The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 3: Twenty Sided Tale

By Shamus Posted Monday May 27, 2013

Filed under: Personal 131 comments

It’s spring of 2001. We’ve moved into our new house. We’ve left behind a bunch of stress and we’re settling into a new routine. I’ve got a nice home office now. For the first time since I got married, I have a quiet space where I can be creative and relaxed. This does wonders for my productivity.

Note that I’m going to be talking a bit about finances here. I dislike complaining about money, and I don’t like talking about personal business. Still, I can’t write this without explaining some of what’s going on.

So to make things clear: I’m only revealing as much as I need to make this story make sense. I’m sure you’ll be tempted to ask, “But Shamus, why didn’t you X?” It’s in our nature to want to work out solutions to problems, and I know some people will read this an be driven to diagnose things. This will lead to requests for more information.

If I answer, it will lead to revealing more and more details, which aren’t really needed for this story to work. Remember that most of this has played out. Just let it slide.


Heather is pregnant again. This is kind of amazing. This is the third time we’ve said, “Okay, it’s a good time to think about having a kid. We’ll just let nature do its thing and we’ll probably end up pregnant in the next six months or so.” And for the third time in a row, she was pregnant less than two months later. I’m led to understand that this process is supposed to take some time? I don’t know. Given the convoluted mechanics involved, the entire reproductive system seems horribly unreliable and capricious to me. I’m surprised it works at all.

Each pregnancy has been harder than the one before. With Rachel, Heather was just violently ill and weak for four months. With [Peter], she was sick for five, and the vomiting was more serious. With this third pregnancy, she is in actual danger. She can’t keep food down. She’s a little malnourished and becoming dehydrated. Some medical care pulls her system back into line, and from this point on she needs intravenous fluids. All of this is caused by the mad soup of hormones that get pumped out when the human body is trying to create another human body inside it. See what I mean about the system being sort of capricious?

I’m able to care for her at home. Once a week a nurse comes in to maintain the picc line, but I can handle the day-to-day stuff. Once a day I set up her fluid drip, check her line, and sit with her for a bit while she has “lunch”, which is what I call these big bags of saline she drinks through her neck. She has trouble keeping warm these days, so we try to keep her under the blankets and in the sunlight as much as possible. The trick here is that the better hydrated she is, the better she is able to keep down solid food. If not for the IV fluids, she would throw up two thirds of everything she ate or drank, which would lead to dehydration, which would push the ratio of vomited-to-absorbed even higher, which would result in a death spiral in which the death part was not a figurative thing. If we were in the middle ages, she would have puked until she died and I’d be a widower by now. Well, aside from the fact that I would already be dead myself. Twice.

The poor woman is miserable and weak, but this is the happiest we’ve been in years. I’m glad to be able to do this for her. Her drip is a nice mid-day chat. Years from now my memories of this time will consist of pictures of her in bed with the sunlight flowing in, with me sitting by her bed and chatting. I have words and time for her, and we can rely on family to help out when things get tough. None of this was possible in Boston.

Left-to-right: Rachel, baby Issac, Heather, and [Peter
Left-to-right: Rachel, baby Issac, Heather, and [Peter

Issac is born in October. We wanted to have four kids, but Heather and I agree we can’t risk another pregnancy. Given how the symptoms have been escalating with each pregnancy, it would be irresponsible to try again. We have the surgery done and our careers as baby-makers come to an end.

Twenty Sided Tale

In 2002, I begin writing a book. The fit comes suddenly. The only discernable catalyst is that I listened to Neuromancer on audiobook and hearing the voice made me want to write cyberpunk. I spend a couple of years working on the book intermittently, and vacillating between optimistic pride and frustrated shame at the quality of my work.

It takes me a couple of years before I can look at the work objectively, but at the end of it I come to the conclusion that I’ve written something good. After a couple of rounds of much-needed proofing, it gets even better.

I can do this. I can write. I really wish Dad had lived to see it.

Here I am, holding the completed book years later.
Here I am, holding the completed book years later.

In 2004, my little brother comes to me about a D&D game his friends want to start. They’re all seniors in high school. I love the idea of doing more writing, and so I volunteer to run the game. I write up a campaign and we spend a few months going through it. It goes over well.

