April 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

April 2013 - Posts

  • Threatening the Cable Company Works

     Image courtesy of Ralpharama


    You may recall my previous complaints and hand-wringing over dealing with our cable company, Comcast.

    My most recent conversation with Comcast made it clear that we could save something like $50-$60 per month if we were to drop cable, while still keeping our internet and home phone service.

    Since today is the last day of the month, it was grand bill-paying day, with the ritual blowing of the checking account conch shell to announce the start of the day, the removal of the sacred bill-paying pen from its hermetically sealed glass case, and the ceremonial banging of the head while waiting on hold with various and assorted "customer service" agents. (I did, however, skip the sacramental bill-paying and head-banging robes. I was running a little short on time, and it's only me here.)

    In any case, I got Comcast on the horn sometime this morning. I was a bill-paying woman on a mission. I was going to cancel cable, free up some time that I know I can better spend than by watching endless Friends reruns over and over again because they just happen to be on TBS, and save myself somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 per year.

    The first individual I spoke was clearly reading from cue cards. I said I was planning on cancelling cable, and she told me she could certainly understand my frustration. I wasn't frustrated. I wasn't complaining. I just wanted to cancel my cable.

    She did not have that authority. (Apparently, cancelling your cable is the sort of thing only a manager can handle. I suspect there's a special register key, like at the grocery store).

    She put me on hold to talk to a customer service specialist--nominally the person who had the authority to cancel my cable, but in actuality, the person who was going to try to convince me to keep cable.

    I waited on hold for 9 minutes for my customer service specialist, who, once she got me on the phone, asked if there was anything she could do to change my mind. I told her no.

    She told me that my price for just phone and internet would be $105 per month. This is a good $20 more than what the last person quoted me for just those two services, but expecting consistency in prices at a cable company from one phone call to the next is as useless as expecting bullfrogs to tap dance. It just ain't gonna happen.

    So, I told her that sounded just dandy to me, and to please go ahead and cancel the cable.

    She then pulled out the big guns. She could, as a special favor to me, return me to the original bundle price I was given three years ago: $99 for all three services. Which, as you may notice if you're keeping score at home, is LESS expensive than the cost for just the two services I was interested in keeping.

    Apparently, Ms. Customer Service rep thought I was playing hardball when I really just wanted to cancel the cable.

    Even though I really was looking forward to the time I don't turn on the TV as a matter of course, I agreed to the "new" price, which will theoretically last through the next year. (I say theoretically because I have some trust issues with cable companies).

    I'm not entirely sure why Comcast is so very committed to keeping our intravenous television drip on and working--particularly considering the fact that we don't order Pay-Per-View (with one notable exception), we don't upgrade to premium channels, and we have a conversation something like this about once or twice a year.

    But, considering the fact that I saved about 40 bucks a month by engaging in the ritual head-banging of bill-paying day, I'm feeling pretty pleased about it all.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go see what Monica, Chandler and the gang were up to 15 years ago.

  • Apparently, You Shouldn't Buy Organic


    I LOVE it when a recognized authority backs up my secretly held convictions. Earlier this month, Jayson Lusk, who holds the illustrious title of "Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University" wrote this piece on Huffington Post regarding the intricacies of buying organic produce.

    Now, despite the fact that the article is provocatively titled "Why You Shouldn't Buy Organic," Prof. Lusk is not definitively making the case that no one should buy organic produce. He's simply pointing out the fact that the word organic has quite the halo effect, which makes it shorthand for all the things we want from our food. But despite what we may think, organic produce is not necessarily grown on small family farms, it is not pesticide-free, and it is not necessarily a more sustainable option than conventionally grown produce.

    I for one would like to breathe a big old sigh of relief. Back when I was a kid, my parents bought apples and carrots and pears (oh, my!) for me to eat without giving a thought to where it came from. While there are some major issues with thinking your food originated in the supermarket where you found it, there is something to be said for the blissful ignorance that previous generations ate under. They did not have to have the internal grocery debate over whether to spend the extra money on organic produce for their children, thereby insuring their continued health, well-being, and superiority at the local play group, but also insuring that there would be no money left over to send that healthy youngun to college. Or alternatively spending less on conventional produce, thereby proving your hatred for your children and insuring they would never actually make it to college since the pesticides would addle their brains before getting there.

