Top Financial Things You Should Do After Having a Baby

As some of you know, prior to my life as a glorious SAHM, I was miserable as a financial advisor. Now, despite me not enjoying the actual work of a financial advisor, it was incredibly practical and useful in terms of preparing for my own personal future. (Also, I met some awesome people who started off as clients and became my friends.)

One of the main reasons I took the job (other than desperation, fear, and general cluelessness) was because even though I knew I wouldn’t really like it, the knowledge gained about finances and money was invaluable.

And since we just had our fourth child, Sasquatch, I recently had to make a bunch of updates to our finances in order to ensure that in the event of our improbable demise, ALL my children (no matter how new), would be financially taken care of.

Incidentally, I wrote a similar piece in my Money Series three years ago after Glow Worm was born. (Also, my buddy at Just Making Cents riffed off this current post on his blog. Want to see how he scored?)

So, I thought since I just did a bunch of adulting and took care of this crap, here are some of my Top Financial Things You Should Do After Having a Baby.

Disclaimer: I am a former financial advisor and used to own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Update/Create a Living Trust or Will

I know. I’m a morbid sort. But believe me – your loved ones will appreciate the forethought and time you took to make sure your assets were titled correctly, as well as included all your progeny.

Wills detail where and who gets your stuff, but Living Trusts go a step further and bypass probate. Furthermore, they can detail who will assume guardianship of your children, who will be the trustee over your assets should you die before your children are legally able to manage their assets, as well as whole slew of other handy details that make your financial life easier.

Remember: probate can take at least 60-90 days and often times, much longer (not to mention, you have to pay probate taxes). Bypassing probate is super important when your children may need to access funds in order to cover their living expenses.

Make sure your will/trust include ALL your children. (Well, assuming that you want to include all your children. But since the majority of my readers have small/young children, chances are, you do.)

I may be a registered Democrat, but I started off as a Republican and certainly do not think the government can cure all and do all. As a result, I really do not want the government to decide who should take care of my kids, where my assets should go, or anything else related to my personal or financial life.

If you are like me in this regard, make sure you get a living trust or at the very least, have a will.

Also, make sure you actually title your assets in the name of your trust.

It makes zero sense to have a living trust but not have any of your assets in it. That just means you wasted your money on lawyer fees without any of the benefits of their lawyering.

2) Update your beneficiaries.

Whether they be IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance, Transfer on Death accounts – WHATEVER. If it has a beneficiary, make sure your newest child is added to the beneficiaries.

The possibility that my children may think I purposely disinherited them from any of our accounts versus just being an idiot or procrastinator or just a forgetful human makes me so sad. No child should be cut out of their inheritance due to stupidity on the part of their parents.

It’s a pain in the ass, I know. Lots of forms to sign and social security numbers to look up. I get it.

Do it anyway.

As soon as possible. One never knows the future – and though morbid, better safe than sorry.

3) Open up a savings/brokerage account and/or a 529 college savings account for your child. 

Again, opening accounts is easy; funding them is harder. Fund the accounts, too.

Right after a child is born, I always deposit any gift cards or financial gifts in their account right away. (For gift cards, if someone gives my kid a $20 to Target, I will deposit $20 into their account and use the Target gift card however I want.)

I also transfer some “seed” money to get the account going as well as deposit any gifts they get throughout the year. I also set up their 529 plans with an automatic monthly investment. This way, I build in saving automatically and don’t have to remember to do it. (If I waited until I remembered, I would never save any money.)

I realize that not everyone has the luxury or benefit of people giving gifts or even having excess funds to save for their kids. Even so, I urge you to open up the accounts anyway. You never know when people are generous and kind during birthdays, graduations, and holidays. It is always better to be prepared. Plus, even if you can only sock away $10/month, that is still better than nothing.

4) Update your benefits.

If you have health insurance – ADD YOUR NEW BABY. Even if it is no longer your company’s open enrollment period, a new baby (whether through birth or adoption) is considered a life changing event and you usually have 30 days after birth/adoption to add your child to your health insurance.

If you don’t remember to add your child, then you will have to wait until your next open enrollment period before you can do so. Depending on when that is, you would have too pay for all the well-baby appointments and immunizations out of pocket and just pray your child doesn’t get sick or hurt the first year.

Save yourself the worry and the potential financial disaster. Enroll your child in your health benefits.

If you have other benefits at work that they qualify for, by all means, add them to those, too.

5) Get life insurance or make sure your life insurance is enough.

Look, I get it. I’m obsessed with untimely demises.

People always complain that life insurance is paying for something that won’t likely happen. But you know what? We pay for car insurance and hope to never use it. No one complains about that. (Well, that and it’s illegal to drive without car insurance. It’s thus far, not illegal to be alive without life insurance.)

Anyhow, my point is, if you are the primary breadwinner for your family and you die, how will your family provide for their living expenses? If you are one of the breadwinners, how will your family make up the difference in income? And if you are the SAHP, how will your family pay for the child care services you provide?

Even if you live modestly and have a lot of savings, how long will your savings last?

And right now, I really want to address the SAHP.

Look, I know you can always go out and get a job. I am obviously not commenting on our abilities to work and get well-paying jobs.

But to do so immediately after your spouse dies? While taking care of grieving kids and household stuff and paperwork and the business of the dead?

That is much harder.

And the last thing you want to think about after your spouse dies is how much of a hole you are burning through your savings while trying to find a job and sending out resumes and going on interviews while you and your children are grieving.

That sucks.

