Friday Advice Column

by Lemon Tree

Is It OK to Use Money Raised for a Child’s Cancer Care on a Car?

My grandchild is being treated for leukemia. A friend of the child’s parents set up a GoFundMe page for them. They’re both well loved and have siblings who know a ton of people. So the goal was surpassed in three hours, and donations totaled more than double that amount. They plan to donate anything over and above direct hospital-related expenses to leukemia research organizations.

This couple have some needs that aren’t strictly related to the child’s care, like a new car. Am I rationalizing by saying they need to drive the child to the hospital and should use some of this money for a dependable car? Is there a strict line you would not cross? And is it germane that they’re not extravagant and extremely honest? Name Withheld

Parents today

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

From the Atlantic:

Parents Are Sacrificing Their Social Lives on the Altar of Intensive Parenting

Inequality has seemingly caused many American parents to jettison friendships and activities in order to invest more resources in their kids.

The article goes on to talk about the things that we old people have described — kids who ran out to play in the mornings and didn’t come home til lunch time, Moms who went to play mah jongg or take tap dancing lessons (okay, that one was my mom), Dads who belonged to clubs and played golf. The author argues that

“The financial and emotional burden on families has grown in ways that were almost unimaginable just a half-century ago,” writes the University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg. Parents’ anxiety about financial security and the world that awaits their kids pushed American households into a frenzy of work and parenting, seemingly causing many to jettison friendships and activities in order to create more time to supervise and advance their kids.

Overnight millionaire

by lauren

The anonymous millionaire author of this article shares some interesting insights, but I don’t agree with some of the author’s feelings about how the money was earned. Also, I am happy to introduce the author to an excellent financial advisor as the author didn’t seem to put much effort into finding an experienced advisor.

What do you think you would do with this type of windfall and how would you feel about it?

Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire “I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money?

Liars and cheaters

by Kim

How college students learned new ways to cheat during pandemic remote schooling

  • Students say that working remotely makes it easier to use phones and notes during exams, and cite constraints in online learning as reasons to explain their behavior.
  • A study from Imperial College London found a near-200% increase in questions and answers posted to Chegg’s homework help section between April and August 2020.
  • Experts say the empirical data on Covid cheating is slim, but many students are doing it because during the pandemic remote learning shift they think no one is watching.

It can be easy to justify cheating under our current particularly stressful conditions, especially when you know the majority of your classmates are cheating.  One parent of teens who is well-connected in her community said that many high school students wanted to stay with remote learning because it was easier to cheat.  What are your thoughts?  Has cheating significantly increased over the last year?

West Point is taking action.

West Point to End Policy of Leniency for Cadets After Covid-19 Pandemic Cheating Scandal
Dozens at academy were punished in worst honor code breach in at least four decades but avoided expulsion

The policy, known as the “willful admission process,” can protect a cadet who admits to wrongdoing from being thrown out. It was put in place in 2015 to increase self-reporting without fear of removal and to encourage cadets to confront peers about honor violations without having them kicked out of school.

The policy, however, didn’t achieve the desired intent, said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the academy, in an interview. “It’s clear to me, it has to go.”

What about cheating on business taxes?

The withholding system remains the cornerstone of income taxation, effectively preventing Americans from lying about wage income. Employers submit an annual W-2 report on the wages paid to each worker, making it hard to fudge the numbers.

But the burden of taxation is increasingly warped because the government has no comparable system for verifying income from businesses. The result is that most wage earners pay their fair share while many business owners engage in blatant fraud at public expense.

In a remarkable 2019 analysis, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that Americans report on their taxes less than half of all income that is not subject to some form of third-party verification like a W-2. Billions of dollars in business profits, rent and royalties are hidden from the government each year. By contrast, more than 95 percent of wage income is reported.

Unreported income is the single largest reason that unpaid federal income taxes may amount to more than $600 billion this year, and more than $7.5 trillion over the next decade. It is a truly staggering sum — more than half of the projected federal deficit over the same period.

Teaching financial literacy

by Houston

DS2 is going to college in the fall, so we’ve had several conversations with him about managing money, budgeting, investing, etc. I mentioned in a prior post that I helped him set up his own Vanguard account.

How are you teaching your children to be financially literate?

The 1% threshold

by Finn

RMS recently posted a link to the Knight-Frank Wealth Report.

As I skimmed through it, one datum in one graph jumped out at me. The graph shows the net wealth thresholds, by country, to join the top 1%. The datum is the US threshold of US$4.4M.

What’s your initial reaction to that datum?

It grabbed my attention because my initial reaction was that it seemed low.

The accompanying article does not mention what’s included in net wealth, but very early in the report, thresholds for Ultra-high-net-worth individual (UHNWI) at US$30M including primary residence, and High-net-worth individual (HNWI) at US$1M, including primary residence, are defined.

I’m assuming they’re being consistent, and the $4.4M threshold includes primary residence, which buttressed my initial reaction.

In discussions here, one definition of ‘rich’ that had received a lot of support was having enough wealth to comfortably support an UMC lifestyle without a job.

Is $4.4M enough wealth to make you feel comfortable quitting your job?