    I have long looked askance as the so-called dirty dozen, the list of the 12 most pesticide-contaminated produce that you should apparently always buy organic. This list was supposedly created in order to help shoppers on budgets decide what organic produce was most important so they didn't have to purchase all organic produce. Unfortunately, the list constitutes the 12 most commonly purchased produce items in any shopper's cart and really doesn't help anyone's budget since it's fairly rare that one buys fruits and veggies that are NOT on the list.

    So, based upon that simple fact of cost, I decided not to buy organic. I simply couldn't afford it.

    Then, several years ago, I read somewhere that the cancer-increasing effects one faces by ingesting pesticides are much much much smaller than the cancer-reducing effects of eating lots of fruits and veggies, whether they are conventional or organic. So basically, if you feel like you have to buy organic produce or no produce at all--you're actually better off with the cheap, "poisonous," non-organic apples.

    And that was basically the end of my feelings of guilt for purchasing non-organic.

    Don't get me wrong--I love the goal of organic, sustainable, locally grown produce. Living in Indiana, we have an enviable farmer's market every spring-through-fall that I love to shop at. I like supporting local farmers and knowing where my produce is coming from.

    But I don't make it my mission to eat entirely organic, because that way madness and the poor house lies. The only organic purchase I regularly make is milk, partially because it seems to last longer than conventional milk, and partially because I really prefer the taste. (And partially because I read some information about what makes it into conventional milk. That turned my stomach. I have no idea if I'm avoiding the issue by drinking organic, but some things you just don't want to know more about).

    All this is to say that I would love to see our food production be as healthy, sustainable, and financially viable as possible. But pinning all of our hopes on the word organic (like when you see organic candy, which seems to be missing the point) is not the way to do it. As with everything else, organic food production is far more complex than the marketers make it seem.

    It's human nature to want a simple, hard-and-fast rule about something, and for many food shoppers these days, apparently organic is it.

  • My Finger Still Hurts: Great-Grandmotherly Wisdom

    My great-grandmother Fannie, who passed away before I was born, was an incrediby wise woman. One of my favorite of her aphorisms is "If I cut my finger and you cut off your arm, my finger still hurts."

    I've always tried to remember that it's okay to keenly feel my own personal hurts, even if other people's pain is worse somehow. I can certainly be sympathetic and compassionate for your missing arm and I can certainly be there for you. But at the end of the day, I still feel my cut finger and I can never feel your cut-off arm. And that's okay.

    This is something I have thought about often during recent tragedies in the news. It seems to be human nature that someone will start pointing out the "hypocrisy" of our caring about tragedies in our own backyard when people are suffering and dying every day all over the world. I never want to lose the perspective that human tragedy is painful and even unbearable the world over. But I can still nurse my own hurt finger--because it's the pain I'm feeling directly. And there's nothing wrong with keenly feeling something that hits close to home. If we felt that way about every tragedy the world over, no one would ever be able to get out of bed.

    I had mentioned this piece of wisdom to a friend recently, so it's been on my mind. This morning, as I was thinking about Fannie's words, I realized that there's a positive correlation to it, as well.

    For instance, if my child receives his GED after a long struggle and yours gets a PhD from Harvard, I can still feel proud of my child, without  your pride taking anything away from mine. If I skimp and scrape and save to be able to purchase a beater car that I keep running myself and you use your annual bonus to buy a Lexus, I can still feel good about my choice without your finances reflecting in any way on mine.

    Even though Fannie had always framed this wisdom as being about the uselessness of comparing heartbreak and tragedy, it's ultimately about the uselessness of comparing, period.

    There's no reason to keep up with the Joneses--ultimately, they have their own cut fingers/missing arms they are dealing with that we may never know about. We only have our own particular experiences and we must live our lives based on the hand we're dealt. So it's okay to grieve our own personal losses and feel our own personal pride and make our own personal improvements. Provided we treat the Joneses with compassion and remember that they're also dealing with whatever life has handed them, it's simply silly to envy their house/car/boat/gadget. You have no idea how bad their missing arm hurts.