Furthermore, even if you, as the SAHP get a job, you will either have to accept a lower paying job in exchange for flexibility in your work schedule to take care of your children. Or, you have to pay for someone else to take care of your children. Either way, there is a monetary outlay that eats into your income.

Also, life insurance through your employer is great and all, but you need life insurance independent of your employer. 

Why? Because if your employment terminates, so does your life insurance. And then, when you re-apply for life insurance, you will only be older and more likely to be in worse health.

Oh, and if you get a large amount of life insurance, (eg: $1 million), get multiple policies. That way, if you have a financial difficulty or you no longer need quite as much life insurance because the kids are grown or your savings are much larger, you do not have to cancel the entire amount only to re-apply when you are older and likely to be in worse health and have higher premiums (after all, the older you are, the closer you are to dying).

So, if you wanted a total of $1 million coverage, get two $500,000 policies. That way, if your financial situation becomes more volatile or you no longer need that much life insurance, you just cancel one $500,000 policy and still have the other $500,000 policy.

All this talk of death when there is a new life in the family. Seems counterintuitive. But I firmly believe that once you bring a life into the world, you are responsible for providing for them. And children are never more vulnerable than after the death of a parent.

Thus, it behooves us to do all we can while we are alive to make sure that our children are protected and provided for when we are not.

Besides, the superstitious part of me feels as if you are just inviting trouble if you don’t get this stuff taken care of ASAP.

The practical part of me knows that life happens and that when you have a new baby, you’re totally sleep deprived and overwhelmed – but you also know that the baby is new and it’s a good reminder of doing this stuff before you completely forget or it’s too late.

Now, get cracking!

(And don’t forget to check out Just Making Cents comments and feedback and additional advice!)

How to Pay for College

Author’s Note: Today’s guest post is by my college buddy, JT, from the blog, Just Making Cents. Since I just had a baby, JT was kind enough to step in and write a post for my blog – and it is totally appropos since I have four kids to put through college. 

Anyhow, JT offered to add a post to my Money Series that I started when I had Glow Worm. I love his perspective because JT has 15+ years of Wall Street experience (he was a big shot at a famous hedge fund) and he and I used to talk finance back in the day when I was a Financial Advisor. (Of course, JT had to dumb down a lot of stuff for me since he is heads and tails more amazing than I ever could hope to be.)

I hope you enjoy his post and also head on over to his blog, Just Making Cents, where he blogs about finance, teaching your kids about finance, and parenting successful kids. 

Now that Halloween is over and you have eaten all the fun-sized Kit Kat bars and tossed the gluey candy corn, you will likely come across an underrated confection: the Blow Pop.

For first-timers, the Blow Pop’s hard candy exterior eventually recedes to a surprising, softish gum center, lasting twice as long as other candies.

Sadly, when it comes to a parent’s finances, not all surprises are as sweet, or enduring things as welcome. Just when you think you’ve paid all the costs to raise your child, up surfaces college tuition bills. Surprise.

A Hard Blow:

Those are some big numbers but hard to crack without some context. Because this is Mandarin Mama’s blog, let’s analyze the case of a Bay Area family with 2 children.

Assume this family owns a standard 3 bed, 2 bath home in San Jose, which costs $775,000*, and drives 2 cars. This family saves for Stanford** and Berkeley** (their children are exceptionally smart) and the parents want to retire at 67. They’re fairly frugal, only going out to eat occasionally and taking local vacations.

Stanford costs about $60,000 a year. Berkeley costs about $28,500 a year (Both figures include room and board). To catch up to tuition growth, you would need to save $11,000 a year for Stanford and $5,750 a year for Berkeley from the moment your child is born up to the last tuition payment.

Here’s what this family would need to make in income (for readers with 4 children – ahem! – it’s safe to assume you’ll need more income. A lot more.):

CostsAnnual
Housing$45,840
Food$12,000
Utilities$10,000
Transportation$9,600
Clothing/Supplies$1,000
Other/Misc$5,000
Saving for Stanford$11,000
Saving for Berkeley$5,750
Taxes$45,010
Total Costs + Taxes$145,200
401k$18,000
Total Income Need$163,200

Don’t make $163k a year? There’s hope for you.

4 Tips on Paying for College, Depending on Your Phase in Life:

1. Newly Unwrapped (You are pre-child or have children ages 0-5): Make that budget so that you can max out your 401k and put in $6-11k per child into a 529 plan if you have children. You are in the phase of life where you should live as frugally as possible, really watching your expenses. If you save well in this phase, it provides a great foundation for the next 3 phases.

2. The Fruity Shell (You have children ages 5-12): Start talking to your children about money now. Teach them what money is and how to make it. Have your child allocate a portion of his or her profit to college savings, a portion to spending (beyond the food, clothes, and shelter you provide), and a portion to charity.

When your child knows how to make his or her own money, this reduces the amount you need to spend on their clothes or gadgets, and increases the amount you can allocate to your retirement and their tuition.

The side benefit to this is that when they know it’s their own sweat going into paying for college, they’ll have a more purposeful outlook and make college and what-to-major-in decisions more pragmatically.

(I would not recommend pushing them to start a business. Rather, I would present it as a fun thing to do, then layer in the business and finance concepts.)

3. The Gum Shows Through (You have older children ages 12-16). Start (or continue) your child’s financial education. Discuss potential side-businesses they’d be interested in starting.

