Thursday, July 31, 2008

Let there be light

Thanks to a one-two punch from MSN Money and Madame X at My Open Wallet, things have been hopping around here for the past couple of days. Welcome to all the new visitors, commenters, and subscribers; whether or not you agree with what I have to say, I'm glad to see the diversity of opinions and ideas out there.

One of the few complaints I have about my apartment is that the natural light in here isn't great. There are advantages to facing a brick wall: it's very, very quiet unless someone is actually working in the courtyard, and although I'm not really a rampant nudist or anything like that, it's nice not to have the neighbors gazing in on my private foibles. The interior lighting system is pretty good, too: in the living room and kitchen area, I have one overhead light in the hall, two globe lights near the front door, and nine recessed lights in the ceiling.

The problem with all of those recessed lights is that they burn out. This is especially true of the two grow lights I have for plants: they seem to last no more than six months, and the others last for about a year. In the six and a half years I've lived here, I'd estimate that I've changed recessed light bulbs about sixty times in total.

For a short person with high ceilings, that's way too much time spent on the top step of a ladder. Over time, the environmental consequences are also shaping up to be significant. Neither of those two things sits all that well with me, so for the past year I've been on the lookout for 50 watt equivalent, par 20 compact fluorescent bulbs in the local hardware stores. So far, I've come up empty handed. I consulted my good friend Google about this a few times, and what I've found is surprisingly limited: unless I'm missing something, there just aren't very many options out there for recessed CFC light bulbs.

While trolling through the hardware store a few weeks ago, just as I was about to give up the search yet again and buy a new supply of regular incandescent bulbs, I came across a small cache of par 20 LED lights for $17.99 a pop. I didn't really know what LED lights were, but two things grabbed my attention right away: with a cluster of 32 tubes in each bulb, the total burn rate per bulb is only 1.8 watts of energy. In addition, these particular lights are rated to last 20,000 hours (roughly ten years) each. These particular LED bulbs didn't carry a wattage equivalent on the package, so I didn't have a clear sense of exactly what kind of horsepower $17.99 per bulb delivers. Still, the idea seemed promising, so I decided to pilot test a couple.

The first opportunity to try one of the new bulbs out came up last week when I blew a light in the kitchen. When I got the bulb in place and slid down the ladder to look at the results, the first thing I noticed was that the light was white instead of yellow. I checked this out on the Google and learned that although LED light color varies across the light spectrum, the white light used in LED bulbs is significantly closer to natural daylight than yellow light generated by incandescents. I haven't found any hard facts detailing the difference, but anecdotally it looks as though some people find that the different color helps compensate for lower wattage equivalent output. While reading up on LED lighting, I also learned that the technology for home LED lighting use is still fairly limited: the brightest spotlight and floodlight bulbs produce about a 50 watt equivalent for 8 watts of power and last up to fifty years, but bulbs like this easily cost over $50.00 each.

At 1.8 watts of power usage and $17.99 per bulb for the ones I bought, I'm pretty sure I'm not getting anything close to a 50 watt equivalent. Possibly because the light is both white light and concentrated (a spotlight rather than a floodlight), though, I'm not seeing an enormous difference in overall brightness. I haven't had the bulb in long enough to see if there's really going to be an impact on my electricity bill, but at 0.036% of the energy required by a standard 50 watt incandescent, even changing a single bulb should knock a few dollars off.

I'm installing the second bulb in the living room tonight to replace another blown incandescent. If the two LED lights together produce halfway decent lighting and a noticeable dent in my electricity bill, I'm leaning towards plonking down $125 up to $250 (Ed. note - obviously can't count) for five high output, ultra long life bulbs to finish replacing everything but the grow lights. Over time, that'll mean a lot less ladder climbing. In addition, unless there's some large elephant in the room that I'm just not seeing, the environmental impact of my home lighting will greatly diminish and the long term savings should more than cover the initial out of pocket cost. Everybody wins!

