Category Archives: children

How do you compare with the average U.S. “Consumer Unit”?

I’m starting to do a year-end tally of our spending for 2011, and I came across the following infographic:

Click to open at full size

I guess it’s not politically correct to call us “households” any more. Some facts from this survey that I found interesting:

  • The average “consumer unit” surveyed had 2.5 people and earned $62,857, which is slightly down from the previous year’s earnings.
  • This “unit” unit spent $49,067, but the chart doesn’t include taxes or savings. The national savings rate is around 1%, so let’s assume the unit saved a pitiful $629 for the year, and was taxed $13,161 (or 21%).
  • Average food spending was $6,372, of which $3,753 was spent on meals at home. In other words, the “unit” spent $312 per month on groceries, or $125 per person. (My next post is about grocery spending)
  • Spending for housing was $16,895, or about $1,400 a month. In a big city, you’d be lucky to get a small house for that cost, but as a nationwide average it’s amazingly high. Even though the housing bubble has burst, we’re still paying for it!

Too bad transportation costs aren’t broken down by car/commute vs air/travel. I’m curious how much the average unit spends getting to work. Mostly so I can gloat, since in our family it’s near $0 (yay bikes!).

Here’s how our unit compares:

  • We have 5 people, and earn more than average (though we live in a major city so cost-of-living is higher).
  • We “spent” every penny of it, though almost 15% of it was spent on savings (the big goal this year has been building an emergency fund).
  • Food spending was $8,100, of which $6,214 was spent on meals at home, or $130 per person per month, not counting the baby. I’m especially proud that we were able to stay near the US average, while still enjoying so much local, sustainable, healthy food (amazingly cooked by Venessa).
  • Our entertainment spending was less than half the national average, though I feel like we experienced a lot of culture this year. We have memberships to the science center and zoo, and we’re symphony subscribers for the first time ever.

How does your consumer unit’s spending compare to the “average” American’s? Don’t be concerned with whether you’re spending more or less in any given category. Instead, be proud that you track your spending to begin with.

Happy Holidays!

How much do you spend on health insurance?

my leg, after a game of tackle football

At Get Rich Slowly, they’re asking how much everyone spends on health insurance. My answer got kind of long for a blog comment, so I decided to post it here:

I get medical/vision from my employer, through Aetna. For me+spouse+children, the premium is $232 per month. Part of it is taken from my paycheck pre-taxes (i.e. it lowers my taxable income). I’m not sure what percent of the total cost this is, but I know it’s heavily subsidized by my employer. (Also, this doesn’t include dental, which is extra.)

The plan is a complex “health fund” (Aetna also offers the standard PPO or EPO, but that would be boring and the premiums for those plans are higher).

The first $1500 of medical/drug expenses each year are covered 100% by Aetna (that’s the “health fund”). If unused, it rolls over to the next year but we use it up about half-way through the year, at best. The next $1500 we pay 100% out of pocket (they call it the deductible).

After that, it behaves more like a traditional PPO. We can go to any healthcare provider. In-network, we pay a 10% co-insurance. Out-of-network, I think the co-insurance goes up to 30%, but there are so many doctors in-network, I’ve never needed to go out-of-network before.

“Preventative care” like yearly physicals and well-child visits are covered 100%.

“Alternative care” such as acupuncture and massage are also covered, up to a certain amount. Physical Therapy (including chiropractic) is covered up to 25 visits a year. Prescription drugs are covered at about the same rate, for generics at least. The 10% co-insurance applies to all these.

For vision, we each get one eye exam, plus a pair of eyeglasses or an order of contact lenses per year.

I think this is a pretty good plan, and I consider myself very lucky to have it as an option through my employer.

How much do you spend on health insurance?

What I’m thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Not sure what got into me, but I blurted this out at the beginning of the week:

“We’re going to start a new family tradition where you have to think of as many things you’re thankful for as you are years old”

The twins are proud of being “eight and a half” so I told them they actually had to think of an extra half thing. Here are their lists (printed without permission):

Isaac Aaron
  1. famaliy(esepacly arron and lilya)
  2. selter
  3. love
  4. water
  5. lifie
  6. air
  7. electtericctiy
  8. entertamement
  9. ocgen
  1. food
  2. air
  3. water
  4. shelter
  5. bed
  6. twin
  7. dad
  8. mom

Aaron isn’t getting dessert until he comes up with another half thing he’s thankful for!

I held up my end of the bargain and thought of 31 things:

  1. Venessa
  2. My health
  3. My family’s health
  4. A roof over our heads
  5. Having food on our table
  6. Being free to be Jewish
  7. Having meaningful work
  8. Being able to ride my bike
  9. Friends who stop by unexpectedly
  10. Supportive parents
  11. Shabbat
  12. Isaac, for his compassion
  13. Aaron, for his tenacity
  14. Lillia, for her love of discovering new things
  15. Local farms
  16. Freedom of speech
  17. Effie, for giving her life to save the rest of the flock
  18. Diz, for being my pet for 20+ years
  19. Scourge (our cat)
  20. Good music and books
  21. Candles, instead of lights, when the sun goes down
  22. Innovators, for new inventions to make our lives better
  23. The Science Center, for teaching us new things
  24. The changing seasons
  25. Biathlon, cyclocross and other friendly competition
  26. The state of Israel
  27. Technology that enables friends and family from afar to keep in touch
  28. Beer
  29. Self-improvement
  30. A good book
  31. Seattle

What are you thankful for?

