Archives For parenting

Death of a chinchilla

Bill Sjostrom —  27 March 2008

For at least two years, my boys (Liam, 9 and Ollie, 6) have been clamoring for a pet chinchilla. While perusing craigslist a few days before Ollie’s birthday, I ran across a listing for a 18-month-old chinchilla that came with a cage and all accessories (including a dust bather!) for a mere $75. Better yet, he was living less than one mile from my house. I had to teach that night so I dispatched my wife to check him out as a possible birthday present for Ollie. She brought the boys with so of course they insisted on getting Ripley (the Chinchilla). I arrived home from class to find Ripley and his large cage sitting in our dinning room. I don’t think Ripley liked me because he’d make a high pitched noise any time a wandered near his cage. I equated it with cat hissing.

Around 7:00 a.m. the next morning, I was awoken by screaming and wailing. It seems Laim took Ripley out of his cage to hold him. Ripley promptly jumped out of Liam’s arms and scampered under our couch. My wife lifted the couch in an effort to capture Ripley, but as she was lifting Ripley apparently attempted to scamper through the space between the back edge of the couch and the floor which was quickly shrinking as my wife lifted. Unfortunately for us all, Ripley was crushed and died instantly. Elapsed time from his arrival at our house until his death: 11 hours.

We decided that a chinchilla is not the best choice for a pet. As a replacement, we went with a dog, in part because he’s too big to scamper under the couch. Anyone in the market for a chinchilla cage? It comes with a dust bather!

My colleague Todd Zywicki offers an empirical rebuttal to the Warren-Tyagi “Two Income Trap” hypothesis which asserts that families with two incomes end up more leveraged than families with single incomes and more susceptible to negative economic shocks than otherwise for a number of reasons, including, e.g. counterproductive bidding for housing, child care expenses, etc. The hypothesis is designed, in part, to explain the increase in bankruptcy filings in the US during the 1980s and 90s. After a bit of number crunching, Zywicki concludes that the largest difference between the typical family in 1970 and 2000 is the tax burden not the mortgage expenses:

expenses for health insurance, mortgage, and automobile, have actually declined as a percentage of the household budget. Child care is a new expense. But even this new expenditure is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes. Moreover, unlike new taxes and the child care expenses incurred to pay them, increases in the cost of housing and automobiles are offset by increases in the value of real and personal property as household assets that are acquired in exchange.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than in their mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And the growth in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater the growth in mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined.

Interesting stuff.

The current edition of BusinessWeek has a humorous article (see here) on how to explain Enron to kids. Here’s an excerpt from one suggestion:

Once upon a time in the land of Enron, there was a king named Ken — well, actually, he wasn’t a king, but he thought he was. He had a friend, at least we think he was a friend, who was a prince named Jeff. King Ken and Prince Jeff ruled over the land of Enron. In this land they made…well, they made money for themselves. What else did they make? Not much else. However, this isn’t what they told the people of the land of Enron. They told the people that they were making lots of electricity and other invisible stuff. We don’t know how to make electricity and other invisible stuff, and neither did they.

Here’s the beginning of another suggestion:

Well, kids, amazingly enough, Enron worked just like the pie-baking bee for the local charity bazaar. Jill bakes four pies, while another Jill, who doesn’t actually exist, bakes 24 pies.

Once the first Jill’s four pies are delivered to the bazaar (minus the two she “lost” on the way), the nonexistent Jill’s “mom” records 24 pies as delivered, buys them all back using a check drawn on a fictitious account, then demands 24 full cash refunds because they “taste funny.” Flustered, the nice bazaar ladies cough it up. With each pie priced at $5, that’s $120 net, or a clear profit of $100.

Here’s my suggestion: Enron hired Rumplestiltskin as its CFO. Rumplestilskin used special purpose entities to turn straw into gold. Unfortunately, the king of Enron and his subjects consciously ignored the fact that Rumplestiltskin is a fairy tale and that it’s really not possible to turn straw into gold.

Eye rust?

Bill Sjostrom —  9 June 2006

Did you know that you can get rust on your cornea? I didn’t until some showed up on the cornea of my seven year old son (fyi: the cornea is the clear surface layer covering the iris and pupil). It seems he must have gotten something metallic in his eye and some remaining residue rusted. We luckily noticed it early on because it can cause permanent eye damage. Fortunately, an eye surgeon was able to buff it off with a Dremel-like device at the eye clinic, thus averting eye surgery.

With April 15 looming, I’ve spent some time this morning figuring out whether to make contributions to my sons’ Coverdell Education Savings Accounts or their 529 plans (I’m no longer a big shot attorney, so I don’t have the funds to do both). The issue has come up because on a recent NPR show someone claimed that 529 plans are more favorable from a financial aid standpoint because the assets are considered those of the parent while the assets in an ESA are considered those of the student. This was news to me. My web research revealed conflicting information and advice on the point. But I think I located the definitive answer in this U.S. Department of Education letter. The letter states as follows:

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and 529 College Savings Plans receive equal treatment in the calculation of federal financial aid eligibility. Specifically, both can be regarded as assets of the parent if the parent is the owner of the account, rather than the student, and thereby displace a smaller amount of financial aid.

Hence, I’ll be contributing to their ESAs. If you’d like to contribute to their 529 plans, let me know, and I’ll give you my PayPal information.