The game is passed around, but in 2005 the job of Dungeon Master comes back to me. I start another campaign, and this time I blog about it. I call the blog Twenty Sided Tale. (And if you clicked on that link you really need to slap yourself. We’re working on the honor system here, so do the right thing. Use your dominant hand, open palm, aim for the cheek.) The only thing I put on the blog is this D&D campaign.

Maybe I’ll do other campaigns in the future, but most likely I’ll just abandon it like the other blogs I’ve written.

As before, nobody reads the dang thing. I stick with it, because I enjoy the process of writing. I just tell myself my gaming buddies are reading the blog so I can avoid feeling like I’m wasting my time. It still hasn’t occurred to me that I could just write for my own enjoyment and edification without worrying about who might read it or why. (I’ll figure this out eventually, which will lead me to write the thing you’re reading now.)

Everything Happens at Once

It is now 2006, and I am about to have the busiest, craziest, most unpredictable year of my life. In April, Heather injures her knee and is barely able to walk for a few months. In May, I break my ribs. In March, the doctor diagnoses Heather’s leg problem as patellar subluxation. In August, I end up doing some serious crunch time at work. In September, I begin the webcomic. In October, my daughter Rachel has a seizure.

Rachel, the day after getting out of the hospital.
Rachel, the day after getting out of the hospital.

The madness continues into 2007. In summer, there’s that crazy fire at the neighbor’s. I go in for surgery and also break a tooth on the same day. My brother Patrick gets married.

By 2007 the blog has taken off. I was fooling around with some comic-making software and accidentally found an audience. The blog gradually becomes more and more a collection of thoughts and essays and less and less a D&D game. I drop the word “Tale” from the title and just re-name the site “Twenty Sided.” The only remnant of the original name is stuck in the URL, and I can’t change that without messing with explosives. (In this case: PHP, MySQL, and Google page rank.)

At work, things are going less well. I can see the writing on the wall. The company over-expanded in the dot-com bubble and we’ve been gradually shedding people to correct for this. My odd specialization in graphics tricks and procedural content generation aren’t as useful as they were in the early days.

My cross-discipline skill set and knack for invention gave us a lot of interesting features. But now we’re no longer building, we’re maintaining. New features are fewer and farther between, and more of our work involves doing custom work for corporate clients, who generally have very specific needs that have nothing to do with graphics. I can still do the work, but I’m no longer uniquely qualified for it. The stuff I’m doing now could be done by anyone. Other people are qualified for tasks that I’m not (I’ve never been one for backend stuff) but there’s nothing that we’re doing that can only be done by me. If it was my job to reduce headcount in this company, Shamus Young would be at the top of my list. Everyone likes me and we’ve had a nice long run together, which I suspect has been prolonging the lifespan of my position.

On the other hand, this writing gig is really taking off. The blog keeps growing and people are interested in my non-webcomic work. I’m getting job offers and invitations to join projects now and again.

Money Problems

Heather has student loans. She owed $15k when she left college, a month before we got married. We were pretty broke as newlyweds, so when they asked us, “Would you like to defer your loan?” we said, “Sure!” I mean, they’ll wait patiently until we get the money, right? That’s really sporting of them! The bank was indeed a “good sport” about stacking on interest while we dithered about. By the time my career was going and I got around to checking on it, we owed 25k.

Here in 2008, I’ve finally sat down and run the numbers. Instead of treating this loan like another bill to pay, I’ve gone back to figure out how this loan works, how much we owe, and how much it’s costing us. We’ve been paying on it for a few years now, and as far as I can tell we’ve sent them 10k so far, and we still owe 20k. On what was originally a 15k debt.

And they say the next generation of kids has it even worse? Terrifying.

“I’ve never had a head for money.”

That’s what people say when they’re bad at money and they don’t understand why. The truth is that it’s not really a complexity issue, but one of interest and attention. I’m sure the process of running family finances isn’t more difficult than writing erosion simulators or particle engines, which are both things I’ve done recently. But I enjoy coding and I find money to be a vexing distraction. I think about finances only long enough to pay the bills and the rest of my attention is focused on much more interesting but less practical problems. So I’ve never had a head for money in the sense that I’ve never had a head that cared to think about it.

I can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong. Student loans aside, we seem to leak money. Five years ago we had a little nest egg of cash, but that is basically gone now and we’ve been stacking up little debts here and there. Heather and I bicker a bit. It’s nothing serious, but we can’t figure out why we have so much trouble with money and it’s bothering us. I see a bit of her spending as needless and she thinks the same of some of my spending, but I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t really want her to stop spending money on things. I just want us to stop leaking cash.