At this age group, they have two important resources and skills: 1) they are tech savvy, and 2) they have a developing social network. They can tap into both resources and start a blog with affiliate links or an eCommerce store. Like in the previous step, advise them to allocate a portion of the proceeds to their college savings. The side benefit to this is that starting and running a business looks good on their college application.

(Again, I wouldn’t push your child to start their business. At this age, I would emphasize the extra spending money and the benefit of it for college applications.)

If you are willing to switch jobs or go back to work, consider working for the college near you. Sometimes they have reduced tuition for themselves or partner colleges for employees. Research this first and see how long it takes to qualify for such benefits.

4. Chew Time (Your children are 17+): Don’t panic. Even if you haven’t saved anything, there are ways to minimize the bill and still save toward retirement. I’ll spend the most time in this phase since it’s the most urgent.

Community College

Your child may want to consider spending 2 years at a community college then transfer to a 4-year college. The advantage of this, besides cutting tuition almost in half, is that it helps the GPA. If your child has a 3.8 the first two years at Diablo Valley College and squeaks out a 2.8 at UC Santa Barbara, his or her overall GPA is a solid 3.3.

The best thing is for your child to know what they want to do, find the college that best enables that, then find the JC that’s a feeder school to that college. It doesn’t diminish career prospects to attend a JC first. When people ask about schools, it’s from where you graduated rather than where you started.

Lower Cost, But Not Quality

Remember that there are plenty of financial aid and scholarships available. The listed price of tuition is generally not the actual cost.

If a public university most fits your child, attending the in-state flagships like Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, or UVA offer almost unmatched quality per cost.

However, if a private university best fits your child, focus on schools with large endowments and smaller enrollments — they sometimes offer reduced tuition based on your income.

Research schools with endowments north of $5 billion but undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 12,000 (a private school with an undergraduate enrollment north of 12,000 has less money to spend per student and less scholarship money. Essentially, you are paying private school tuition for public school experience).

The Logical Path

If neither flagship nor well-endowed/smaller private is an option for your child, make sure your child has a strong idea of what career path he or she wants to take. So if he or she wants to do electrical engineering, find the in-state public school that routinely sends its electrical engineers to large electrical engineering employers before your child applies to college.

Don’t wait until college starts to figure things out. There is a very specific script of majors and progression of internships that prequalify candidates for certain (often the most sought-after) employers.

Income, More or Less

You yourself may want to consider starting your own side or online business to generate extra money. If your business makes enough to cover your expenses and you feel confident enough to leave your day job, you will reduce your income, qualifying your child for scholarships and reduced tuition from certain schools.

If your business takes off, consider paying yourself a low salary to qualify your child for scholarships and reduced tuition. Carefully research this, however, since some schools consider your net worth as well and may require more history of low income.

The Decision 

Now, if it has to be a choice between saving for college or retirement, choose retirement. Your children will have a long career that will help them pay off their debt. You…do not.

That’s a Wrap:

Don’t let large, scary numbers frighten you from acting. No matter what phase of life you’re in, the future can be as sweet as a lollipop if you’re willing to research and put in the extra effort. Yes, you can have your candy and eat it too.

Like what you read and want to find out more about money and parenting? Get a free, 3-day course on teaching your child about money and I’ll send you a free guide to helping your child start their own business. Just sign up here with the phrase “Mandarin Lemonade.”

*Based on median home listing in San Jose, CA on Realtor.com

**Cost of College: Using data from the CollegeBoard of price increase above inflation plus inflation, both for the last decade, Stanford and Berkeley cost assumed to rise 4.25% and 4.75%, respectively.

Savings Growth: Assumes historical growth rate of the S&P 500 of 7%.

Final Money Tally for Taiwan Trip 2016


Ok. I am super reluctant to write this post because it reveals something about me that though I joke about with my closest friends, I don’t mention too often because I personally think it makes me look bad. After all, no one likes a braggart or someone who is seemingly thoughtless with money.

And honestly, I can be pretty thoughtless with money.

Not in the sense that I don’t think about money – but in the sense that I know our general threshold and that as long as an expenditure is below that threshold, I don’t even blink.

We are very comfortable and live a very privileged life. I know it.

You see, I have a thing that Hapa Papa likes to call Rich Girl Syndrome (RGS) in the sense that I think all things can be solved if you throw enough money at it. (Irish Twins’s husband, MBE calls it the Wallet Save.)

As a result, I don’t really think about budgets or how much something costs unless it is exorbitant or something I personally find outrageous. Also, my mother gave me a very generous sum of money for the summer so that I wouldn’t have to worry about taking taxis and books and food. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be stingy – and that I would make sure not to get over-tired and take things easy.

So.

Obviously, my budget will likely not be yours in the sense that I thought very little about the costs except in terms of how it cut into the amount I was willing to spend. But in general, I did not count pennies or dollars or NT. I just did what I wanted when I wanted.

I suppose it helps that I’m not exactly a luxury shopper and all I really spent my money on was food and books. But still, the money went fast and Hapa Papa is mad I didn’t save more money from the trip. (Although I did save a bunch of money two years ago from the generous sum my mother gave me then. But I suppose that doesn’t count for this year.)

So.

Now you know.

My budget likely will not be your budget.

However, at least you will know a bit more about pricing.

I realize that I am a very privileged person in terms of finances and that me blithely saying, “Just go to Taiwan for six weeks! Easy! Just say goodbye to $12-13,000!” is somewhat implausible for many of you.

Also, keep in mind that we choose not to spend money on many other things during the year that likely other people choose to spend their money on (eg: trips, sports, etc.) because I know we’re going to be spending a lot of money on a trip to Taiwan.