How about you folks: has anyone out there made the switch to LED lighting at home? Anyone contemplating it? What other changes are you making in your life to bring cost and environmental impact into balance?

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Now what?

A couple of commenters have asked what I'm planning to do with my money now that I don't have to pay the mortgage monkey anymore. I've been thinking about that for a long time. There are so many possibilities! I suppose I could develop a big-time latte factor, or maybe I could buy a little car for all the tootling to the Hamptons that I don't do. Maybe I could even start collecting fugly handbags for $9000 a pop and up!

Well, no. That's just not me. Here's where I stand today:

I am not rich.
I am not rich.
I am not rich.


Rinse and repeat.

I have at least sixteen and probably more like twenty years left in the work force, so I need to keep planning for the short, medium, and long term. With that in mind, here's what I've figured out so far:

The first thing I need to do is rebuild my cash reserves. Although my cost of living just dropped dramatically, I pulled a decent amount of cash out of my reserves to make the last big payment. I didn't deplete it, but it's looking a little anemic relative to what I'd like to have, so my first priority is putting that money back and then adding more, so that I have about an eighteen month cushion in case something happens to my job. That should take until close to the end of the year.

Also, I've had some opportunity cost while paying off my mortgage: while my 401(k) and IRA accounts are all fully funded, I haven't invested any other money for about four years. (I feel pretty good about this, actually, given that we've just lost more than two years of growth in the stock market.) Stocks are pretty cheap now, so it's time to get my investment plan going again. My target next year is to invest a total of at least $60,000 in both pretax and taxable accounts. I can do this through automatic deductions, so the money I see in my checking and savings accounts on a day to day basis isn't going to fluctuate too much from what's in there today.

My third priority is charitable contributions. To put it bluntly, my giving isn't where it should be. To that end, I made a preliminary list of causes to either support or support more than I do at present. So far, in no particular order, I've got:

New York Times Neediest Cases Fund
Doctors Without Borders
ASPCA
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
Susan G. Komen Fund
American Heart Association
National Public Radio

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to post them in the comments.

Finally, I'll probably spend a little more money just on things for me. This is actually harder than it sounds: I have no problem spending a sensible amount of money on decent clothes or bags for work or things that I need for personal grooming, fitness, or to keep the apartment up, but I have a little difficulty buying something for no reason other than that I like it. This was a problem about a month ago: I went to Loehmann's (a fairly upscale version of Ross Dress For Less, I guess) to see if I could find a blazer for work. I didn't find a blazer, but I uncovered two sundresses that I loved, $29.99 each. There is no way in the world that I could wear either one to the office, so I ended up ferrying them around and around the store for close to TWO HOURS trying to justify buying them before I decided I was being stupid and went to the checkout.

In other words, I'm going to try to unclench a little.

One concrete unclenching I have planned is to quit my nasty, gross, crappy gym that I blame for multiple episodes of athlete's foot and join this nice, clean, gym with many amenities and a shocking monthly membership fee.

One other is that my mom and I are thinking about getting a manicure next time I'm out to visit. She's never had one (I did once, thanks to a gift certificate), and we thought it would be something nice for us to do together.

So. How does the plan look? See anything missing?

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nuts and bolts - by request

Bear with me, folks. I'm not done being fabulous yet. ;-)

An anonymous commenter on my mortgage payoff post had some questions that I thought I'd answer here:

I'd be curious to know what you paid for your place.
$249,000 in 2001.

Here's some backstory: It sounds like a bargain now by Manhattan standards, where one bedrooms start at $400,000, but given that I was embroiled in a nasty divorce - and no, I didn't get a cent from it - it took plenty of effort. Oh, I had the money for the required 20% down payment and still met the building's financing requirements (twice the down payment in savings, and my 401(k) could only count for half that amount). In that booming real estate market, however, the co-op board was concerned that as a not-quite-single woman on a single woman's salary, I wasn't the strongest possible candidate, especially after 9/11 and with the economy showing signs of going south. In order to get me through the board review, my parents kicked in a total of $20,000.