For a while I didn’t notice because we had cash in the bank. Then I figured the problem was just the various spikes in medical bills we’ve been dealing with.


Part of the problem is that this house is more expensive to maintain than I’d anticipated. I’ve never owned a house before. At the condo, we were in a top-floor unit, which meant that even in the dead of winter we barely had to heat the place. We could spend $100 on heating, but only if we wanted to be roasted alive. In this new place, it costs nearly $400 just to keep the place warm-ish. Just the gas bill alone could pay all utilities for a couple of months at the condo.

The house is creaky and drafty. It was built in the 50’s, and still has the original windows and furnace. You can feel the cold rolling across the floor in the winter, and in vigorous weather you can sit by the window and feel the wind change. We could replace the furnace and / or the windows, but either one would cost thousands of dollars we don’t have. We try turning down the heat and hanging blankets in front of the windows. It helps a bit, but not enough.

You can ask ten people how to handle this and get ten different answers, and the only accurate answer is “it depends”. How inefficient is the furnace? How much are we losing out the windows? Do we need to replace all the windows, or just a few key ones? This is actually a really complex problem, and even an expert can’t make any guarantees.

Still, we can’t go on like this. I’m going to have to think of something soon.


From The Archives:

131 thoughts on “The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 3: Twenty Sided Tale

  1. krellen says:

    “Years from now my memories of this time will consist of pictures of her in bed with the sunlight flowing in, with me sitting by her bed and chatting. I have words and time for her, and we can rely on family to help out when things get tough. None of this was possible in Boston.”

    This part right here explains perfectly – and succinctly – why you are so loathe to move away from where you’re living now, no matter what intriguing and amazing job opportunity might present itself elsewhere.

    I also find the sentiment very touching. Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

    1. This is a nice bridge essay.

      I’ve been enjoying your autobiographical essays.

      1. asterismW says:

        Same. I’m really enjoying this series.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “And if you clicked on that link you really need to slap yourself”

    After reading this,I simply had to click the link.It just was so funny.

    Ugh,maintaining a house sure sucks.Yeah its ice to have your own big place that you can do whatever with,but when stuff needs repairs and tweaks,you are on your own.

    Thats why I would never trade my condo for a house,despite the fact that I have a perpetual summer in it(with temperature never going bellow 293 kelvin,and thats during the summer,when I turn on the AC).

    1. Cannibalguppy says:

      I love the usage of kelvin. I love it so much it made me cry of joy abit :D

      1. Noumenon says:

        Kelvin is so unnatural I just assumed the 2 was a typo and he kept his house at 93 Fahrenheit, till I saw your comment.

        ps The comment system involves a lot of false starts. #1, it scrolls down only to the “post comment” button so you don’t see the “not a spammer” checkbox. #2, it scrolls down past the markup instructions so you don’t see the boxes for name and email (this is dependent on screen size). And #3, when you miss the name and e-mail, hitting “back” does not take you back to your posting box, it vanishes and does not reappear unless you were to try to post a reply to something else, then your old reply is in the new box instead.

        1. Mephane says:

          The word you are looking for is “unfamiliar”. Kelvin is actually the most natural unit we have for temperature measurement, as the value 0 has not been picked as the triple point of some arbitrary chemical compound, but has the actual physical meaning of “zero movement of the atoms”. That’s also why there are no negative values for Kelvin.

          Now the real question is, what is the most natural increment? If there is no way but to tie it to a specific state of a defined chemical substance, I’d suggest hydrogen to use as the substance, at least.

          1. Moddington says:

            While in practical terms it’s correct to say there are no negative values in the Kelvin scale, in reality it turns out it’s a little more complex than that.

            1. Mari says:

              As a resident of the west Texas desert I feel much the same way. To keep our house at a toasty 74 F we spend a little under $100 a month in the very coldest months of the very coldest years. On the other hand, it’s not terribly unusual for us to spend $400 a month to cool the house to a toasty 78 F from March to October. In Cali you probably don’t have too much of that problem either but you may well pay five or six times what we paid for our home for something equivalent. Every area has their money sinks.

              1. Zak McKracken says:

                Weeelll… I think it largely also depends on how your house is made. And how large it is, of course.