    Since I unfortunately do not seem to have a picture of my great-grandmother handy (and Mom, if you're reading this, could we rectify that situation?), here's a picture of her daughter, my grandmother Ruthie, who was also a very wise woman, embodying the lesser-known adage "If I dance all night at my daughter's wedding in uncomfortable shoes and you just went through foot surgery, my feet still hurt":

  • An Opportunity, a (Sort Of) Hiatus, and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Retirement But Were Afraid to Ask

    Last month, I was contacted by an editor at a publishing company about the possibility of writing a book on retirement.

    Despite the fact that part of me wants to curl up in the fetal position under my desk, I've taken the gig and will officially be writing a 60,000 word opus on what people about 5 years away from retirement need to be doing to prepare.

    My editor is hoping for a very quick turnaround time on my manuscript. My due date is mid-June, which you might have noticed is a scant 7 weeks from now. In order to make sure I hit my deadline, for the month of May, I will be slowing down my Mensch posting to 2 days a week--probably Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    I intend to get back to my usual blogging schedule in June, so you won't have to go too long without your daily Mensch fix.

    Since I will be spending the next 7 weeks immersed in the world of retirement planning, I thought I'd ask you, dear readers, to share with me the specific questions about retirement that you wish someone would illuminate. I hope to blog about some of the discoveries I make through the course of my research for this book, and I'd love to know exactly what people are concerned about.

    Thanks, and wish me luck!

  • Why I Need to Read Food Labels

    Sunday evening, in the midst of making grilled mushroom tacos, we discovered that the package of tortillas which should have been half-full (meaning 4 remaining tortillas) had but a mere 2 tortillas remaining. Neither LO nor J (nor the dog) would take responsibility for the missing tortillas, although I have my suspicions (considering the fact that only two of those three individuals have opposable thumbs and only one of those three individuals can currently open the refrigerator and reach into the drawer wherein said tortillas are kept), but I am keeping my suspicions to myself.

    In any case, I left J manning the grill while I made a quick tortilla-replacement run to the grocery store.

    While there, I also decided to pick up two more bottles of apple juice for LO, as we had just run out.

    Generally, I simply purchase whatever 100% apple juice is cheapest. So, when I saw Mott's for Tots had the cheapest of the apple juice prices, I picked up a couple bottles and made my way back home before the coals in the grill had gone out.

    As I was unpacking my purchases, I took a closer look at the Mott's label:

    This is not actually apple juice. It is watered down apple juice.

    Here's the thing: we already water down LO's juice. He gets 50/50 (or thereabouts) juice/water blends, and we purchase the 100% juice so that we can do such watering down ourselves.

    Apparently, there is a market out there for parents who are too harried to water down their own juices--hence the Mott's for Tots. (This is a demographic I cannot personally imagine, but there you go).

    If I had just taken the time to really look at the label, I would have realized the slightly more expensive Target brand 100% apple juice was the better deal, as it will actually last the entire week. Now, we're just going to go through the watered down juice in a couple of days and have to run out again.


    So truly, this is what I get for not taking the time to read labels.

  • Another Frugal Pet Peeve: Environmentalism Does NOT Have to Cost Money

     "It's April 22nd, and everybody knows today is Earth Day..."


    I have been an environmentalist since I was a small child and I saw a presentation on my school about the importance of recycling. With the zeal of a new convert, I did what I could to help the earth throughout my adolescence: I embroidered the words "Save the Earth" on my burgundy JanSport backpack. I cleaned up Soldier's Delight Park on Earth Day. I cut six-pack plastic rings so that birds and fish wouldn't be choked by them. In short, I tried very hard to remember that we only get one planet, and that it won't last forever.

    Fast forward to 2006, and Al Gore--who I admired in late 80s because of his concern for the environment, even though I couldn't have named any other politicians at the time other than the president and veep--put out An Inconvenient Truth. Suddenly, my concern for the planet was mainstream. Everywhere you looked, people started making decisions with global implications in mind.

    Several of my environmentalist friends were a little annoyed by this. It seemed like environmentalism was now some sort of fad. For me, I decided that it didn't matter where the concern came from, as long as we were all moving in the same direction.

    And then, it became clear why it was bad for green thinking to be a fad: marketers.

