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September 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

September 2013 - Posts

  • Bureaucracy: Where YOU Pay the Stupid Tax

     

    I have had my suspicions of the bureaucracy surrounding official records ever since J and I went to the Marriage License Department of the Ohio Probate Court back in 2008 to get our official marriage license.

    After we handed over the necessary documents, the licensor asked us to each raise our right hand and swear that we were not:

    a). Drunk

    b). High

    c). Kin

    Okay, the language was more formal than that, but basically, they were simply taking our word for it that were of sound mind and unrelated. It left me wondering why they bothered, since there was clearly nothing they could or would do if anyone lied about it.

    I was reminded of this ridiculousness recently after receiving Thing 2's birth certificate.

    Because filling out official documents mere hours after giving birth is always an excellent idea, I found myself putting together all the information for the official birth certificate in the wee hours of Saturday the 14th.

    When I arrived at the section requesting J's place of birth, I confidently wrote down Washington D.C., since that happens to be where he was born.

    That was my first mistake.

    Several days later, when we received the official letter confirming our request for a birth certificate from the Tippecanoe County Board of Health, J's birthplace was listed as "Washington State."

    Depressingly, on the other side of the letter was the following statement: "Correction of any mistakes is subject to a fee."

    J immediately went down to the Board of Health's office, where they tried to correct the mistake by claiming he had been born in Colombia--as in the country in South America. (Apparently, few people in our local Board of Health office are familiar with the District of Columbia).

    Thankfully, J corrected this second mistake before the birth certificate went to the presses, and the bureaucrat who was "helping" him was kind enough to only charge him for the initial mistake. The mistake, if you'll remember, that they made.

    Granted, it was a $10 charge, which is unlikely to bankrupt anyone. It's the principle of it that rankles.

    And of course, just like the Marriage License Department, no one asked J for any proof of his birthplace.

    We did, however, receive a reciept for the $10 fee.

    In triplicate.

  • Introducing the Wee-est Mensch!

     

    Thing 2 has arrived!

    At 13 minutes to midnight on Friday, September 13, the newest member of the Mensch family arrived--and showed that he has an impeccable sense of timing.

    Already, Thing 2 is making it clear that he has a good grasp of certain financial concepts. For instance, the phrase "past returns are no guarantee of future performance" is not just talking about the stock market. It also refers to the fact that just because LO loved his swing and hated sleep as a newborn does not mean that his little brother will follow suit.

    We have chosen a lovely and meaningful name for the baby, which I will not be sharing here, and I am in the process of choosing a different blog signifier for the young man, since I doubt that continuing to call him Thing 2 will be appreciated. (I welcome suggestions for a good blog alias!)

    As for LO, he is proving to be a wonderful big brother who is happy to share with Thing 2--provided he doesn't really want whatever he is sharing.


    I'm so excited to welcome our baby Mensch into the family. I'm sure you will be hearing more about the lessons he teaches me as he grows.

  • Non-Emergency Uses of Your Emergency Fund

     

    Photo courtesy of Joyous!


    Recently, a friend told me that her husband's employer had switched health insurance providers. Their original insurance included a Health Spending Account that came with a debit-type card. Whenever they had to go to the doctor or pay for a prescription, they could use the card. (And by the way, I had never heard of an insurance policy like this, but I am a fan. A big one. Can we all do this, please? It makes a heckuva lot more sense than having to deal with the annoyance of paper check reimbursements).

    In any case, the HSA for the new insurance is of the "you pay out-of-pocket and we'll reimburse you with a check for a random amount that may arrive sometime in the next two months, unless it takes longer" variety, on which I have ranted before.

    My friend has a child with special needs who needs to see the doctor fairly regularly, and they live on a tight budget in Connecticut (a state whose name is a Native American word for "property taxes are HOW expensive?"), so she was lamenting to me the loss of her HSA debit card. She wasn't sure how she was going to pay for the first few medical bills while they wait for reimbursement. She also uses the Dave Ramsey envelope system, and she asked me if I had any insight on how to handle the coming money dilemma.

    I suggested that she start a medical spending envelope with a gift of about $100 to $200 from her life happens/emergency envelope. That way, they would have the necessary cash on-hand to be able to handle the first medical bill, whenever it occurs. She is also going to be setting a little money aside each paycheck to go into the medical envelope, but it could be a little while before that builds up enough so that they can afford for someone to get sick. The emergency fund can just get filled back up with their normal contributions to it (that's why the money from it was a gift), and their medical envelope will receive the reimbursements from their HSA, so they'll be ready for the next medical bill.

    I'm not sure what Dave Ramsey would have to say about my solution to this problem. (I suspect he'd approve, but it's hard to say). Sometimes, it's very easy to get into a very narrow definition of what constitutes an emergency--but I also think it's silly to stress yourself out over where money is going to come from for a particular category when you have money already set aside.