                In more densely-populated areas you’ll spend a lot less on heating (and won’t even need cooling), but mostly because houses/flats are smaller, because ground is so expensive. And then, depending on local wealth, availability and cultural history, houses can be more or less solidly built and insulated.
                I have the seemingly very similar cultures and climates of Germany and England to compare here, and it’s amazing what a little history and a higher prize for land will do to your heating bill.
                I’d guess that in most of Texas buying land and building a house is much cheaper than in most places in Europe, so houses will be larger and (being built at a time when energy cost next to nothing and was expected to stay thus) less efficient. Simply because it looked like the most sensible choice at the time. Even these days it often makes economic sense to not insulate an old house, depending, again on availability of money, price of work and energy and so on…

          2. You have a point but you’re vastly exaggerating it.
            When you say an “arbitrary” chemical compound is where you go off the rails. It’s like the way people fail to understand why so many people still cook in Imperial units in places that have gone over to metric, even though metric makes so much more sense and all.

            Water is not an arbitrary choice, obviously. Among chemical compounds our lives depend on, it’s the only one that changes phase at temperatures we ever experience. Our lives have always depended on whether water is happening as rain or snow, on whether frost will kill the crops, on whether the lake will freeze over, yadda yadda. Hydrogen makes little difference to the daily lives of the overwhelming majority of people and temperatures at which it changes phase don’t happen in anyone’s daily life (or if they do, that person’s daily life comes to an abrupt halt). Hydrogen would be a mind-bogglingly stupid substance to use.

            Basically, the lens you’re filtering through is “everything is science”–but most people have uses for knowing what the temperature is, and those uses are not scientific. The Celsius scale makes sense for people whose lives revolve around fresh water (most of us), the Fahrenheit for those (less common nowadays) whose lives revolve around seawater, Kelvin makes sense for scientists, and a hypothetical Hydrogen-based scale would make sense for nobody.

            1. BeardedDork says:

              Water is unique among compounds, for many many reasons, its choice is in no way arbitrary.

              1. Zukhramm says:

                It’s still arbitrary to physically defining temperature.

                1. Deadpool says:

                  Not really. With our bodies being mostly water, a temperature scale like, say, Celsius, manages to keep all the accuracy of Kelvin while keeping the numbers relevant to us humans on a day to day basis relatively simple.

                  20 Celsius is just simpler to manage than 293 Kelvin on a day to day.

                  Why have a scale where you never use any number under 200?

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    You mean a scale like this one?Yup,we sure would never use such a thing in a day to day matters.

                    1. Syal says:

                      Atmospheric air pressure is often given in millibars where standard sea level pressure is defined as 1000 mbar, or 1 bar.

                      I don’t know what you were trying to say. Sea level’s pretty relevant.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Well,depending on your altitude,you would often hear the weather channel speak about pressures in 99X mbs.So the numbers bellow 990,barely ever used.Below 900,never.

                      So the kelvin scale isnt really any more complicated than the celsius scale,its just that we are not used to it.

                    3. Deadpool says:

                      That’s a Metric unit. It has the built in ability to be changed into sub units to please whatever the locale finds it best. People find saying 900 milibars easier than using 9 decibars or .9 bars. Their choice.

                      20 Celsius is just SIMPLER than 293 Kelvin. It would be like my saying I have a .009 meter pistol. It’s just as accurate as saying 9mm, but it’s much sillier…

                    4. Syal says:

                      I’m pretty sure Bar was designed to measure man-made pressures like air compressors, so measuring the atmosphere in bar is kind of like measuring a dog in horsepower; you can do it, but it’ll look silly.

                      (If measuring the weather was the main purpose, millibars would be bars and bars would be kilobars.)

                    5. Daemian Lucifer says:


                      So saying 20 instead of 293 is simpler,and that is why we are constantly using 99X and 100X instead of inventing a scale that would have 1000 be 0,so we could say +/-X?


                      Not what is being talked about at all.The point is not that we have bars or millibars or whatever,the point is that 20°C (or 68° F) is not simpler than 293K by default,but by popular usage.

                    6. Deadpool says:

                      Because decimals do not lead to simplicity.

                      Millibar is the most accurate unit possible while keeping decimals meaningless. Any change would either affect accuracy or simplicity.

