What publications do you read?

by Finn

Louise recently asked for some advice on science magazines, but let’s expand that to publications in general.

What publications do you read, and would you suggest to your fellow totebaggers? Do you read hardcopy versions? Online? Kindle or other electronic copy?

What publications do you subscribe to, including online subscriptions? Are there any particular publications you subscribe to because you think they deserve your financial support?

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Utility usage

by Finn

I was catching up on bills, including our utility bills, and took note of our usage over the past year. We’ve been averaging about 400 kwh/month of electricity, and just under 100 gallons/day of water. Our water usage has definitely been impacted by having lived through both a drought and electricity shortage, and we’ve also recently upgraded most of our toilets to 1 gpf models.

How much do you use? Have you taken any steps to conserve?

Cord blood banking

by Finn

In a recent discussion, Ada posted this link:

A stem cell transplant helped beat back a young doctor’s cancer. Now, it’s assaulting his body

It describes someone who had leukemia, and used a stem cell transplant as
part of a treatment regimen, but it is now causing him problems.

This led me to wonder whether he’d not be having these problems if he had
his own stem cells as a source for the transplant.

It also led me to today’s questions:

Have you banked your kids’ cord blood? If not, why not?

Early retirement? Cognitive decline?

by Finn

We’ve had a number of discussions here of what we’ll do, or are doing, in retirement, but among those of us not yet retired, we haven’t discussed much when we’ll retire (Milo and Fred are among the few who have).

This article raises another possible factor to consider, both in the timing of retirement and what to do in retirement:

Why Early Retirement Isn’t as Awesome as It Sounds

Do you have a target retirement date yet? Will the possibility of being affected by mental retirement and cognitive decline affect that date? Do you have plans for any activities in retirement to maintain cognitive abilities?

Summer jobs

by Finn

A recent discussion on the politics open thread got onto the subject of immigration, then onto a discussion of how a change in immigration policy has affected businesses that rely on seasonal summer workers, which led away from politics to a discussion of summer employment of Totebaggers. Apparently many employers who rely heavily on seasonal summer workers have difficulty hiring domestic workers, and rely on foreign workers on visas (Denver Dad also mentioned it could be a problem for ski areas relying on seasonal winter workers).

For those of us with HS and college kids, what are your families doing WRT summer employment? Will, or have, your kids take or taken any of the summer jobs historically associated with kids that age, e.g., lifeguard, cannery work, agricultural work, fast food, wait or kitchen staff, etc? Or would jobs more associated with career plans, such as internships, be in their past or future?

What kind of summer work did you do, and will your kids do similar work?

How did it work out?

by Finn

One of the things I like about this group is the hijacks and side discussions that take place, often started by someone asking for advice.

Let’s share how things worked out. What car did you buy? What computer did your DH buy? How are those working out for you? Have the bullying problems been worked out?

More generally, what advice or suggestions have you received here that has been particularly useful?

More holiday season conversation

by Finn

With T-day in our rear-view mirror, we’re well into the holiday season.

Are you sending out cards? What kind do you send? Do you attach a newsletter to your cards? How do you feel about receiving newsletters with cards?

If you do send out cards, here’s some grammar help:

Are Your Holiday Cards Grammatically Correct?

Do you have travel plans for the holiday? Kids coming home from college? Do you have any travel planning tips to share? Ever tried Google flights?

Making travel planning less stressful this holiday season

Do you have any gift ideas to share? What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts?

Presents and shopping

These two related topics dovetail nicely so they are posted together.

Holiday Gift Giving

by North of Boston

OK, Totebaggers, the Holidays are upon us, so let’s talk presents. What are you planning to give your loved ones? What are you hoping to get? Are you changing your gift-giving habits this year (e.g. expanding or contracting your recipient list, or spending more or less on gifts than you have in the past)? And if you’re stuck on what to get someone, here’s your chance to ask for suggestions!

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Shopping Deals

by Finn

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, that can only mean one thing: Black Friday is also approaching, to be followed by Small Business Saturday, then Cyber Monday.

Are you looking to take advantage of any deals offered in this shopping season? What are your strategies? Are there any great deals out there that you’re willing to share?

Are athletic fees too high?

by Finn

A recent discussion delved into possible reasons college is getting so expensive. One factor we didn’t consider is the increasing cost to students of supporting increasing intercollegiate athletic budgets.

Sports At Any Cost

Why students foot the bill for college sports, and how some are fighting back

On the other hand:

NBC Accounts for $100 Million for Notre Dame Financial Aid

With fees supporting athletic departments running to hundreds of dollars per year, for many students that can mean additional thousands of additional dollars of college debt. For those relying on Pell Grants, it could mean millions of our tax dollars supporting athletic departments, many of which spend millions of dollars on coaches’ salaries alone.

What do you think? Are athletic fees excessively burdensome to students, especially those scraping through by borrowing and/or part time work and/or taking semesters off to work? Should there be limits on government spending supporting athletic departments?

 

Supersmart kids

by Finn

If we’re all honest with ourselves, many of us have very smart kids. Perhaps they’re not supersmart, but they’re well above average, and common topics of conversation here are related to our kids being smarter than their classmates, and sometimes smarter than their teachers.

So these accounts of a study of supersmart kids will likely be of interest. Some here have mentioned some level of participation in the Johns Hopkins programs for very bright middle schoolers, and my niece participated, but I was totally unaware that the program was part of such a study of supersmart kids and how to help them maximize their potentials.

How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45-Year Study of Supersmart Children

Want to Raise Wildly Successful Kids? Science Says Do This for Them (but Their Schools Probably Won’t)

What are your takeaways from these articles? Do they suggest any possible directions you will take regarding the education of your kids?