Yes, my parents gave me money.

No, I'm not proud of that, especially since to this day my mom won't let me pay it back.

I never would have accepted it without knowing that it wouldn't endanger my parents' finances. Beyond that, I felt strongly in my gut that this was where I wanted to live. After seeing about 20 apartments, walking into my home for the first time during an open house was like a punch in the stomach: I've never wanted anything more.

I should add that I only got the apartment because of 9/11. The day I saw it (September 10, 2001), an offer had already been accepted. The buyer worked for one of the big investment banks in the World Trade Center, whose offices were demolished the next day. He wasn't killed, thankfully - but with his office gone, he rethought his home ownership plans.

I'm not glad that I profited from a national tragedy, but someone was going to buy this apartment. I paid the seller's asking price: my offer was accepted the day the apartment went back on the market, foiling four couples who submitted offers just a day later.

The financing terms
My first mortgage was thirty years at 6.25%. I refinanced just under two years later to fifteen years at 5.125%.

How long it took to pay it off
Six years, seven months, and three days.

I know you live in NYC. Is this typical NYC real estate?
I'm not sure what exactly you mean. Is it typical to pay off early? Not as far as I know. Is it typical to pay a crapload of money to live in a shoebox that faces a brick wall? Most assuredly.

At least it's a nice shoebox.

Do you have a regular salary, or a HUGE bonus filled salary?
Regular as it gets. I make a pretty standard Manhattan middle class salary in the private sector: $130,000, ZERO bonus. The only reason I make that amount in base is because I asked for a big raise last year and got it.

Lest there be any confusion, I'm just a regular Jane here. What I did to make the big payoff happen falls under the general heading of prioritization: Owning my home outright means more to me than most things. I don't own any fancy stereo or computer equipment, and I have no TV reception at all since I don't want to pay for cable. I don't own an iPod, I don't buy MP3's or CD's, and I don't have a Starbucks habit. In my whole adult life (and I'm almost 40), I've had one vacation longer than a weekend that did not involve visiting family. I'm a good tipper and I would never, ever stiff my friends on restaurant bills, but I pick my occasions for spending money on entertainment fairly carefully: the vast majority of the social stuff I do works out to be cheap or free.

There's more, but you get the general idea. I know it's a pretty boring strategy. The cool part is that it worked.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The mortgage

. . . she is no more.

WOOT!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Man plans, God laughs

Woman plans, in this case. . . thank you so very much for the nice sentiments, but please hang onto them for just a couple more days. You see, my Fed Ex payment was supposed to reach Middle America by 10:30 a.m. today so that it would be cashed and credited. I paid a few dollars extra for morning delivery because the certified check I sent is a pretty big one (five figures) and I could already tell when I sent it that I was getting very type A about getting it there safely as soon as possible.

I checked the Fed Ex tracker from time to time throughout the day. The last update showed an arrival in Memphis at midnight, but there was nothing further after that.

I tried to quell the increasing sense of disquiet.

I checked the tracker for the bazillionth time at about 2:30 p.m. I got my update, all right: according to Fed Ex, my payment had just left. . .

. . . Paris.

As in France.

I called up Fed Ex to find out what was going on. After I explained that the tracker was telling me that my Middle America package was in France, the agent took a look for herself.

***************************************************

Hmm, the agent said.

[Pause]

Hmm.

[Long pause]

Okay, I'm gonna have to get a tracer on this.

Uh. . . a tracer?

Yup, I need to get this traced.

Are you telling me you don't know where my documents are?

Well, I can tell you that they haven't arrived at the destination, and what I'm looking at says they're in France. I'll get someone on this and they'll call you back in an hour.
***************************************************

The callback only took about twenty minutes. I grabbed the phone eagerly.

***************************************************
Hello?

Hello, may I speak to Ms. Zeitgeist?

Speaking.

Yes, I'm calling from Fed Ex. . .

Oh, great. Did you find my package?

Yes. . .

[deep breath]

It was misrouted.