                      Kelvin has zero advantages on Celsius. It isn’t simpler, it isn’t more accurate and it isn’t smaller.

                      It is why cars move in kilometers and miles per hour…

                    7. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      “Millibar is the most accurate unit possible while keeping decimals meaningless. Any change would either affect accuracy or simplicity.”

                      Not true.Here,a new scale:

                      0 newbars = 1000 millibars
                      -5 newbars = 995 millibars
                      -10 newbars = 990 millibars
                      5 newbars = 1005 millibars
                      10 newbars = 1010 millibars

                      There,a simplified version,that doesnt affect accuracy,but reduces the numbers so that we dont have to say all those extra numbers of 990 and 1000.Yet no one ever decided to use such a scale for meteorology.Why?Because people are used to millibars.

                    8. Deadpool says:

                      Ahhhh, but milibars don’t exist in a vaccum. It’s a sub unit of a metric unit.

                      Newbars adds complexity when it comes to converting it to any and from any other bar unit because you have to first convert it INTO a milibar and THEN into whatever other bar you want…

                      Overly complex for no reason.

                      Notice this ALSO doesn’t apply to Kelvin…

            2. Mephane says:

              Cool down, man. I have written that paragraph half in jest. I know why water has been “chosen” (or rather has been the only sensible choice).

              P.S.: The hydrogen-scale would make sense when dealing with aliens who may very well live in a temperature range completely different from ours. Hydrogen could then be a common baseline because it is the most abundant and simple element.

              1. Dave B. says:

                When you think about it, most of our measurement systems are arbitrary (from a certain perspective.) The meter is (or at least was originally) based on the circumference of the Earth, as is the nautical mile. Our measurement of time, days, months, and years is based on the movements of the Earth, and our base-ten numbering system could be a result of our own physiology. (It just seems very…coincidental that we happen to have ten fingers and a base-ten system. I know not every human civilization has used that numbering system, but this is speculation anyways.)

                It makes for some interesting sci-fi scenarios, like the last one or two books of Asimov’s Foundation series, when humans who are so far removed from their Terran heritage that the Earth is a myth, speculate on where their strange measurement conventions might have come from.

                1. krellen says:

                  At least one Mesoamerican society (I don’t remember precisely which one) had a base-twenty system. This culture also lacked shoes. This may not be coincidental.

                2. Bubble181 says:

                  And the Babylonians used base-12 – which is where we got hours, minutes, seconds in 12- and 60-intervals, as well as why we have 12 instead of them ore logical 13 months (though that’s also partly Roman).

                  But yes, base-10 is only sensible because of our physiology. Base-16 would’ve been a lot more logical in a lot of ways.

  3. Vagrant says:

    I worked for several years as a salesman at a home improvement company, and given the chance I would have pushed hard for you to replace your windows. although I suspect someone that did HVAC would inform you on how inefficient your furnace was. “It Depends (on who you ask).”

    1. rofltehcat says:

      Wait, isn’t the cheapest way to simply invest into real warm winter clothing? :P

      Tbh, I really don’t know about where to begin in a house… there are so many different ways to make them more efficient.
      New windows, additional insulation (walls and roof), a better furnace… windows can (today) be checked with an IR camera and the walls partially, too (for cracks etc.). Plus it really depends on the kind of house. Improving a brick house can be very different from improving a house made mainly out of wood.

      But overall, the windows most of the time are the best place to start.

      1. MichaelG says:

        As a Californian, the idea of pissing away $400/mo just to keep warm makes no sense to me. Like having to pay for gravity or something.

        1. Steve C says:

          Man I missed a gravity payment once. So much of my stuff just floated away. Never again.

        2. Duneyrr says:

          Same here. I can see paying that kind of money on central A/C though…

        3. Zak McKracken says:

          …which is pretty much how I feel about air conditioning. My car’s A/C does not see usage every year…
          Weirdly enough, badly insulated homes are more likely to need both heating and air conitioning. Which is why I’m a huge fan of good old well-insulated massive stone walls and a proper cellar … if you can get/afford it :(

          1. I hear you. Such a pain that almost everything nowadays is built as flimsy as can be got away with. It’s weird–no doubt the standards are fairly effective, all earthquake proof and whatever, but strip away the facade and there isn’t much there. Nothing built to last any more.