    What do you think? Have you ever used your emergency fund for a non-emergency?
  • "The Best Way to Make a Small Fortune in Racing..."

    "Is to start with a large one, and work down from there."  --Unknown

    Photo courtesy of Ryan Bayona

     

    Yesterday afternoon, J was talking to me about high-end car racing (as he is wont to do), when he uttered the above racing aphorism. While I had heard the statement several times before, it really struck me for two reasons this time around:

    1. Racing is ridiculously expensive.

    2. When you get right down to it (and forgive me, J), it is ultimately pointless.

    Much like Felix Baumgartner's skydive from space last year, car racing is something that people spend an inordinate amount of money on, basically for bragging rights.

    Of course, I recognize that there is so much more than that to racing, sports, ridiculous sky dives, etc. If there weren't, we'd all just sit on our couches all day watching the Kardashians.

    But, it does have me thinking and wondering about how much money one should be willing to invest in a passion. The people who invest countless dollars into racecars do so because they absolutely love it. They derive more joy from racing than I do from ice cream. If they've got the large fortune to work down to a small fortune, why not use it for their passion?

    On a small scale, J and I do both have similar money-gobbling passions. He is restoring his 1976 BMW 2002.

    (Pictured: Not J's actual car)

    In the 10 years I've known J, the car has not run under its own steam. It is currently in pieces in our garage, and J loves to spend hours breaking it down into smaller pieces so that he can once again put it back together later on. Between the hours he's spent, the tools he's bought, the parts he's purchased, the moving expenses he has incurred in transporting it several times, and the cost of the body work he will have to farm out, the amount of money he has spent on this car is a heck of a lot higher than the car's worth--even considering the level of geeky car love this particular BMW engenders in car types.

    I wouldn't ask him to give up this passion, or the money and time he has spent on it. But it is kind of illogical.

    For me, I spend a ridiculous amount of money and time--well, not nearly as much time as I'd like--making quilts:

    Even though I could purchase pre-made quilts for a great deal less than the cost of my fabric and sewing equipment--and reduce the number of heart attacks that threaten me whenever one of these quilts needs to be cleaned--I still prefer to do my own sewing and spend more than I have to for my warmth/decorative needs.

    Thankfully, we don't live in a completely logical world (I imagine there's no racecar driving on planet Vulcan), or else there would be a lot of wonderful (but ultimately pointless) stuff we'd miss out on.

    We should all have a passion that we're willing to spend money on--even if all it truly does is make a small fortune even smaller.

     

    What passions are you willing to spend money on?
  • Money Issues You Might Not Anticipate When Having a Baby

     

    As of this writing, I'm am eagerly awaiting the world debut of our second baby, Thing 2.

    It's fairly common knowledge that parents are better prepared and more relaxed by the time their second kid arrives. (There were even some hilarious commercials recently that showed the difference between parents of first and second children). Of all the ways I feel more ready for Thing 2 than I did for LO, the finances of having a baby is a big one

    Now, I'm not talking about the enormous insurance copay we're going to owe the hospital after Thing 2 is born, which could be its own post. (And I remember a friend telling me about how long it took her grandparents to pay off the bill for her father and uncle's [twin] birth. The boys were about 7 when their parents told them they were finally theirs, free and clear). No, I mean the costs associated with having a baby that no one ever thinks of. Things like:

    The Mohel Okay, this is only an issue for Jewish parents of sons, but it was still pretty surprising. Our mohel charges $700 for a bris (circumcision ceremony), which feels like paying someone a large amount of money to punch you as hard as he can in the stomach, after which you all eat bagels and smoked salmon. (That's not to say that covenant of brit milah is not a beautiful part of my religious tradition. It's just that no matter how many times I might go through this, it's never going to be easy seeing any part of my tiny son's anatomy in close proximity to a sharp knife).

    Clothes for Mom Before LO was born, I knew that I would still look about six months pregnant as we were taking him home from the hospital, so I knew that I could just keep on wearing my maternity clothes for a little while. What I didn't anticipate was the in-between phase when I hadn't quite gotten back to my pre-pregnancy weight but the maternity wear was hanging off of me. (And this is where the stereotype of the mom in yoga pants comes from, of course). I think life for new moms would be a lot easier if it were socially acceptable to wear bathrobes in public. In any case, I found that I had to make several unplanned clothing purchases in the six to nine months after LO was born, just to keep from running errands stark naked.

    Food There are two sides to this. First, there's the fact that cooking while parenting a newborn is a nearly-impossible task--which is why good friends and family bring over meals for new parents. But eventually those meals do dry up, and cooking generally hasn't gotten a great deal easier by the time that happens. So you end up eating a lot of takeout.

    The other part of the food issue is the unrivaled sense of ungovernable hunger nursing moms will often feel. Plan on Mom eating like a truck driver, and adjust the food budget accordingly.