    Suddenly, the marketplace was flooded with "green" alternatives. Granted, some of them truly were helpful, like finally being able to buy non-chemical cleaners without having to make them yourself. Some of them were irritating, like SunChips' failed biodegradeable bag that was ludicrously loud when crinkled. And a lot were simply unnecessary, like hybrid cars.

    Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the quest for new technology that will improve on the wasteful and imperfect means we currently have. I'm married to a man who has worked his entire career to make gas engines more efficient, and I appreciate just how difficult it is to engineer new technology and perfect current technology. But hybrid cars--which are at best a temporary band-aid and caused their own emission problems considering their battery needs--became a status symbol for most drivers, rather than a real way to help the environment.

    And I believe that's why there is now a sense that environmentalism is a rich man's luxury. People will often have the idea that the best way to help the planet is to invest in things the average homeowner/driver/person simply can't afford, like solar panels or geo-thermal heating or hybrid cars or carbon offsets.

    But buying crap is not going to solve the climate problem. Being more like our grandparents will do a heck of a lot more to help the earth. Reducing waste, reusing, patching, repairing, and keeping older items that you already own, limiting consumption, and maintaining our homes and cars, will go pretty darn far in helping the environment, and it saves us money, too.

    I recognize that our culture has never found a problem we can't make a product (for the low low price of $99.99!!!) to solve. Shopping really is one of our national pastimes, and I get just as much of a thrill from retail therapy as the next person. But I feel like the glut of "green" products offered over the past decade or so have made it hard to remember that being green is often the same as being frugal. You don't have to install your own windmill in your back yard to make a difference. You just have to make decisions with both financial and environmental sustainability in mind. That's not so difficult if you've already got a frugal mindset.

    So, in honor of Earth Day, please share your favorite low-cost, free, or money-saving tip for reducing waste, energy usage, or unnecessary purchases.

    Believe it or not, your tip can help save the world.

  • In Defense of Convenience

     Image courtesy of Amazon


    J and I recently purchased a juicer. Not just any juicer, mind you. No, we bought the Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice Extractor.

    (Don't ask how much this bad boy set us back.)

    (It was $285.)

    (I know.)

    We became juicers in the only way that I've ever heard of anyone becoming a juicer: we watched a documentary (Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead) that convinced us we needed to juice or die.

    In point of fact, J watched the documentary over a year ago. He became gung ho about the idea of buying a juicer, and showed me some of the models online. I looked at the cost, looked at our perfectly serviceable blender, and suggested maybe we could just focus on making more smoothies for breakfast. J sighed and relented.

    Then about 6 weeks ago, I watched the documentary. I became gung ho about the idea of buying a juicer. J shook his head at my (inevitable) change of heart, and helped me research the best one, which is how we ended up with the $285 Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice Extractor.

    Despite all this buildup, my post is not actually about our juicer (although if anyone would like to share juicing recipes/ideas/strategies in the comments, I certainly wouldn't mind). This post is actually about convenience.

    One of the many articles I read about juicing had an extended interview with a family of committed juicers. The parents were talking about how they were able to get their children to drink green juice (veggie juice with some apple or other fruits thrown in for sweetness) more easily than they were able to convince them to eat their vegetables.

    As the mother of a confirmed veggie-phobe (not to mention the wife of a veggie-take-it-or-leave-it-maybe-I'll-eat-it-if-you-make-it-easy-for-me type), this seemed like a major upside to spending big bucks on a juicer. LO (and J) would finally get the veggie nutrients I've been trying to force on him for years.

    Then, I started reading the comments on this article, because I'm a terrible masochist who has not yet learned to ignore comment sections on major news websites.

    There was quite a bit of vitriol spewed regarding the negative lesson these parents were teaching their kids by serving them juice instead of whole fresh vegetables.

    This falls into what I like to call the "should problem." We all have a sense of the way life should be. Children should eat their vegetables without prompting. We should be able to resist the chocolate cake in the break room. We should be able to get up as soon as the alarm clock rings in the morning without hitting snooze seven times and then rushing to work with mis-matched shoes because we were so very late after all the snoozing. We should be able to be productive and adult members of society without having to trick, outwit, convenience, or otherwise make it easy on ourselves.