What?

It was misrouted.

Where is my package?

It was accidentally sent to Paris, but it'll be on the plane back to Memphis tonight. It'll be delivered to Middle America in the morning.

In the morning? I paid for it to be there THIS morning. How the hell did THAT happen?

I'm not sure, ma'am, but I will be tracing this package every step of the way and I apologize for the inconvenience.

You know I'm not paying for this, right?

I'm giving you a credit.

Well, thanks, but I needed this at is destination today, and that's why I Fed Exed it. I cannot afford to have this package get lost again.

I understand, and I deeply apologize.

*******************************************

So, there you have it. If it gets there tomorrow morning, my account should be closed by Friday.

Then maybe I'll stop feeling like I might throw up in my mouth a little.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Flinging the mortgage monkey off my back

I was planning to send in a certified check to pay off my mortgage tomorrow, but I realized that I'm going to be in a meeting that runs late and the bank will be closed by the time I get sprung. . .

. . . so I got the check and sent it today instead.

It's all in Fed Ex's hands now.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

One crisis away from bankruptcy

The New York Times published a very interesting article today on how more Americans than ever before are living at the brink of disaster. Many people (possibly even most people) are one job loss/major illness/divorce/hurricane/what have you from losing everything they own.

That is some scary business.

The article profiled several different people and identified the circumstances that brought them to bankruptcy and/or foreclosure. You can read the article for yourself; many of the factors that led to each crisis profiled were avoidable (fired for sending inappropriate emails at work? Good God.), but what I wondered after reading the article was this: If one crisis can bring you to your knees, what can you do to protect yourself?

As I mentioned elsewhere, sometimes I make up disaster scenarios and deconstruct them. Part of the reason for doing this is because it makes fear less paralyzing. In addition, this exercise aslo forces me to look at my mitigation plan and figure out where the weaknesses are so I can shore them up. I find this to be an incredibly valuable exercise because it's helped me prepare for a variety of disaster scenarios. (This was a helpful tool to have when I was watching the World Trade Center burn on 9/11.)

Here are some of the scenarios I've worked through:

CrisisMitigation Plan
Natural Disaster or Terrorist Attack1. Carry adequate homeowner's insurance
2. Keep emergency contact numbers in my cellphone
3. Keep charged up flashlight batteries and large Brita filter full
4. Keep physically fit (because if I have to walk out of town, it might be a long trip)

Things I'm doing wrong: I should have more cash on me at any given time than I usually do. During a natural event or a terrorist attack, how likely is it that ATM machines will continue to work?
PandemicNothing. With my immune system, I'll be dead in the first wave.
Catastrophic Illness1. Keep physically fit: Good general health helps ward off a multitude of problems
2. Go to the dentist twice a year: Poor dental health contributes to poor overall health and may cause or aggravate specific conditions, like heart disease
3. Carry adequate health insurance with catastrophic illness coverage, accidental death and dismemberment, and long term care coverage
4. Eat sensibly and in moderation

Things I'm doing wrong: I never get enough sleep and I drink way too much coffee. I also give in to my sugar jones too often
Job Loss1. Give my all at work and then some
2. Network constantly
Keep my skill set and knowledge current
5. Understand the business and look for opportunities to contribute new ideas that will either save the company money or help the company make more money
6. Share the credit: There is no "I" in "Team"
7. Stay plugged in to office politics, but only play when absolutely necessary
8. Always keep an eye out for newer and better opportunties elsewhere

Things I'm doing wrong: I network a lot within my organization, but not nearly enough outside of it
For everything:1. Never, ever carry consumer debt
2. Always keep a healthy emergency fund
3. Save, save, and then save some more so that I have the maximum flexibility possible at all times


No matter how good anyone's mitigation plans are, you can certainly see from mine that there's always room for improvement. The key point I'm trying to make is that if you step up and become the master of your immediate circumstances, you have a better chance of surviving the bad things that life throws your way and coming out to thrive on the other end.