It never hurts to ask

I love asking for things because it never hurts to ask. As long as you’re polite, reasonable, and ethical, there’s no reason not to ask for what you want.

Lowering prices: I recently called my auto insurance company (Pemco) and asked them to lower my premium. They said no but it didn’t hurt. On the other hand, I asked my credit card company to remove my yearly fee and they said yes. The 5 minute call saved me $70.

Improving your credit score: Since having higher credit limits helps your credit score, it never hurts to call your credit card companies every year and ask them to raise your credit limits.¹ Say “I’ve been a loyal customer for X years and always paid off my balance in full. I’m planning on making some purchases in the near future. Can I have my credit limit raised to…?” Also ask if they’ll bypass the credit check, since that temporarily hurts your score.

Other requests: I emailed my Congressman to see if he’d fly a flag over the Capitol in honor of my Grandpa (a World War II veteran) and Venessa’s Grandma. It took a while to get a reply, but his staffer obliged and also offered to send me the flag for a reasonable price. Whenever I buy something on craigslist I ask if the seller is willing to deliver it to me, or at least meet me somewhere convenient. Failing that, I ask for a small reduction on the price.

On being asked: When it comes to the kids, I try to start answers with “No” as infrequently as possible. But when they make an especially outrageous demand, I’ll say, “No, but it didn’t hurt to ask.” I wonder if my folks said the same thing to me?²

I have a feeling that most children are reprimanded when they ask unreasonable questions, so by the time they’re adults they’re literally afraid to ask. It’s a shame, because that same part of the brain is also what drives curiosity. We should praise our children for asking all sorts of questions, everything from “Why is this the way it is?” to “Can I have …?”  It’s the latter type of question, when combined with a good work ethic, that leads to new inventions and discoveries:

Q: Can I have an iPod?

A: Yes. How do you plan to save up for it?


Q: Can I have an iPod that also plays 3D movies?

A: Yes but you’ll have to invent it first!

¹ Do not do this if you abuse credit cards. This is for people who pay in full each month and generally have their financial house in order.
² I definitely remember my parents doing this: if they bought something at the store and then saw it went on sale soon after, they’d bring the item back, along with their receipt and ask for the difference in cash. It must have worked or they wouldn’t have done it all the time.

The “Switch Witch” visits on Halloween Night

Halloween should be fun, so even though collecting 5 pounds of mass-market, chemical-laden, tooth-decay materials isn’t the greatest idea for a child, it would take a certain kind of mean parent to say NO to all that.

Luckily, there’s a way to let your child go trick-or-treating, and let them enjoy the fruit of their labor* without the feeling that you’re betraying your values just to not rock the boat:

The Switch Witch!

The Switch Witch is the Tooth Faerie’s mischievous sister. She goes to random houses on Halloween night, after children are asleep. She steals all their candy (except what they already ate that night) and switches it for cash! How much? Enough that your kids won’t be upset that their candy is gone. It’s going to depend on their age and how much experience they have with estimating the value of goods.

What you—I mean The Switch Witch—does with the candy after that is up to you…

* Knocking on a stranger’s door can be very difficult for a child, so to them, they’re working hard.

Are you afraid of the right things?

As Halloween rolls around again, I’m reminded of the poisoned candy urban legend

There has been exactly one documented case of a child being directly poisoned by Halloween candy, Carroll said. In 1974, an 8-year-old died after sucking on a Pixy Stix laced with cyanide. But the poisoner was not some mysterious Grim Reaper posing as a harmless neighbor. Nope, it was good ol’ Dad.

Even knowing it was a myth, it still gave me pause when a friend and neighbor gave my children apples one year for Trick-or-Treating. How dare they endanger my child’s health with their fresh produce!

The other threat to children that misguides parents is child kidnapping, or “stranger danger.” We spend our energy worrying about our children playing outside alone and getting abducted, but if your child is actually kidnapped, there’s an over 90% chance that the abductor is a friend or family member.

The list goes on and on. Don’t even get me started on driving vs flying.

Fear works in interesting ways on our minds. I believe there’s a limit to how many different things we can be afraid of at once, while still functioning as human beings. So it’s important to choose your fears carefully! Not fearing anything is a recipe for being unprepared for the bumps in life, but fearing everything is paralyzing, so there’s a balance.

The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say that the media and marketers try to influence our fears, which is probably part of the story. The bottom line is that you can always turn off the TV and get the facts with a quick google search, so there’s no excuse for misplaced fears these days.