    And yet, we don't live in the should world. We live in the world wherein I regularly need to put my car keys in the refrigerator to make sure I don't forget to bring my carefully packed lunch and then have to spend money for a meal. (Okay, that was regularly when I worked a traditional job, but the example stands). We live in a world where eating vegetables have long been the bane of both parent and child existence, and making sure kids get the nutrients they need while ALSO serving them whole vegetables with meals is a good way to keep your bases covered.

    My problem with the should mindset is that it ignores the fact that human beings are ornery, fallible, irrational, and just plain weird. Yes, it's ridiculous that our species is so irrational that we have created an alarm clock that rolls around on the floor to ensure that you get up on time--but that doesn't change the fact that such a product works. (Even better than my old trick of putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room. I'd just get up, hit snooze, and head back to bed for the next 9 minutes).

    The truth of the matter is that making things easy (in some ways) makes it more possible for us to do the things we really want to do. Simply throwing shoulds at the problem just makes you feel bad and doesn't actually change the behavior. So, I'm all for juicing vegetables and chasing rogue alarm clocks and basically outwitting myself in the name of making good behavior easier and more convenient for myself.

    It might be nice to live in the perfect should world, but until we get there, I'm going to juice up some carrots for LO.

    I don't think that's unreasonable in the slightest.

  • Some Good News from the Economic Downturn

    Apparently, living through a major economic downturn is enough to change money habits in young people. Who woulda thunk it?

    The website SaveUp, which works to help motivate people to save rather than spend their money, just put together a report on the April findings from their U.S. Consumer Savings and Debt Report. The results are somewhat surprising: young adults (age 22-32, so I've just missed the cutoff), are apparently aggressively working on paying off debt and saving their hard-earned (and sadly low) wages, at rates MUCH higher than their older co-workers, parents, grandparents, and other people we would all expect to know better than the whippersnappers.

    While we don't know for sure why new college grads paid down 57% more of their student loans in March compared to other populations, it's most likely connected to the fact that the economy took a dive just when these folks were reaching adulthood. Having to move back home with Mom and Dad after college can pretty profoundly change one's economic outlook. Instead of spending every penny on gadgets and gizmos and whatsits galore, as young adults who are living independently making big bucks might (WILL) do, Millennials are saving their money so they can eventually move out of Casa de Mom and Dad and feel more like a responsible member of society.

    What's really interesting about this report is that the experts believe this will have long-term effects on the generation's habits and attitudes toward money. Just as their great-grandparents became savers extraordinaire after living through the Depression, these kids will likely keep their money-saving/debt-annihilating attitudes throught their lives, which means they'll probably be okay once they reach retirement age (even though Social Security could be a lost dream of yesteryear by that point.)

    I do remember seeing Fareed Zakaria on The Daily Show (natch) sometime in 2009, talking about the upside of the downturn. Basically, this was it: the downturn will change the saving and spending habits of an entire generation, and that's something that's really needed. (Jon Stewart joked that this was not exactly unicorn-and-rainbows good news, but it certainly does make me feel better about the economy and attitudes my son will grow up with).

    Already, young adults are starting to find good ways to save money. This 22-year-old recent college grad has started canning her own veggies:


  • When to Let a Membership Lapse


    Photo that will make you start humming the Village People courtesy of Cryptic C62


    The mensch family has been a member of our local YMCA since we moved to Lafayette in June of 2010. I showed up there, hugely pregnant, and asked about their swimming classes. I joined an early morning class wherein I was the youngest student by at least 20 years. That summer, I swam about three or four days a week, made friends with my fellow classmates (who enjoyed giving me advice and clucking over my and the instructor's pregnancies), and found that I really enjoyed the regular gym habit.

    After LO was born, I discovered that it was impossible to get him, myself, my associated swim gear and shower necessities, and his metric ton of baby accoutrements to the Y in time to make it to the 7:30 am swim class, so I became more of a gym rat than a swimmer. I got to know all of the various cardio machines, and did a fair job of spending no less than two mornings a week at the Y. The drop-in daycare where I could leave LO while I went home to work was also a boon, as it allowed me to have some non-baby-focused time to get a little writing done.

    Then, in 2012, I gave myself the running challenge which you all no doubt remember. Despite my best intentions for running outside in fine weather, I found that I really preferred the consistency of the Y treadmills, and I did nearly all of my 500 miles at our gym.