What would you change about my risks and related mitigation strategies? What does your own plan look like?

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Do they not want my money?

So frustrating.

I ordered my mortgage payoff statement in the mail on July 03.

No response.

I phoned the bank's service line on July 10. The customer service person saw my request in the system and was surprised that it hadn't been processed yet. She put a second request in as a backup.

No response.

I thought the statement would surely be here by the 17th, so I moved money around to gear up for my final payoff. I got a letter from the bank on the 17th and eagerly tore it open. No payoff statement, though; it was an acknowledgement informing me that yes, I've requested a payoff statement. There was one bit of helpful information: the letter instructed me to terminate my automatic deductions at least four business days prior to payoff in order to make sure that the deductions wouldn't erroneously continue. I deactivated the automatic deductions that night.

Today's Friday, fifteen days after my first request for a payoff statement. I was planning to send in the certified check today, but of course that didn't happen.

Wednesday will be four business days since terminating automatic deductions, twenty days since requesting the first payoff statement, and thirteen days since requesting the second one.

It's got to arrive by then. . . right?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is it ever okay to hide debt from your spouse?

A blog called Need to Be Debt Free is about a forty-something father of six's efforts to eliminate over $40,000 in debt. The most recent post is about the author's discovery that in the midst of his fairly extreme debt-reducing efforts, his wife has managed to rack up several thousand dollars of new debt through secret credit cards.

Whoa. That's ugly.

The comments (there are 47 at the moment) are interesting. They range from She's a smart woman to keep some accounts of her own and you deserve it anyway for being so cheap to This is the ultimate betrayl.

There are valuable points on both sides of the argument. I think it's important for each partner in a relationship to have money of his or her own; having said that, racking up consumer debt isn't exactly the same thing as having one's own money. If it happened to me, I think I'd feel deeply betrayed and whatever trust I had in my partner would be shattered. Having been through a marriage in which my ex-husband did lie to me and hide things from me, trust doesn't come all that easily in the first place.

After reading through that situation, I started to wonder if there are any cases in which it's okay to hide debt from a spouse or partner. The only thing I've been able to come up with involves a situation where trust is already gone: if one spouse is being controlled and abused, if that person secretly opens up credit accounts to fund a means of escaping the relationship, I would find it hard to pass judgment.

Would you?

Is there such a thing as a legitimate reason to create and hide debt in a relationship?

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting from there to here

Mapgirl asked for a how-to post about the mortgage payoff process. I'm having a hard time getting my little brain around the idea of writing a how-to post about ending a mortgage without starting allllll the way at the beginning. Choices you make when you first buy a home have an enormous ripple effect in terms of expanding or limiting your pool of choices later down the road. Beginning at the beginning, then, here are a few how-to suggestions about knocking your mortgage on the head while you're young enough to enjoy it.

1. Get your ducks in a row before you buy
High credit score? Check. No consumer debt? Check. Steady income stream(s)? Check. Student loans paid off? Check. None of these are things you have to do before buying a house or apartment, but if you walk into a mortgage with a clean slate, you have the opportunity to minimize both your borrowing costs and the number of competing demands on your resources. That gives you the best possible opportunity for paying your mortgage off early.

2. Buy less than the bank says you can afford
I bought in 2001, during the start of the golden age of Breathe in and out? Mortgage for you! I'm sure things have changed since then, but at that time the bank cheerfully offered me a mortgage that was more than four times my income. If you get an offer like that, think long and hard before you take it. I thought it was too risky to buy that much apartment: even if a co-op board didn't laugh me out of town for a debt-income ratio like that (unlikely), basic repayment according to schedule would take much more of my income than I was comfortable committing on an ongoing basis.

Other points to consider are the cost and complexity of ownership. Large homes cost more to maintain than smaller ones. With energy costs shooting through the roof, a great many people are increasingly experiencing a lot of pain in this area. In addition, larger homes take more time and energy to clean, furnish, and generally keep up than smaller homes do. In other words, living smaller is living simpler.

