Friday, May 24, 2013

Dealing with an embarrassment of riches

Pretzel dollars:  Our family gotta lotta dough!
We've had a bit more money floating around than usual lately, thanks to years of frugality that led to paying off our mortgage in February.  Before February, we'd been throwing all our extra money either at children or at the house . . . and now we have all that extra money to throw.  Where are we going to throw it?

First, there's the boring but useful answer:  for the first time ever, we're now maxing out our 401K and 403b retirement plans.  My husband's retirement funds had a -- shall we say? -- late start in life, so at age 60, he's still got a lot of space there for more padding.

Related to that, there's the charity answer.  In addition to gearing up for my annual summer give, we've started looking seriously into Donor Advised Funds (specifically, Vanguard Charitable).  The money that we put into this retirement-esque account will eventually go to charities of our choosing -- for me, that's a crucial part of the way I want to spend my money, so it makes sense to do this.  My thinking is this:  if I want to sock away a bunch of money for financial independence, but I want to do it without feeling like a greedy, selfish hoarder, I'd better make sure that I'm saving money for the greater good as well as for myself.  This fund will give me a tax-free way to save even more than the Four-Oh-Something max allowed for retirement, and at the same time, it will ensure that I have money set aside in my retirement days for those charities that I want to support.

There's the deferred maintenance answer.  Things that have gone un-fixed in the home, well, it's about time to fix them.  We'll invest in paint for shabby walls -- especially for those rooms where the boys don't go often, so they can't undo our work quickly.  We'll redo the kitchen floor, where the linoleum was old and cracked when we moved in 17 years ago, and where time hasn't magically healed things in the meanwhile.   (I'm thinking wood, not linoleum, by the way).  We'll splurge to pay a pro to "re-ceramic" the hideous salmon-colored bathtub in the otherwise white-and-black bathroom.  And so on.  It should be fun to work with boys on these projects this summer -- I'm looking forward to teaching them some more home maintenance skills.
As an aside, one of the financial moves we very seriously considered was, literally, to move: we've checked out a bunch of smaller homes near us.  After lots of searching and eventually finding the perfect place, we decided we want to wait for perfection until after the kids have moved out.  The problem with a smaller house is that there's not as much space there, we discovered.  Go figure!
There are also kid expenses on the horizon.  X-son will come from Haiti with his own hefty price tag, courtesy of a dizzying array of paperwork and governmental oversight.  We've already saved up a bunch for the education of J-son and N-son, and that ought to be more than enough to launch them into technical schools and eventual independence.  But K-daughter (who is not legally our daughter) has been financing her own college education, and there's a chance she'll wind up taking out $20K in loans.  Should we try to help her pay those back when she graduates?

Yes, it's true, there's no shortage of ways to spend money.

The phrase -- "embarrassment of riches" -- is a curious one.  It does make frugality seem all the weirder and less socially explainable.    That might be part of the reason I feel drawn to charity.  It's also true that the money makes me feel like my house is shabbier (more embarrassingly so) than I ought to leave it; and it makes me reluctant to consign my own children (legal or otherwise) to a life of debt.

But notice that none of these options for spending this embarrassment of wealth includes fast food, malls, or pricey clothes.  The day-to-day aspects of our life really aren't about to change anytime soon.  No, we might have lost our mortgage, but I haven't lost my mind.

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