    I was a fixture at the Y.

    I knew all the staff's spouses names.

    I knew which treadmills to avoid and which ones were hidden gems.

    In short, I felt like the amount of money I was paying the Y was almost too little considering how much of my life I spent there.

    Then, it became 2013 and I no longer had a running challenge to meet.

    So far, in 2013, I've gone to the Y fewer than 10 times.

    This is partially because I've been finding that I really need to get a jumpstart on my writing in the morning, which was when I generally went a-gymming last year. I've also found that I missed the long walks that LO and I would take together when he was a very young baby who would only nap if I walked him for hours in his stroller. (These days, he doesn't nap anymore, but he does enjoy taking in the scenery and pointing out every airplane, squirrel, bird, and big kid that passes by).

    The problem is this: I am paying the YMCA $59 per month right now, and no one is using their services.

    If I were to cancel or suspend our membership, that would make it a pain in the tuchus to just run in for a quick workout the next time the mood strikes and the weather is icky. That kind of tuchus pain is enough to keep a better gym rat than me from going.

    But, it always seems ridiculous to spend money on a resource that is not being used. Month after month. That's how people can end up being members of a gym they haven't visited in YEARS.

    I suspect I'll let our membership continue at least through the rest of the summer, if not longer, even if nothing changes. One thing I will often find myself thinking is that my schedule/preferences/habits will always remain the same, no matter what. Because I do like routine, I'll think that I need to keep things exactly the same. But, my writing clients, my family, and LO (especially) can have profound effects on my schedule and how I structure my day. For right now, I'd just like to stay flexible and keep my options open.

    Even if it is costing me $59 per month.

  • What to Do With Your Tax Refund


    As I've mentioned previously, I'm a big believer in aiming for a modest (under $500) tax refund each year. I don't necessarily manage it every year--for instance, J and I got over $900 back for 2012--but I do what I can.

    I believe in doing this for several reasons:

    1. I don't like the idea of giving Uncle Sam a huge, interest-free loan every year.

    2. With judicious money planning, I know that I can either earn a little on the money by saving or investing it throughout the year, or I can put it to other good use throughout the year.

    3. Psychologically, we all tend to view tax refunds as "found money," even though it's our own income. That means we'll often spend it in ways we'd never spend a paycheck--on electronics, vacations, or other purchases that might not be entirely necessary.

    However, I also recognize that not everyone is going to be like me when it comes to money. For me, having an opportunity to balance my checkbook and transfer money to various high-interest savings accounts is almost as much fun as a trip to Disneyland. (More so, since there's generally no line and no possibility of whiplash). For those non-money nerds out there, I can certainly comprehend why it would be tempting to increase withholding simply to make paying taxes easy and to ensure that underpayment will never be an issue. Also, having a big check from Uncle Sam every spring is a nice little bonus, and for those individuals who have an easier time dealing with big money rather than little money spread out over 52 paychecks, it can also be a better way to be responsible with your money.

    So basically, even though I believe in aiming for a modest return, I certainly don't judge those who do the opposite.

    However, I will say that I find it disheartening to see people blow their tax refund when they can't really afford to do so. Here's what I'd rather see people do with their big refunds, rather than book a cruise or buy a big-screen TV:

    1. Fund your retirment account. Being able to put a big check into retirement gives you an incredible boost--which having a little bit deducted from each paycheck does not.

    2. Beef up your emergency fund. They say you should have 3-6 months worth of income set aside for a reason.

    3. Pay off debt. Again, the psychological impact of a big payment is worth the disappointment of not being able to blow your refund.

    4. Pay for education. Either setting the money aside so that you can eventually go back to school without a loan or putting it in a 529 account for your little one's future education.

    5. Give it away. Donating to charity not only does good in the world, but it also really feels good.

    6. Buy a nice little something for yourself (emphasis on the little). If you do spend the entire year sticking to your budget and penny-pinching, it is important to treat yourself every once in a while so that you can keep up the frugal habit. The problem is when you start feast-or-famine thinking, which is how many people treat their returns.

    J and I have not yet decided what we will do with our refund this year, but I'm thinking about suggesting a payment on my student loan, considering how close I am to paying that bad boy off.

    How much did you get back this year, and what do you plan to do with it?

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