So. Please consider my breakdown not in terms of what you HAVE to do, but more in terms of what I spent as best as I can remember it. (Which, honestly, has huge gaping holes in it because um, RGS.)

Obviously, YMMV in terms of costs depending on how often you eat out, how often you take taxis vs buses vs MRTs, how much you shop, where you buy groceries, what extracurricular things you do, what programs you choose for your children, and where you choose to live (and if you choose to rent or live with family).

Author’s Note: Any comments insulting me or the people who spend similar amounts on this type of trip will be deleted. 

I’m sure if any of us were to examine how you spend your money, we could come up with plenty of ways you are a wasteful asshole.

So since you do not know anything about our family income, monthly expenses, or financial situation other than what I choose to share on this blog for the purposes of you having an idea of how much a trip such as this can cost, any judgmental bullshit about how I am such a horrible snob or how it sucks to be poor (which, we can all readily agree that given the choice between having more money or less money, most of us would prefer the more financially secure position), or how it must be nice to be rich can just go suck on an exhaust pipe. 

So, without further ado, here are the costs for my Taiwan Trip 2016. All costs are in USD unless otherwise noted.

Travel: $4,400

– Round trip airfare for 1 adult and 3 children: (We used airline points for Hapa Papa’s tickets) $4400

Accommodations: $3,975

– Airbnb newly renovated 1br 1 bt apartment in a trendy/popular/convenient neighborhood for 40 nights: $3800 (includes about $200 in Airbnb fees)

– Hotel in Kaohsiung 1 night including breakfast: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $175

Education: $2,609

– International School Tuition, 4 weeks: $1,121/child (Total: $2,240)

– Local Camp A, 2 weeks: $306

– Local Camp B, 2 weeks: $339

Transportation: $990

– Taxi from TPE to apt: $40/$1300NT (7 passenger car with 2 rented car seats at $9 per car seat)

– Taxi from apt to TPE: $30/$1000NT (7 passenger car, 0 car seats, private car)

– Taxis in general: $600 (estimate)

– MRT for 1 adult, 1 child, and 1 adult for 2 weeks: $150 (estimate)

– Bus: N/A

– High Speed Rail ticket for 1 adult, 2 kids reserved seating: (bought as part of a business package deal including 1 night hotel and breakfast and with a Taiwanese discount so prices are approximate) $150

Airport Parking: $20 (Keep in mind, we saved a bunch here because we asked friends to drop off our minivan at the long term parking lot the night before we arrived home. Otherwise, if we parked in long term parking for the entire time Hapa Papa was in Taiwan like we did in 2014, the cost for airport parking would be closer to $250-300.)

Food: $1,594

– Groceries/Toiletries/Misc: $382 (estimate)

Eating Out: $1212 (estimate)

Incidentally, I likely would have spent far less if I didn’t have to provide my boys with food for lunch. I only did so because I worry about their food allergies. Otherwise, I would not have to worry about those “extra” meals as they were included in our school tuition.

However, I suppose since I got treated out a lot by family and family friends (and at way more expensive places than I would have personally chosen), it more than evens out in my favor. So, um, nevermind.

Miscellaneous: $1,525

– Kid Playspaces and Activities: $274 (Incidentally, I was an idiot and forgot a pair of tickets I had already bought so I ended up having to buy an extra two tickets. So, I guess I have two tickets for next year. Sob.)

– Kid Crafts: $90

– Cel Phone: $60

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $720

– Family Gifts/Reimbursements: $400

– Misc: $50

TOTAL: $15,093

Good Lord. Now I really feel like an asshole.

However.

One of my other friends is ALSO in Taiwan and in the same city and they were NOT as thoughtless as I am and STILL, they spent a similar amount. Why? Because some fixed costs you just can’t get rid of like round trip tickets and lodging.

Here are some of her basic numbers:

– Travel: (roundtrip tickets for 2 adults and 2 children) $5,400

– Housing: (4 br, 2 bt, washer/dryer in a less popular neighborhood for 7 weeks) $4,900

– Local camps, 5 weeks: $800

– Adult Language camp, 7 weeks: $500

– Books/DVDs/CDs: $625

– Food/MRT/HSR/Misc: (didn’t really take taxis due to safety concerns) $1642

Total: $13,867

Keep in mind, her housing costs are so high because she had other family members crashing at her place during various points. But she really didn’t eat out at fancy places (mostly the food stands and corner restaurants) and they definitely paid attention to their bottom line.

So, if you are a typical family of four and have no means to get free plane tickets and do not have access to free housing in Taiwan, the bulk of your costs are fixed at approximately $8-9,000. That’s BEFORE you do ANYTHING else.

So, are you just screwed with the costs?

Not necessarily.

While the fixed costs likely will not move much, you can do some small things that might change the hugeness of the number to slightly less huge. (I do concede housing is a place you can fiddle with – but it really depends on what amount of discomfort you are willing to endure for 4-6 weeks.)

So, here is a way to redeem myself.

Therefore, another list: Where you can save money on your trip to Taiwan.

1) Keep all your receipts and get a tax refund.

If you bring your foreign passport to the malls or save all your receipts, you can receive a tax refund on your purchases at the mall or at the airport. But that would require you to keep ALL your receipts.

2) Eat street food and shop at local groceries.

If you didn’t eat out at the more expensive restaurants and ate mostly food court food or street food, you will save a lot of money. I ate a LOT of shaved ice. Some were cheap. Some were not.