Financial education for kids

by Finn

Having a kid who’s close to graduating from HS, this article caught my attention:

5 Financial Concepts To Teach Your Teen Before High School Graduation

What do you think? Do you agree with the five concepts? Are there any others you think should be added? How do you plan to teach these concepts to your kids?

On a related note, do your kids’ schools offer classes in personal finance? My kids’ school offers one, but DS tells me he won’t take it because he’s already maxed out on the number of classes he’s allowed to take, and doesn’t want to give up any of them.

Next year they plan to offer some short courses, with personal finance being one possible subject. With the PSAT being moved from Saturday to a school day, the school decided to cancel classes on PSAT day, and instead offer things like personal finance seminars for the freshmen and seniors. Another possible time for some short classes is the weeks after AP testing.

How much have you saved?

by Finn

While this story is about college financial aid, what I found most interesting was the finances of the families involved:

An inside look at financial aid offers from private Franklin & Marshall College

For example, Student A comes from a family with an AGI of $400k, with $635k in home equity and $360k in assets not in retirement accounts. While recognizing the possibility that they could have millions stashed in retirement accounts, doesn’t that seem like a net value of less than $1M outside of retirement accounts is low for that level of income? Granted, I also don’t know what sort of special circumstances they might’ve faced, e.g., expensive medical treatments, long periods with much less income, but if we assume they didn’t face any of that, wouldn’t you think they’d have accumulated more?

Side note: This example does suggest that maximizing retirement account contributions is one way to maximize financial aid.

Looking through the other examples, while some families have assets that seem commensurate with their incomes, especially the families with low incomes, it seems to me that others should’ve been able to accumulate more assets, including home equity.

What do you think? I know I’m well above national norms in terms of how much I save, but do you think these levels of assets and home equity seem low relative to their incomes, taking into account where they live?

Credit cards

by Finn

A recent exchange of posts with Lemon brought this article to mind:

5 Signs It’s Time to Shop for a New Credit Card

How often do you shop for new cards? What criteria do you use in selecting which cards you get, and which cards you use?

We try to pay our balances every month, so we don’t really look at interest rates. What we look at primarily are rewards and annual fees. We value cash rewards over airline miles, due to its versatility, and the fact that we can use even small amounts of cash. We also look for cards with no foreign transaction fees, but since we don’t spend a whole lot of time outside the US, and already have a couple cards without those fees, that’s not a primary consideration.

We value the Discover Card cashback over others, because we can redeem cashback there by purchasing discounted gift cards from places we shop (e.g., Gap, Lowe’s). We once redeemed some cashback by buying several $100 gift cards for a hotel chain for $50 each, just before going on a trip in which we used those gift cards.

If you’ve found a card that offers a particularly good benefit, please share!

European travel plans?

by Finn

How have the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels affected you?

I’m guessing that one impact they might have on totebaggers is on travel plans. While Europe is not high on my list of places to go and things to do, there are a few places on my list, but those will probably have to wait for less turbulent times.

We’ve recently been affected. The kids’ school just hosted a group from Japan, who had originally planned a trip to Paris. But the bombings there caused a change of plans, and they came here instead.

Preparing to leave the nest

by Finn

Like several other regulars, I have a kid that will be leaving the nest for college soon.

As that day approaches, I realize that there are some things I should do before he leaves. Some fall into the category of things to teach, while others are tasks to be done in the remaining time. Among them:

-Take him to open a checking account, and teach him how to use it and to safeguard his checks.
-Walk him through a credit card application, and teach him how it works, and how to use it (e.g., always pay the balance, and never use it to buy something that will lead to a balance you can’t pay).
-Get a new phone and plan. We want him to have unlimited talk and text, because we want to have those channels to him wide open.
-Teach him to drive, and make sure he gets his license.
-Take him bike riding, both to sharpen his skills, and to teach him how to ride in traffic.
-Have him sign a health care directive/proxy and a HIPAA form, and keep copies on his, DW’s, and my phones.
-Have him do laundry. I’ve already taught him how to use the washer, but give him practice.
-Teach him how to use a non-solar dryer.
-Teach him basic cooking, and have him prepare some meals for the family.

Of course, in a lot of cases, ‘teach him’ can mean, ‘direct him to learn.’ I’m reminded of a story from a dad who was looking forward to teaching his son how to shave, only to have the son learn how from a YouTube video.

What’s on your list? How do you plan to prepare your kids before they fly the nest?

That time of year, again

by Finn

We are well into that least favorite time of year for many of us: tax time.

While some may already be done, others are yet to start.

Do you have any tips to share? Potential gotchas?

Tax time is also a good opportunity to review financial decisions, and make adjustments. What have you learned from this tax season? What worked, and didn’t work, financially over the past year?

Temporary rental rights and wrongs

by Finn

A recent post on the impact of luxury housing construction on the affordable housing market led to a discussion of the conversion of housing into short term vacation rentals, often referred to here as TVR, or temporary vacation rentals or transient vacation rentals, and how websites like AirBnB and VRBO have facilitated that.

This raises the question: Should such short-term rentals be limited to certain geographical areas, e.g., by zoning laws? Are those who convert housing to TVR, and their renters, infringing on the lives and rights of their neighbors?

Here’s a somewhat extreme example of that, in which a college student rented his dorm room via Airbnb:

An Emerson College student rented his dorm room on Airbnb. Now he’s in trouble.

How would you feel about someone in your kid’s dorm renting out his room to strangers with no connection to the college, and not vetted by the college? How about if the dorm didn’t have private bathrooms?

How would you feel if your neighbors converted their home to a TVR? Would you welcome it? Would you think they should pay a higher property tax rate than homes used as residences?