    Batteries As an infant, LO lived in his baby swing, because the stubborn little cuss would not otherwise consent to naps. We ATE batteries. We finally bought some excellent rechargeable batteries, pretty much just in time for LO to outgrow his swing.

    Laundry Detergent/Bleach I don't think I need to elaborate on this one.

    Always Buying the WRONG Product It took a bunch of trial and error before we figured out what kind of pacifier/bottle/swaddler/soap/ointment/baby grand piano/etc LO would tolerate. And if you know of a new, sleep-deprived parent who is capable of holding onto (and then finding) the necessary receipts for returning the WRONG product once it has become clear that the child is moments away from declaring international war over just how WRONG the particular product is, then I would like to know where you live and if the unicorns are as beautiful as has been reported. Basically, I made regular pilgrimages to Goodwill to drop off the WRONG products that I foolishly bought.

    Even though I feel more prepared for all of this for Thing 2, I also know that he's going to be his own person and this experience will be different and unique. Which means I will certainly discover other financial stumbling blocks that simply haven't yet occurred to me.

    What financial issues took you by surprise when you had a baby?
  • Falling For FREE, Yet Again

     

     

    Image courtesy of Majbns80

     

    I've mentioned before how I am just as irrational as the next mensch when I hear the word that makes us all lose our minds:

    FREE!

    The problem is that we all have a tendency to think that something that has zero cost in terms of money also has zero downsides--which is of course, not the case.

    We also forget that when retailers offer us something for free, there's generally something in it for them.

    Despite my keen interest in behavioral economics and the amount of time I spend writing and thinking about these issues, I managed to fall for yet another FREE! scheme.

    It all started when I ordered some maternity clothes. I had finally worn out the non-maternity-looking maternity tops that I had been wearing since I was pregnant with LO, and I put in an online order for replacements through Motherhood Maternity. Never one to miss an opportunity for synergy (which is what I believe the business types are calling it these days--either that or vertical integration), the maternity clothing retailers always manage to weigh down one's purchase with coupons, magazines, free offers, and other sales pitches for your every baby need--since clearly a baby is an inevitable result of purchasing maternity clothes.

    One of the free offers included in my tee-shirt order was for a free baby sling from Seven Slings.

    We already own two such items, a Baby Bjorn and a Moby Wrap. We successfully used both slings for LO. And yet, I still felt that there was a void in my sling-owning. I needed something somewhat easier to use--or so I told myself.

    Normally, I'm kind of an obsessive researcher when it comes to baby gear. I like to refer to the book Baby Bargains, check reviews on Amazon, and generally find out everything I can about the ease of use/safety/baby preferences/etc for an item before committing to buy it.

    But since this sling was FREE!, I skipped all that stuff. Happily, I plunked down the $11.50 for shipping and handling, and clicked Purchase.

    Immediately, I started having second thoughts.

    I looked up some reviews, and found that others had deemed these slings poorly made. I discovered that there were no exchanges or returns allowed, even if the sizing was wrong. (This was why they required you to buy "sizing insurance," which I had skipped on). Horrified by my findings, I went back to the Seven Slings website and tried to undo my mistake

    That's when I discovered that it was impossible for me to cancel the order--despite having made the order less than 15 minutes before.

    AAAARRRGH!

    While these sales tactics are pretty darn low-down, I was even angrier at myself. The fact was, I knew better.

    By the time the sling arrived, I had decided I would simply give it to Goodwill. I didn't really need it. There was no guarantee it would fit me and baby (and there was no way to know for sure until Thing 2 arrived). It was probably not as well made as the Bjorn and the Moby, which are still perfectly serviceable.

    I decided to chalk it up as a $11.50 lesson on why I should treat a FREE purchase as no different from a regular purchase.

    I've realized that if I'm not willing to spend money on something, then there's no reason to get it for "FREE." (I need to put that in a cross-stitch and hang it up in the house somewhere).

    Otherwise, Goodwill is going to be the continued recipient of some of my painful lessons.

    When's the last time you were burned by a FREE product?
  • L'Shana Tova! Some Rosh Hashanah Thoughts On Renewal

     

    Photo Courtesy of Gilabrand

     

    Tonight at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah--the Jewish New Year--begins.

    Growing up, I felt fairly "meh" about Rosh Hashanah. Yes, hearing the shofar is always pretty cool (and impressive), and apples dipped in honey is delicious, but overall, as a child I didn't really see this as one of the big, exciting holidays of the year. This was despite the fact that it is, according to tradition, one of the holiest days of the year.