I also ate at places that were close to $40USD/1500NT for lunch or dinner. That’s a lot of money in a place where you can get a decent and filling meal for $6USD/200NT or less.

3) Enroll in local schools and camps.

The reason camps were so expensive for Gamera and Glow Worm were because they were in an international school. I got many comments from locals that the school they attended is one of the most expensive schools in the city.

I would have preferred to send them to a local school, but they wouldn’t take Glow Worm due to his food allergies. According to family friends of friends, a month of a local 幼兒 (you4 er2/preschool 3-6yo) or 大班 (da4 ban/kindergarten 6yo+) for $300USD a month.

4) Live in less popular neighborhoods.

I chose to live in a very expensive neighborhood because I wanted to be close to the MRT, to a lot of convenient restaurants I like to frequent, have a renovated space, and I like clean streets that don’t smell. I also don’t like being too far away from my children’s schools and activities.

You do NOT have to choose this for yourself. There are plenty of decent places to live that are larger and cheaper than what I got for my money. If you do not mind living further out on less popular MRT lines, or doing more research in terms of local schools vs. the big popular names, or even choosing less popular cities, you will save a lot of money.

I don’t think your experience will suffer for it.

5) Take the bus or MRT instead of cabs.

Trust me. There were many times I would have preferred to take the MRT or bus – but as things shook out (and with the number of children and them being uncooperative or the weather being sopping wet), I took cabs more often than I technically needed to.

In general, though, I took the MRT as much as possible. I didn’t go for buses at all this time, but I loved buses my last trip to Taiwan. I think it depends on your location and your destinations and what ends up being most convenient.

That said, my average taxi ride was about $5-6/150-200NT. However, an MRT ride is $0.50/16NT regardless of distance and the bus is approximately $0.31/10NT. (Keep in mind that kids are free unless they are 6 or above a certain height. Their fares are even lower.)

I’m certain there are plenty more ways to save money. (Such as not buy so many books or CDs or DVDs – but since you would spend more to have the items shipped since shipping to the US is approximately $75-100/22kg box and takes at least 2-3 months, personally, I think it costs more money not to.) But being as I am likely the last person on Earth to be useful in this arena, I am all tapped out for suggestions.

If you have any to share, please do so in the comments! (But keep in mind: not every one has access to mileage points or relatives in Taiwan. That, in itself, is a privilege of sorts.)

Alright, I’m done for today. Have a great day!

De-accumulating Pains

So we had our first multi-family garage sale this past Saturday and it was an okay success. I mean, we got some money for some of our stuff. So that’s good. But really, it was a lot of work for little return. It will likely be a long time before I do one on our own again.

Here then are some thoughts I had about the process:

1) If your neighborhood ever has neighborhood garage sales where someone else (usually a realtor) does all the advertising, signage, and organizing, do that instead. Prepping and advertising a garage sale is a real pain in the ass. Plus, you will likely have a lot more foot traffic.

2) Don’t wait until the night before to price your stuff and make signs. That just means you will pull an all-nighter (I did) and ensures you will take all of Sunday to recover. (Hapa Papa is a saint.) I know this is obvious and we all knew it going in and yet we STILL procrastinated. So painful.

3) Don’t price your stuff too high. We fell into this trap thinking people would haggle. People did not. A lot of people just walked away. Some money is still better than no money.

4) Good signage is KEY! We had very good signs. (I am biased since they took me several hours.) Letter sizing should be 3-5inches tall in dark, thick ink. Ours were on bright poster board and I included huge arrows.

IMG_7313.JPG

I was super anal retentive and drew down lines so the letters would be the same size. Also, I first wrote in pencil so I wouldn’t have one of these situations:

IMG_7314.JPG

On the front, I also numbered each sign and had it correspond to a number on a map that detailed each intersection and direction the arrow should be pointing. The back of each sign also had that same number as well as the cross streets and a small map giving the approximate location.

I know. Perhaps I spent too long on the signs. But without good signage, how can people find your house? My crowning achievement was multiple compliments on the signage. It’s the little things, people.

5) Make a pact with your friends (or yourself) to immediately donate your leftover garage sale items. Don’t bring them back to your house. You will feel better.

6) Have a cooler with drinks and maybe some snacks on the side. People will buy them. We didn’t intend to sell food and drinks, but we did anyway.

7) Be prepared to possibly have more stuff at your house than you started with. Especially if your house is where the garage sale is held. That’s because some big pieces or random flotsam will be left at your house until people have time to pick it up. Also, you will inevitably swap stuff with your friends.

8) Clothes aren’t usually a big seller. I say next time, just donate it first.

9) Have lower expectations about how much money you will make. This is NOT Clean Sweep. That being said, our combined loot was around $4-500. Some folks made more than others.

If you have the time and energy, perhaps multi-day sales are a way to go. But in general, I don’t think the ROI is there.

10) Combine garage sales with your friends. You’ll have a lot more loot and a lot more fun. Even if you don’t sell much, you are at least still hanging out with your friends.

Look at all our loot:

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11) At the cashier, you should have at least two people. One person to tally the total of the sale. One person to tally how much goes to each person. To cut down on adding, I made a grid with our names and various prices. That way, I could just mark off a price versus add for a person. In other words, if Fleur had three items purchased, one at $0.25, one at $1, and one at $10, I would make a hash at $0.25, $1, and at $10 versus adding up $11.25.

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Ok. That’s all I could come up with. Those of you with more experience, let me know what I missed.

