Spending Season

9 Dec

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letter Tis the season when it feels like there’s money constantly going out the door and relatively little going in. Between end of the year expenses, property taxes and Xmas gifts and all the little unforeseen incidentals, it’s easy to feel a little financially deflated at the end of the year. As my dad used to joke when we were kids, as long as there are checks in the checkbook there’s money in the account, right?

This is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately. The debt-load you need to take on to become a dentist is nothing short of crushing, let alone a practice acquisition loan and a mortgage if you’re lucky. Weighed down by all that red ink it’s tough to look past the nose on your own face. Debt-reduction becomes something of a desperate quest and although my accountant assures me that paying off debt is exactly the same as building savings, I am acutely aware that I’m basically in survival mode — which is to say I’m paying off my debt, but my savings account isn’t anything I would call “comfortable”.

I’m just a few days away from turning 41. At best I’ve got another 30 workable years in me… if I’m lucky. My oldest is about to turn 9. That’s the 1/2 way point. The years we have to get her ready for college are just as few as the years we’ve had since she was born, and those years FLEW by.

I have realized that there are things a responsible member of society must do no matter how painful: Pay taxes, take care of your health (re: exercise), and financially plan for the future. That means it’s time to stop living week-to-week like we did in our 20’s and 30’s and start thinking about our 70’s and beyond. It’s time to start thinking about things like 401-k’s.

In short, it’s time to start saving.

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When you’re a moderately successful blogger *snort* sometimes opportunities present themselves to you. Recently I was invited to attend an event put on by ScholarShare, an organization that runs 529 accounts (I know… my eyes glaze over too with talk like that. But I have pledged to make this sort of knowledge part of the new “responsible” me… just like exercise.) 529 accounts are essentially the same thing as 401-k’s, only where 401-k’s are retirement accounts, 529’s are college savings accounts. Essentially, just like with 401-k’s, you invest your money with higher risk for larger gains in the beginning, and then as you get closer to the time when you need the money it gradually moves into lower risk investments. What particularly strikes my fancy is that for three kids that have more toys/junk than they can ever appreciate, during the holiday season family members and friends can contribute to an existing ScholarShare account or create one for a child as a holiday gifting option for as little as $25.

 

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ScholarShare treated a bunch of bloggers to a fancy dinner to talk about 529’s and even offered a little compensation thanks to One2One Network (that was nice of them) if we shared the experience on our blogs. In truth, this is a talk I would have gone to whether or not there were blogger incentives. Saving for college is something I need to get serious about and I wanted to hear what they had to say.
The short story is the people from ScholarShare came off as very genuine and honest. I was wary of walking into a timeshare-pitch sort of evening. There was no salesmanship, nothing pushy, no used-car-salesman vibe at all. In fact, since they partner with TIAA-CREF they are a non-profit, so they don’t pay their bills with transaction fees like other financial planners. All they wanted was to get the word out that 529’s are the best way to plan ahead for college savings, and that they would love to be considered by anyone looking into one.

For my money, they seemed like a legit outfit worthy of consideration.

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That said, I’d like to try something a little different with this post.

For the sake of getting my head around how to financially prepare for my kids’ college, I’d like to start a little conversation in the comments below. How are you preparing for college expenses (or how did you prepare)? Do you think college is even an investment worth making in today’s world? (There’s a good argument to be made that it isn’t). What are your fears about saving for college/retirement? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

In the comments below share your knowledge. Share your fears. Share your questions. Maybe we can help each other out.

 

-Dork Dad

Dear Sephora

6 Nov

Dear Sephora Header

 

letter A text message flashed across my phone yesterday. It was a snapshot of a magazine ad my wife ran across that day… a magazine ad that my daughter had clearly come across earlier, and felt compelled to leave her social commentary for anyone else who should stumble upon it. This is what she saw:

dear Sephora

 

In case you need help translating 3rd grade handwriting it says,

“This lady is ugly. I think you should wear makeup if you want to, not ’cause you have to. Don’t over-do it.”