For what it's worth, I took out a mortgage that was 2.5x my income, and even that made me uncomfortable.

3. Get a fixed rate with the shortest term you can reasonably afford
Adjustible mortgage rates can be a killer, as we've seen in the housing collapse; if you want to get rid of this risk altogether, fixed really is the only way to go. A shorter term means higher monthly payments (which is mitigated by not taking out as much as the bank says you can), but it'll bring your interest rate and your period of indenture down.

I boffed this one initially, by the way. I took out a thirty year mortgage even though I could afford a fifteen year because I was inexperienced and worried about committing that much money to a fixed expense. Never mind that I'd been spending more on rent, of course. I refinanced a year later to a fifteen year mortgage.

4. Put 20% or more down
20% down gets you out of having to pay private mortgage insurance. It also gives you a decent equity base up front.

5. Pay extra on the principal every single month, as long as it doesn't jeopardize tax-advantaged accounts
In other words, don't short your Roth IRA or 401(k) in order to pay extra on your mortgage principal. If you have extra money after fully funding those, prepaying your mortgage is a realistic option.

My initial motivation came when I received my first statement and realized that of all the money I was paying, only five bucks of that first payment was going to go to principal. I was horrified. I dumped a couple of hundred dollars extra onto my first payment, and that made me feel so much better that I kept doing it and increasing the extra payment whenever I could.

6. Be patient
The best phrase I've heard to describe this interval of years is Don't give up what you want most for what you want right now. The more I paid off on my mortgage, the more excited I got. As a result, I kept plugging away at work to score the biggest raises possible and continually looked for ways to trim my lifestyle to free up extra cash, so I could increase the impact of each month's extra payment. That's what worked for me; by no means will it work for everyone.

You'll inevitably have to adjust your approach over time to accomodate new opportunites (like more income) or setbacks (like the new refrigerator I had to buy when mine died). It's all part of life's rich tapestry.

7. When it's finally time
When you're ready to knock the mortgage off for good, contact your mortgate holder and request a payoff statement. The payoff statement will be rounded to the next month's interest and include whatever little fees the bank can come up with to screw you out of a few extra dollars.

When you have the payoff statement in your hot little hand (which I don't just yet), you'll generally have the choice of paying by certified check or wire transfer. Either way, make sure that your account number is on the payment with a clear statement indicating that this is a final mortgage payoff. Once the bank processes your payment, it'll send you your deed and whatever interest it owes you back if you paid off before the end of the month.

Mapgirl - is that more or less what you were looking for?

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

When work and family collide

The New York Times had a fascinating article today about Google's changing perspective on its in-house child care program for employees. Apparently, Google has been in the business of providing both a fully Google-run child care center and one run by another agency on its main campus, providing child care for hundreds of kids while Mom or Dad (or maybe Mom and Dad) are working onsite.

That's all well and good, right? Over time, however, demand has outstripped supply to the tune of seven hundred kids jockeying for a couple of hundred spots. In addition, Google's management has determined that in the face of its dropping share price, a $37,000 annual subsidy per child (compared to about $12,000 per child in Silicon Valley overall) has become unsustainable.

Google started focus groups to float the idea of raising the cost of child care from $1425 per month to nearly $2500 per month, an increase of 75%. Naturally, parents flipped out; some actually cried at the news. Google has backed off on its plan to some extent by agreeing to lower its price increase somewhat and phase it in over five quarters instead of all at once. Parents who were early employees of Google and became millionaires with its IPO aren't too concerned, but later employees are up in arms.

Google points out that it's increasing capacity in its child care facilities. Its management notes that additional openings, combined with the increased cost and the fact that it will now cost a couple of hundred dollars per year to remain on the waiting list, will bring supply and demand into balance. Google management also points out that its child care facilities are state of the art, adding that the ongoing criticism of its plan by parents who don't have millionaire, pre-IPO status is unfair.

The way I see it, nothing about this situation is fair. While employer-subsidized child care is a huge benefit for parents, it carries with it an element of unfairness that has long been embedded in the American workforce: what corresponding benefit is there for people without children?