Keeping in mind the $4.4M includes primary residence, that only would leave somewhere around $3M to invest after subtracting the value of a comfortable residence and some rainy day cash. Investing in bonds with 2% to 3% yields would provide $60k to $90k in income, and if you weren’t working, that would have to cover medical insurance.

The article did compare the 1% thresholds to their UHNWI threshold, which suggests that the 1% threshold is for individuals, not couples or families.

So my second reaction was that $4.4M is an individual threshold, so for a couple it would be somewhere around $8.8M, although the part about including primary residence clouds things a bit since many couples share a primary residence.

With $8.8M between us, I could perhaps see DW and me being able to quit our jobs and still live comfortable UMC lives, once we structured our assets to generate income as well as appreciate. We’d have somewhere approaching $7M to invest to generate income, and even in safe bonds at about 2% that would give us $140k in income, and I’m pretty sure we could live comfortably on that, but that still doesn’t compare favorably to a lot of totebaggers’ earned incomes.

But I’d have thought that people at the 1% level would be wealthy to the point of their wealth generating a lot more income than that, or at least being able to (I suspect many of the 1% have a lot of investments targeted at growth rather than income). Perhaps in my dreams, I’m not aggressive enough with my investing.

Your thoughts?

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Small-Town Natives Are Moving Back Home (WSJ)
For many young people, returning to struggling communities means exchanging prosperity for a more rooted life.

… Over the past few years, a growing number of Americans have been moving back to the small towns and rural communities they were once encouraged to leave. Thanks in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, 52% of adults age 18 to 29 lived with their parents in 2020, the largest share since the Great Depression, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data indicate that large metro areas have seen declining growth and in some instances population losses since 2010.

Many people move home to help out with family businesses, support aging loved ones or share the joys of small-town life with their kids. I left Fruitland, Idaho, for college on the East Coast in 2009 and now live in northern Virginia. While writing a book about the farm community where I grew up, however, I discovered many people who have chosen to move back home as part of a larger mission. They are fighting rural poverty, restoring broken food economies and bringing health back to neglected soil. Their vision of success has less to do with financial prosperity or personal comfort than with the more demanding values of stewardship, investment and care.

Returning home isn’t just beneficial to environmental renewal or civic health. It’s good for the returners, too. As the philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” We grow roots, she added, through “real, active and natural participation in the life of a community.”

The hardships of 2020 have reminded me how much I miss being close to family and how much I want to invest in the land and community that raised me. The farmer, poet and essayist Wendell Berry got it right: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.”

Do you agree with this top comment?

Feel good, statistically insignificant anecdotal reporting.

In any case, would you consider moving back to your hometown, whether it’s a small town or a big city?  If circumstances somehow found you living back where you grew up, what would your life be like?

Allergy season

by Kerri

As a Spring time allergy sufferer, this was welcome news to me. Maybe I’ll get to enjoy this year’s Cherry Blossom festival without being doped up on Zyrtec and coffee. Any other suggestions on how to get through allergy season?

Exercise routines

by Kim

(This poll may or may not work.)



Do you yearn to return to the gym?  Some of us preferred exercising at home even before the pandemic.

Tom Brady adheres to an extreme fitness routine.  No caffeine, gluten, or nightshade vegetables that could cause inflammation.  And this is interesting:

As the quarterback has aged, he works out less with weights, which could leave him prone to muscle tears. Now it’s all about planks, lunges and squats, followed by more pliability exercises, such as doing crunches with a vibrating roller beneath his back.

More here:

Everything we know about Tom Brady’s extreme diet and fitness routines

What are your extreme or non-extreme fitness routines?  Do you “swear” by anything?

Wednesday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Finn gave us a conversation starter:

Rise of the Robocall

What do you do when you get robocalled? Do you try to increase the cost to the robocaller?

My employer has a policy that we answer calls to our desk phones when we’re at our desks, so I’ve answered a bunch of robocalls. At first I’d just hang up as soon as I realized a call was a robocall. But shortly afterward, I started just putting the receiver down on my desk, then checking a couple minutes later and hanging up if the call had ended. Then I started pressing buttons to get a real person, then putting down the receiver.

Easter Monday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:

At 10:04 p.m. on Christmas Day, then–Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris tweeted a holiday reminder we don’t often hear from politicians: “Check in on your single friends.”

Do you have a single friend or relative that you regularly check on?

Carrying on

by Anonymous

We are preparing to travel again, and I’ve forgotten how! Specifically, I want to be comfortable on longer flights. This is what I’m planning to take on the plane

Hand sanitizer/disinfectant
Refillable water bottles
Phones (with reading material)
Battery packs & charging cables
Headphones/earbuds with cases
Allergy meds/nasal spray
Hair ties
Bar Castile soap
Chewing gum

I’m also thinking of taking sheet masks to use on long flights. What types have you used & would recommend using (or avoiding)?

What do you take on your flights? Do you see anything we are missing?

The Totebag Has Taught Me….

by Houston

What are the lessons, tricks, tips, etc. that you’ve learned from The Totebag?

I’ve learned so many lessons, great and small, from the community here. I love the recipes, book recommendations, trip reviews, and encouragement to relax and not be so damned Totebaggy!