My daughter may be opinionated. She may be bossy. She may be dramatic. But nobody can say she doesn’t have a strong self-esteem, and there is nothing a young woman needs more, growing up in the world we live in, assaulted on all sides by magazine ads like this, than a strong self-esteem.

Way to push back, honey. You tell ‘em what real beauty is. That’s my girl.

 

-Dork Dad

Halloween 2014

31 Oct

Happy Halloween to all the dorks out there.

 

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As You Wish

23 Oct

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letter Memories are the currency of childhood. Whether it’s playing in the dirt on a Saturday or some epic, once-in-a-lifetime story they’ll be telling their grandchildren, it’s our job as parents to provide the experiences that those memories are made of. I make no bones about the fact that I try to tip the scales for my kids in the latter direction as much as possible. Hell, I’ve got an entire blog dedicated to it. Recently the planets aligned in just such a way as to turn what promised to be an awesome childhood memory into something truly epic. This is the story:

The last few years we’ve done the cheezy, family-Halloween thing. Last year we were all Harry Potter characters. Many, many months ago during family movie night watching “Princess Bride” we decided that that was going to be the theme this year. We divvied up the roles and the kids gradually got more excited as they pictured themselves dressing up in the rolls they would play. Meanwhile I started planning in my head how to get my entire family dressed up, because you know I wasn’t about to do no store-bought costumes.

The costume-making began in earnest last month when I took Episode IV out to Goodwill to hunt for Inigo Montoya gear. 20 minutes in the shop and she came out with all this gear. You can see she was already getting into character. The kids got more and more excited as each piece of the puzzle got put together and as Halloween approached.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my DorkDaddy. Prepare to die.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my DorkDaddy. Prepare to die.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, hot-glue burn by hot-glue burn I got all 5 family costumes put together, posting updates on Facebook along the way.  as you wishDuring a long drive I heard on NPR an interview with Cary Elwes, the actor who played the main character in the story, the same character Episode V was dressing up as. Apparently he’d just written a book chronicling the making of the movie and was making the publicity rounds. That prompted me to post this picture of Episode V stating “It’s about 80% done. Still a couple details to get nailed down.”

80%

Later that day I got a message from a friend over Facebook:

“You know Cary Elwes is signing copies of his book in the area this week, right?”

My response was less than elegant. “Uh… now I do.”

It was time to swing into action.

A quick glance at the week’s schedule. Yep… it was doable.

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There was a panicked trip to the arts and crafts store, a few more hot-glue burns, an emergency Amazon.com purchase, but I was able to get the finishing touches put together on the big kids’ costumes just in the nick of time. On the day of the event I picked the kids up from school and whisked them away into the minivan for a long drive up to where we were headed. 2.5 hours later we made it up to the location to find people already lining up on the side of the building. One thing minivans are good for: changing into your Halloween costume without having to locate a public bathroom.

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Episode IV was a little nervous at the prospect of heading out into public in her full costume, which was understandable since there’s a cheesy moustache involved and she’s 8. I gave her the option of dressing down, but she decided she’d go for it and it was a good thing she did. The evening was all uphill from there. As the three of us crossed the street and they came into view of the people in line, the crowd erupted in applause. We worked our way to the back of the line and everyone along the way complimented them on how amazing they looked. The wait was shortened by people coming up asking to take pictures with my kids in their costumes. They ate it up.

As we walked into the building the manager told them “Wow. Those are the best costumes I have ever seen.”

As we took our seats people turned around to tell my kids “Oh my gosh. You guys look amazing.”

Then the main event. Mr. Elwes came out and told some fun stories about making the movie. He was funny, charming, gracious… and 5 minutes into his schtick he stopped suddenly, looked at Episode IV, pointed to her and in front of 300 people in the room said “You, with the moustache. God bless you.” At one point he asked the audience “How many Men In Black are there here tonight?” Episode V stood up and again the crowd cheered.