The Myth of Meritocracy

ETA: Apparently, this post has attracted a lot of attention. (Much to my surprise although Hapa Papa has graciously mocked me with, “Do you NOT know how the internet works?”) At any rate, if you are new to my blog, might I kindly steer you to my Site Disclaimer & Comment Policy? You don’t have to read it, but you are responsible for adhering to it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me – that is totally your right. Just like it is my right to not allow any personally insulting or attacking comments. Free speech is guaranteed by the government, not my blog. 

When Hapa Papa and I were first dating, he used to mock me for using big words in common, every day speech. He told me that I was being an elitist and that no one normal could understand me so I should stop showing off. I was greatly offended. I told him, “I had twenty SAT words drilled in my head every week from the 7th grade through Senior year in high school. I read over a hundred books a year. These words are a part of my vocabulary. What the hell were YOU doing in high school? Didn’t you study for the SAT?”

Hapa Papa just shrugged and said that he took the SATs once during his senior year. He didn’t study for it. Didn’t really know he could study for it. He just showed up to take the SAT his senior year. His parents had never spoken to him about college other than telling him he couldn’t go to an expensive one. He assumed he’d attend a community college or something like that. His parents didn’t encourage him to go to college. (ETA: For those of you who are new to my site, Hapa Papa is half Japanese and half German. I am Pro SCA5 even at the supposed detriment to my own children.) He knew nothing about college applications. No counselors told him what to do. He only took one AP class (he can’t remember which subject: English or History) and applied only to one school, Cal State LA (CSULA), and got in (along with some scholarships). That’s it.

I was astounded. More like incredulous. I thought his parents and school were horrible.

“They didn’t tell you anything? You didn’t study at all? You just, ‘showed up’ one day to take the test?”

“Yep.”

“Did you go to school in the inner city? Are LA schools really that bad? How is it possible you did not know ANYTHING?”

My sheltered little brain couldn’t conceive of a world in which the parents and teachers did not provide a united push for the sole goal of getting their kids into college. The thing is, Hapa Papa actually went to a pretty good school in LA. (The school where they filmed Grease.) College just wasn’t a big deal for him or his parents. Even now, I still have trouble processing this fact.

This scenario of his would have NEVER occurred in my family or my friends’ families. NEVER. As in IMPOSSIBLE. ZERO% chance.

By the time I was in 7th grade, the next six years of my educational life were geared solely to get into college. I had tutors. Bought SAT books. Took as many AP classes as possible. Joined extracurricular activities in order to look good on my college applications. Took summer school for “easy” throw away classes so I could make room for more AP classes. I had piano and voice lessons. I was in choir and marching band and the Colorguard. Took the SATs (both the original SATs and then the SAT I and II) multiple times in multiple years. Took PSATs. Took assessment tests for the standardized tests. Took multiple AP tests. Went to college fairs and information sessions. Our classes were geared to getting us into as well as succeeding at college.

All my friends were like me to varying degrees. My best friends made up the top 5% of my class and I rounded it out, the dumbest of all my super smart friends. And even then, my weighted high school GPA was well over 4.0. (I’d tell you the exact number but I really don’t remember.) College was NEVER not an option.

Another time, we were hanging out with Hapa Papa’s CSULA friends, (who incidentally, were mostly Latino), and they started reminiscing about college. Wanting to contribute to the conversation and bond with them, I started talking about the dorm life and how the cafeteria food was amazing and like restaurant quality when I realized his friends had all fallen silent and just kind of gave me a blank stare. Embarrassed, my voice petered out and never finished what I had started to say.

Later, Hapa Papa gave me shit for being completely tone deaf to the situation. His friends worked through school and either lived with their parents or in the super cheap fraternity house. Their dorms weren’t fancy and they didn’t have amazing restaurant quality cafeterias. He called me a spoiled little rich girl. I felt foolish and ashamed.

I remember a Latino friend at UCLA telling me how angry he was when he realized just how different his schooling was from the majority of other UCLA students. He felt constantly out of place and kept thinking he didn’t deserve to be at campus even though he was in the top of his high school. He had started to think he was stupid and slow at picking things up when he realized it wasn’t because he was stupid. It was because the other students had ALREADY learned these subjects in high school and were taking them again for an easy “A.”

I remember a black friend at UCLA who was clearly smarter than me, worked harder than me, came from a similar socioeconomic background and completely deserved to be at UCLA and yet, people always assumed he got in because of affirmative action. Even back when I was at UCLA, a time before Prop 209 killed affirmative action, at most there were one or two black students in my classes of three hundred. There were so few black people on campus, even though the student population in the late 1990s was approximately 35,000, they knew all the other black students by sight if not by name.

Where am I going with all this?

This past week, I have seen many of my Asian friends post “No on SCA5” on their Facebook feeds, linking articles on how the bill is racist and discriminatory and how it is a new version of the Chinese Exclusion ActSCA5 would repeal provisions of Prop 209 and allow the State of California to deny an individual or group’s rights to public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. In layman’s terms, SCA5 would re-allow CA to use race as admissions criteria for UCs and CSUs. Basically, to re-allow affirmative action in UCs and CSUs.

According to UC data, the UC’s 2013 freshman class was 36% Asian, 28.1% white, 27.6% Latino and 4.2% black. At some campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Irvine, Asians are more than 45% of admitted freshmen this year. As of 2010, Asians made up only 14.9% of CA’s population.