Er, that would be nothing.

Juggling multiple responsibilities is part of being a parent, and that means dashing off at times for a baseball game or a school play, or staying at home with a sick child. I think that kind of flexiblity is absolutely essential in a workplace, but it's only appropriate as long as it extends across the board. If parental flexibility is accomodated at the cost of childless people being asked to work on holidays and keep to rigid schedules or work locations, then it's unfair and completely inappropriate. By the same logic, I think any employer-subsidized childcare is inherently unfair: it gives a dollar-value service as a free perk to people whose only qualification is that they reproduced, while denying any sort of correponding benefit to non-parents.

The easiest argument against this line of reasoning is that having children is very, very costly. No rebuttal; I totally agree. That is one of many reasons that I'm deselecting myself from the collective gene pool: I could not afford to give a child the kind of life he or she would deserve while making a secure life for myself. The vast majority of people who choose to have children are consciously making the opposite choice: whether they take the ramifications into consideration or not, they are opting for a certain amount of sacrifice. I don't see why this choice should result in what is essentially a significant (in Google's case, very very significant) differential in salary that is completely and utterly denied to people who didn't make the same choice.

I recognize that the debate is much bigger than simply who gets part of a pool of benefits at work and why. It's not only in our society's interest to bring up happy, well-adjusted, well-educated kids; it's absolutely vital. These little gremlins are our future; safeguarding our well-being as a nation means giving the little ankle biters every advantage we can. I just don't think it's an employer's responsibility to provide for them while cutting out another segment of the employee population entirely, and that's why I don't feel sorry for the parents who work at Google.

So, what's a better way to respond to family needs without shortchanging anyone?

Personally, I'm a fan of both Emergency Backup Child Care and Dependent Day Care Reimbursement Accounts. That's the system we have in place at my place of work, and I love it. Emergency Backup Child Care is exactly what it sounds like: if the babysitter fell through for whatever reason, you have a place to take your kid for the day. Conversely, Dependent Day Care Reimbursement Accounts can be used for much more than just child care: they can include care for elderly parents and adult disabled members of the immediate family, to name just a couple of options. In addition, they're optional and fully employee-funded, usually through employer-based insurance. People who need it utilize it; others simply leave it alone. The best part, however, is that there is a real and tangible benefit for people who use Dependent Day Care Reimbursement Accounts: the money allocated to the program is pre-tax, and that's a huge savings.

The downside to both Emergency Backup Child Care and Dependent Day Care Reimbursement Accounts is that availability is limited. Dependent Day Care Reimbursement Accounts in particular usually aren't available without employer-provided health insurance. I think this tool should be readily accessible to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether they have health insurance or not. To that end, why not decouple it from insurance and have it available to everyone in the US as a government benefit? Heck, why not do something similar with Emergency Backup Child Care too? What a great way to put my federal tax dollars to work.

Employers could still provide child care benefits; there's no question that that's a huge draw for many people, and employers have a vested interest in offering benefits that will draw the most talented people.

I'll be interested to see what happens when the childless start suing for discrimination, though.

Flame away, folks.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

My own private Independence Day

I took today off, so I got up at a nice, relaxing hour for a nice, relaxing cup of coffee. Then. . . I ordered my mortgage payoff statement. It'll be mailed within seven days.

Four weeks left until this home is truly mine.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

All about the free, redux

Today I received a nice email offering all f.z. readers a free! free! free! fourteen-day supply of Nature Made soft gel vitamins. Offer links are hither:

Multivitamin
Multivitamin for her
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Calcium
Super B Complex

Everyone who gets a few of these, be sure to say THANKS, LISA! when you click the magic button.

Other news:

--Former bossman got fired today.

--Looks like my most recent sponsor stiffed me.

--Tomorrow I make my LAST regular mortgage payment before the Final Big Payoff. If you listen closely early in the morning, you might hear a little w00t!

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