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When it came time to sign autographs and meet the fans he was particularly gracious when Episodes IV and V came around. He came out from behind the table, again to the cheers of the whole crowd, and gave some extra time to my kids. He played with them. Mugged for photos with them, and was an all-around gentleman.

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When it was all done I loaded two exhausted kids into the minivan for a very long, very late drive home. Along the way I got this text message from my wife, and I knew it was all worth it:

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-Dork Dad

Healthy Dad

21 Oct Healthy Dad

Healthy Dad   letter My wife asked me if I liked it.

“No. Who the hell likes getting up at 5:00 am to get bossed around and beat up before going to work?”

My wife asked me if I feel better.

“No. My trainers are incredibly effective. They hit a different muscle group each time so I’m sore EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”

My wife asked me if I’m going to keep doing it.

“Yes. I’m going to keep doing it.”

The truth is I do feel better. I can get up and down off the ground more easily when I’m wrestling with the kids. I can pick up Episode VI and throw him on my shoulders now without feeling like I’m on the verge of collapse. I’m don’t seem to be losing pounds or inches, but I can feel my arms and shoulders are thicker and my core is more solid… or at least it doesn’t jiggle as much.

I plan on bitching and moaning every step of the way. I’ll never be one of those people who enjoys exercise, but it’s still got to get done. It’s one of those things that responsible people have to do… like paying taxes. Here’s to being a #HealthyDad. Thanks to Anthem Blue Cross, who sponsored the campaign, for including dads in this important discussion about family health care. My views are based solely on my experience as a parent, and not as a medical professional.

-Dork Dad

Holding Hands

9 Sep

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letter The other day I had Episodes IV and V loaded up in the minivan running an errand to who-can-remember-where in order to get who-can-remember-what accomplished when we came upon a large gaggle of middle school students just leaving the school, walking across the intersection where we were parked. Two of the students were lagging behind the pack, and my kids quickly picked up on the slightly different behavior they were exhibiting:

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Episode V: “Daddy, why are those two big kids holding hands?”

Episode IV: “It’s because they’re brother and sister, or maybe it’s because they’re best friends!”

Episode V: “Aha! Just like me and Macayla!!”

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Yeah, kids. That’s exactly it.

batmanlove

-Dork Dad

(Editor’s note: Macayla is the little girl from Episode V’s kindergarten class whom he informed us he would be marrying. She’s the same girl who just wrote a bunch of I-love-you’s all over his birthday card. We are currently in negotiations with Macayla’s parents regarding a dowry.)

There Are Moments

4 Sep

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letter There are moments.

There are moments when you feel the indelible stamp of history. There are moments when you know that this instant in time is a memory being made. There are moments where you feel so strongly the tight threads of family that connects us through time. You see the little hand in yours and you feel what it means to be a proud father. Then you see the other little hand in his hand and you feel what it means to be a proud son.

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When my father, my son and I all held hands I felt the enormous weight of the present and the tremendous responsibility of being there… of being there then, in that moment, feeling it and sharing it for what it was, right there and then. I thought of how proud I am to share my children with my parents, and of how proud he was to share us with his.

I thought of how I missed my father’s father – of how I missed his old, tired, weathered hands which I held and knew so well, now some 20 years gone, and I dedicated a few steps to the memory of him, the missing man from our hand-linked chain of history. I thought of how much my father must miss him, sharing his children and his children’s children with his own father, and I related to my father as the son of a man deeply loved. I looked over at my father, holding my son’s hand and I dared to hope that someday my son will want to share his children with me. I imagined what it would be like to someday hold my son’s son’s hand in the same way, and I related to my father as the father of a son deeply loved.

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You cannot fight the relentless progression, and it is just as right to feel the stinging absence of those long gone as it is to anticipate with joy those memories to come. But it is the moment, THIS moment, in the here and now, this is what we live for.

 

-Dork Dad

 

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