If SCA5 passes and UCs and CSUs want to increase Latino and black student populations, due to the immutable properties of math, Asian and white student populations will decrease. And since Asians make up the predominant group, it is highly likely Asians would be the most affected. Understandably, many people (especially Asians) are up in arms over this.

I get why my Asian friends are angry and upset over SCA5. When I was applying for colleges, I remember debating whether or not I should tick off “Asian” when applying. After all, that could hurt my chances to get into school. And now, if SCA5 passes and isn’t repealed, when it comes turn for my children to attend university, their chances of getting into their colleges of choice will also be impacted.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why should blacks, Latinos, and heck, whites, get my kids’ spot just because of their race? They should work hard, get good grades and EARN their way – just like the rest of us.

But what is fair? On the surface, merit-based ONLY (the status quo) seems fair. But is it?

I want meritocracy to be true. I don’t want to admit that I did not get to where I am by myself – that I had help. But truthfully, I did. I benefited from tutors, better teachers, schools, and environment. I grew up without the expectation of violence. I had trusted advisors (who had already gone to college) show me what I needed to do in order to get into UCLA or similar institutions. Many of my extra-curricular activities were possible because my family had enough money so that A) I could do these things and pay for the materials they required and B) I wouldn’t have to work because I wasn’t expected to contribute to the family income.

In addition, I grew up in an environment where attending college was the rule not the exception. Being Taiwanese and the daughter of two MBA graduates makes it assumed that I would make good grades and go to a good school. Whatever you think of the “model minority myth,” society constantly reinforced the idea that I was smart, great at math and sciences, and would likely become a doctor.

I want to believe that I am singularly awesome and responsible for my success. I don’t want to believe that the black or Latino student who didn’t get into UCLA likely could’ve gotten in and done BETTER than I had they my advantages. Who wants to think that of themselves?

But when I honestly look at myself and my work ethic (or complete lack thereof), if situations were reversed and I was in an environment where succeeding at school was considered being a “race traitor” or I had few examples of academic success or all of society was telling me that I could only be successful as either a rap star or an athlete but never an intelligent human being and that I was most likely a thief, a thug, or a drug dealer and going to be knocked up at fourteen or incarcerated, I really don’t think I would have the mental fortitude or personal strength to overcome all of that. 

Even just from the anecdotes I included at the beginning of this post, without doing any research at all (which also backs up what I am saying), it is evident that there are huge differences in student backgrounds.

Money, neighborhoods, schools, race, and cultural expectations make it impossible to have a level playing field. 

Obviously, not ALL blacks and Latinos grow up in poverty. That is clearly false. However, at 12.6%, Asians have half the poverty rates of Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) in California. (Whites are at 9.8%.) So, even though not ALL blacks and Latinos have to overcome immense hurdles, many do. Besides, I’m not worried about the rich and middle-class black/Latino kids. They would get into the UCs and CSUs without affirmative action. But this helps blacks and Latinos who may not have the same grades (especially weighted grades) or access to AP classes, tutors, etc. and had to overcome overwhelming odds to get the opportunity to attend school.

Furthermore, even though Asian households have the highest median income in America, that fails to distinguish between different ethnic groups with different histories. When divided up by ethnicity, the majority of economic and academic success is concentrated in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian Americans. Cambodians (14.6%), Hmong (16%), Laotians (13%), and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese (26.1%), have college graduation rates lower than the US national average (28%). Additionally, one in five Hmong and Bangladeshi people live in poverty.

These are the Asians most likely to be hurt by SCA5. (Not the vast majority of Asians who are protesting on Facebook.)

There are no easy answers. There are limited spots. But sometimes, people in privilege have to give up some of theirs in order to allow other people a seat at the table. That is the burden and responsibility of being in a “majority” or in a seat of privilege. And in this case, I would consider Asians to be in the majority since they occupy a huge portion of spots at the UCs and CSUs.

Remember, Asians benefited greatly from the advocacy and rights of blacks and Latinos. We benefit from their fights for racial equality yet rarely do anything to help out their causes when we could. We Asians think that we achieved all our successes by ourselves when we wouldn’t even be in the conversation if it were not for blacks demanding their civil rights. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

How hypocritical for Asians to demand opportunities in situations where we clearly benefit but not offer others that same opportunity where we would NOT benefit? Where would we be in other areas (bamboo and glass ceilings) if many whites did not give up some of THEIR privilege? Where would we be if blacks and Latinos had not fought for equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education?

Though much of our personal successes are due to our hard work, how much of that would have mattered if our rights were not secure in the first place? We Asians forget that we stand on top of the backs of our black and Latino friends as they paved the way and fought for our right to be here. 

What good does it do us if we succeed at the expense of blacks and Latinos? Who will come to our aid when we need it? (And believe me, we will need it.)

We are too afraid and pinning too much of our hopes and dreams on getting into certain schools. The truth is, there are so many opportunities out there. It SEEMS like a zero sum game where there is one pie and fuck it we’re losing some of our slice to blacks and Latinos. But in reality, our kids who would succeed at UCs and CSUs would succeed in many different schools. They will be fine. There are SO MANY pies. (Mmmm… pies…) UCs and CSUs are NOT the only game in town. There are many ways to succeed.

We do not need to fear.

