assets, 20K for freshman year will be on his dime.

    If you want to start transferring from DD now, do it, but see the FAFSA caveat below. 2 years in advance of college is the recommended time frame. This is a little different than Medicaid asset transfer strategies to stick the taxpayer’s with the bill for elder care while preserving a middle class inheritance, since we are talking about private institutions with a byzantine variable pricing structure, but I am not sure of the degree of difference.

    As for income tax consequences, the devil is in the details. You and your wife can pay 100% of his educational and living expenses directly without any tax consequences, of course. If he transfers stock to the two of you as gifts under the reportable amount there is no deemed sale, but the same carryover basis from the grandparents. It is simply a gift. I would actually not transfer any more than the actual expense after all grants, or the deemed 20%, whichever is lower. The fact that you two cut the whole check is easily explained as an exercise in tax efficiency. Any brokerage house can make a transfer from one account to another, if you use the same firm, or from one firm to another, as a gift. I do it all the time for contributions. It is routine.

    I haven’t looked at a financial aid form (either FAFSA or the private college supplement) in 23 years, but there are plenty on this site who can discuss the correct or the advised reporting. I think that technically the parent’s section of the forms should reflect the FMV gift of shares from the son or the younger daughter to you in the other non taxable income section.

    As a practical matter for tax reporting, if you do need to sell the shares, a good faith attempt at determining the basis will probably pass muster. If you have an idea of the five year time period in which the original tranche of shares was purchased, and whether dividends were re invested, you can pick a reasonable midpoint or even the low end as your basis. The brokerage house will report the proceeds in the section where there is no basis information provided, you will manually put in your best estimate of basis on the schedule.

  108. I’m interested in all the responses, but I think I’m missing the main point of Finn’s dilemma.

    “What I’m trying to avoid at this point is having to sell the stocks, and pay tax on CG”

    Why? Is it because you want to keep those particular stocks? Or mainly because you want to avoid CG? If you want to avoid CG and assuming your son’s other income is low, wouldn’t it make sense to sell at least enough of the stock to stay below the point where any CG tax would be triggered? Otherwise, the other advice makes sense to me, assuming you expect to qualify for some need-based aid.

  109. CoC The kiddie tax rules have been expanded to cover unearned income of college students under 24, even if they are not claimed as dependents. This is to prevent CG shifting to lower tax bracket college kids. I think Finns issue is also that they don’t know the basis of the gifted stock and want to hold it if possible to step up on death.

  110. On Guys and Dolls, our podunk southern town boasts several natives who have made it as vocal performers in New York. A few years ago, two of them came back and starred as Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit in a community theater production. One guy said “since I sing at the Met, no one would ever cast me as Nathan Detroit, and I’ve always wanted to play the role.” Such good sports!

  111. Thanks for the advice.

    Mémé had it right– the main concern is with high CG taxes due to the lack of cost basis information.

    We won’t qualify for need based aid for DS’ first year, and the reality is settling in that it will be very difficult to turn down certain schools that do not offer merit aid, even if he gets generous merit aid offers at other schools, in which case we’ll need to have ~$70k available shortly to pay for his first year.

    Most of his assets are now in equities, as over the past few years we’ve spent down the cash in his accounts, and sold some equities for which we had cost basis information.

    We do harbor some hope that spending down his accounts for his first year’s expenses will make him eligible for need-based aid in subsequent years, but FAFSA numbers suggest that’s a long shot. Perhaps he’ll be eligible his senior year, when DD will also be in college and we may have already spent well over $200k on his first 3 years.

  112. anon, my family was lucky in that a friend of a friend is a direct DVC member and we were able to purchase points directly from her, cutting out the middle man, which was a win-win for both of us.

    But we did look at that and other sites as well for information, e.g., looking at relative costs for the various lodging options.

    FYI, I’ve that DVC has made some changes recently that reduce the benefits to non-DVC members using DVC points, i.e., fewer benefits are transferable from the member to a non-member using the member points.

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