    As I got older, I started to appreciate the sense of renewal inherent in Rosh Hashanah. For instance, as an adult, one of my favorite Rosh Hashanah traditions is Tashlikh, which is the "casting off" of sins. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, you go to a flowing body of water, and cast pieces of bread--representing your sins from the previous year--into the water. I'm a big believer in pairing a psychological mindset with a physical action, so the practice of Tashlikh gives me a lovely, concrete way to think about what I want to do differently for the year ahead. Watching the ball drop, drinking champagne, and kissing J on secular New Year's just doesn't provide the same sense of renewal and turning over a new leaf.

    I also love that Rosh Hashanah gives me yet another chance to take control of my life. That tired old saying about today being the first day of the rest of my life is absolutely true. And it's as true on January 1 as it is on my birthday, as it is on the first day of Spring, as it is on Rosh Hashanah, as it is on the day I buy myself the newest in a long line of planners, because maybe this one will finally make me organized.

    But we mere mortals often get bogged down in the daily details of our lives, and we forget that we have the opportunity at every moment to change, to improve, to learn--in short, to be the masters of our fates: the captains of our souls. We need the reminders coming from holidays like Rosh Hashanah and traditions like Tashlikh to remember that we are works in progress, and that we can make changes and leaps whenever we want to.

    So, even though Rosh Hashanah got a big ol' shrug of the shoulders from me when I was a child, I now embrace the opportunity to spend an entire day every year thinking about how and where I want my life to go. I am thankful for that opportunity--and I hope to do my best with it tomorrow.

    L'shana tovah tikatev v'taihatem! May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!

     

    When are you inspired to look back and look forward? How do you remember to be the captain of your soul?

  • The Weirdest Scam I've Ever Come Across

     

    Image courtesy of Paul Keller

     

    One of the benefits of being 9 months pregnant is the nesting. My house has never been cleaner or more organized than it is right now--and I'm still finding myself drooling over drawer organizers, closet solutions, and organization pin boards on Pinterest.

    Nesting is also a good opportunity to take care of all those little chores you've been meaning to do when you get around to it. (Which is one of the many reasons why I wish I could bottle the nesting instinct for use when not enormously pregnant). For instance, sometime in the last year or so, I collected up all of our burnt out CFL lightbulbs into a plastic bag, and placed said bag on the top shelf of our coat rack so that I could recycle them when I got the chance. That chance didn't arrive until last week, when, in a fit of nesting-induced decluttering, I decided I no longer wanted dead light bulbs to live on top of my coat rack.

    Like a good little environmentalist, I looked online to see where I could recycle these bulbs. According to the internets, the only local retailer that seemed to offer recycling was Batteries Plus, so I put the bag o' bulbs in the car, and planned to make a recycling run the next time I was running errands.

    However, when I arrived at Batteries Plus yesterday, the helpful gentleman behind the counter shook his head and told me the bad news: the store charged $66 per bulb for recycling.

    At this moment, I should take the time to admit to something a little embarrassing:

    I'm ridiculously naive.

    I have a tendency to take people at their word, and it simply doesn't occur to me that someone might lie when talking to me. So instead of telling this gentleman that he was full of horse feathers (particularly considering the fact that I have successfully recycled CFL bulbs in the past for FREE), I simply let my jaw drop and asked why on earth it was so dang expensive.

    "We're not trying to make any money off of it," he explained, sadly. "That's just how much it costs to recoup the materials from the bulbs. That's why it's better to buy the LED bulbs--you can just throw them away."

    He went on to tell me that the local municipality offers "free" recycling of CFLs--although he made sure to state more than once that our tax dollars were actually paying for the recycling.

    I thanked the mendacious gentleman for his time, and high-tailed it out of there, wondering why on earth anyone would incentivize throwing away something that contains mercury--a substance that has a cumulative negative effect on the environment if it is not disposed of properly.

    When I mentioned the conversation to J, he laughed and assured me that the guy must have been scamming me. He probably didn't want to do anything (after all, there was absolutely NOTHING else going on at the store, and I'm sure the guy had some vitally important cat videos to watch in the back room), and he figured he could either be left in peace or score some sweet unnecessary cash from a naive but committed environmentalist.

    J also reminded me of the fact that Home Depot offers CFL recycling in handy-dandy bins right inside the store. (Which clearly shows that J trumps Google in some--but certainly not all--information gathering).

    Part of me is still questioning whether this truly was a lie/scam, since the Batteries Plus employee was able to state it so effortlessly. Perhaps it's just me, but I tend to stumble over any untruths that come out of my mouth. Unless this was a line he had used many more times than just the once, I have trouble believing he could come up with the oddly specific amount of $66 off the top of his head.

    In any case, I will be stopping by Home Depot today to drop off my burnt out CFL bulbs. I do not anticipate having to pay upwards of $70 per bulb.

    I hope the gentleman I encountered yesterday enjoys his completely empty store.

     

    Have any of you ever encountered a "cost" like this from a store that recycles CFL bulbs? Have you ever had a customer service representative lie to you for no good reason?

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