Ultimately, is SCA5 fair? I don’t think so. But until I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Suggested Reading:

NY Times: Asian Americans in the Argument

Civil Rights 101

14 Important Statistics on Asian Americans

Poverty in California

Reflections on the Rise of Asian Americans or Don’t Believe the Hype

Intelligence Squared Affirmative Action Debate (Hat Tip: Andrea Lee)

Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action for College Bound Students

Minorities and Whites Follow Unequal College Paths

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

New Rule: No More Toys in 2014

I am feeling a deep and abiding hatred for all our toys right now. No more toys. None. Not even (actually, especially) from my MIL. I can’t stand it.

I’m serious. No more fucking toys. Especially cheap, crappy ones that break and make noise and Cookie Monster won’t let me throw away. (From my MIL again.)

I can’t stand it.

It’s not like my kids even play with toys. They play with and obsess over a few toys at a time – and they’re not even the new ones we bought. Cookie Monster ripped through all his presents but I bet if I wrapped up crap we already owned he’d have just as good a time.

The thing is, Cookie Monster has a freakishly good memory. He knows who gave him what and when. He remembers where I got a beat up old firetruck about two years ago. He remembers who I give his toys to. It’s creepy.

It doesn’t matter. I am sick of having no place to put toys and having them explode out onto every possible flat surface of my house. It makes me want to scream. I now totally understand why my father used to threaten to throw away all our toys. I have found myself threatening the same.

I have no one to blame but myself. I guess 2014 is the year I delete my craigslist app and leave all those Facebook yard sale groups. If I can manage to ignore Amazon Prime, then a true miracle will have occurred.

Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it. Especially since in my brain, I seem to think that if I de-clutter and there is empty space, the point is to re-fill that empty space versus just keeping it empty.

Perhaps my theme for 2014 should be Keep Empty Space Empty. There. I’ve said it on the interwebs. It must be so.

Friends in real life, make sure you throw this back into my face when you see me binge Amazon Priming!

Fighting Dirty

Hapa Papa and I fight the most in two types of situations: Traveling (be it by plane, train, or automobile) or when Hapa Papa works from home.

Traveling seems obvious. Even before we had kids, we would always fight (and not just mere disagreements – full on yelling) when we travelled – especially when we drove. Mostly because we actually had a conversation and discovered that Hapa Papa was surprisingly incorrect on SO MUCH of his thinking.

As for working from home, you’d think that would be awesome, right? No three hour round-trip commute. More time with the family. Some help around the house. Win/Win for every body involved. Especially the children. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Well. I was wrong. SO. WRONG.

Yes, it is handy that Hapa Papa is around all day (especially in the evening when the kids are tired and hungry and starting to melt down – and okay, in the mornings, too, so I can sleep in or laze about and the kids are downstairs with Hapa Papa busily NOT eating their breakfast). However, we get into SO MANY fights. Mostly, because poor Hapa Papa still has to work and I think it’s Saturday.

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Monday at the office.

He gets mad because every time he sits down at the couch with his laptop to do something, I ask him to get up and get a tissue/napkin/juice/water/small child/wipe a bottom/change a diaper/just do one more thing. (I can’t imagine why.) I get mad because he expects us to just IGNORE the giant lump of a man on the couch and pretend he isn’t there and not speak or talk to him, or have a conversation, or ask him to do one, tiny thing (though, honestly, it never ends at one). THAT’S WHY WE HAVE AN OFFICE/SPARE BEDROOM. 

I have told Hapa Papa time and time again that if he has to get any work done, he needs to disappear. I cannot think, for even a second, that he is home. Otherwise, I will harangue him ceaselessly because I am selfish and when I see a Hapa Papa with nothing child/home related on his hands, it signals to my brain that CLEARLY, Hapa Papa needs something to do. (Working to pay the mortgage is NOT ENOUGH. Far too abstract.)

He, of course, gets annoyed and sad that I’ve confined him to the office when Hapa Papa really wants to see the kids and play with them for a bit. No one likes to be lonely. But geez! How can he even imagine he’ll get anything done when he does that?

Anyhow, here are my tips for how to survive a spouse working from home when you have small children:

1) Have a set start and end time. Since Hapa Papa is working from home, it is very easy to have work and personal time bleed into each other. Since I am lazy and selfish, I assume Hapa Papa is working with the kids downstairs, but really, he’s not getting much done in between getting the kids breakfast and managing the morning chaos. It is helpful to me to know when I have to be downstairs to relieve him as well as when he will be officially done with work to relieve me!

2) Have a designated work area that is out of sight and has a lockable door. It’s true what they say. “Out of sight, out of mind.” As long as I don’t physically see Hapa Papa, I rarely holler at him to do something for me. I can be good all morning and not need his help with the kids but as soon as he comes down for a beverage or sustenance, all I see is an extra pair of hands that clearly is not being properly utilized.

The lock on the door is when Hapa Papa is on a conference call and actually needs to participate. There have been times when Cookie Monster or Gamera miss their Papa and come storming up the stairs, yelling out, “Papa!” and burst into the office, disturbing a call.

3) Have grace for each other. Obviously, grace is necessary in all situations, but just because it’s a generic thing doesn’t mean it’s not applicable! I have to remember that just because I don’t think Hapa Papa is doing anything, doesn’t mean he’s not. Plus, he’s actually very helpful and feels really torn between helping me and doing the work he’s paid to do (you know, to provide for our family). I have to remember to be grateful for his job, his work, and his presence.

Hapa Papa has to remember that I am selfish and if he doesn’t look like he’s doing anything, I will find something for him to do within half a second. He also has to forgive me ALL THE FRICKIN’ TIME.

That’s it. It’s a short list – but let’s face it. If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t remember to do more than three things at a time anyway. What do you think? Did I miss anything?