      2. Humanoid says:

        With my PC running, temperatures in midwinter here are tolerable enough to me such that I don’t have to run any further heating. Which is fortunate, because I only have gas heating in the living room, and to heat other rooms I’d need to resort to expensive electrical element heating.

        Now, I live in a fairly cold area of the country, but that’s admittedly nothing compared to winters for most readers here. For what it’s worth, think about -5°C to 10°C (~20-50°F) as a typical min-max range.

        1. swenson says:

          “Fairly cold” for you is a brisk fall day for me!

          Well, I suppose it typically would be above 20 in the fall, but if we only got down to ~20 in winter, I would be perfectly all right with that.

      3. uberfail says:

        The problem is that we still have to breath the air which is at a certain temperature, no matter how warm we keep our bodies. Living in a cold room and breathing colder air can cause repository and other health issues, especially for children and the elderly.

      4. Zak McKracken says:

        It’s basically a weakest-link problem:

        New windows only help if the old ones were much worse insulated than the walls. If after upgrading they are better insulated than the walls, you’ll have to ventilate for your life or get a mould problem. Or insulate the walls/ceiling too, which will allow you to ventilate a lot less, too (walls aren’t as cold anymore, so less moisture in the corners…). Basically, it’s best to improve everything at once, and making sure the windows stay the worst insulated part of the house, and the house isn’t tighter than it is insulated.
        … on the whole, there are a few boundary conditions that make upgrading a house more difficult (and expensive…) than it seems at first. At least the benefits of upgrading the furnace is easier to calculate if you have the numbers for the old one. But then, improving insulation will not just reduce costs but also improve comfort, so it’s got that going for it.

  4. DGM says:

    >> “And if you clicked on that link you really need to slap yourself”

    Recycling old jokes practically word for word in the same post where you brag about your writing ability? There’s a terrible pun about Shamusful behavior to be made here, but I’m a better man than that.

    …God damn it. Now I’m disappointed in myself.

    1. Richard Carboxsin IV says:


      1. DGM says:

        I remembered him making that joke before. It’s here:

        1. Dragomok says:

          You know that post is three years old, right?

          1. anaphysik says:

            There are no expiration dates on the internet.

            Anyway, I’m pretty sure he’s used the joke numerous times. I recall at least one other instance (in noting that Josh has no blogplacespotthing unlike everyone else).

            1. Chamomile says:

              More importantly, that post was referenced by the much more recent reposting of the same video. A lot of people, including myself, bounced back to read it very recently. So the effect isn’t of someone recycling material from so long ago it might be funny again, but someone reusing the joke they told yesterday.

        2. wheals says:

          I thought that joke looked familiar. I’m glad it wasn’t just me going insane.

    2. Shamus says:

      Nothing’s wrong with the writing, it’s the work ethic that’s slipping. :)

      1. DGM says:

        Fair enough. I’ll grant you the joke was good enough to be funny twice. :)

      2. Mephane says:

        You just missed the chance to claim it was intentional, as some jokes work even better when they are deliberately repeated (that’s why we have all the memes*)

        *I see what you did there.

      3. StashAugustine says:

        It means you’re such a good writer people remember three-year-old jokes.

        1. Mersadeon says:

          Exactly my thinking. I wish I could tell jokes that my friends remember for three years!

          As for the financial thing: I guess I inherited it from my mother, I’ve always been very practical about money. I know exactly how much has to stay on the account, but the rest I basically throw at life.

      4. Brandon says:

        How DARE you not scour through the entire history of your blog to make sure you aren’t accidentally recycling a joke! For shame!

        I’m actually really kind of surprised at the wording is identical in both posts. It’s actually almost like you WERE looking through the history, found that post, and ctrl-c ctrl-v’d it. Maybe it is a reference that I am not getting?

        1. Shamus says:

          I totally did copy & paste it. For whatever reason, I stumbled on the joke in the archives and ended up laughing at my own joke. I’d totally forgotten it. Then the same situation arose (I mentioned the blog on the blog in a context where I would normally put a link) and just decided to steal from the past.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            Personally, it was the ‘DUH’ from hovering over the link that got me laughing. :)

    3. Thomas says:

      Well if anybody fell for it twice then it’s twice as funny, and you should probably use both hands for the slap.

  5. X2-Eliah says:

    Wait, did we justjump from 2001 to 2008 in one post? Egads.

    Also, that house is the mistake, isn’t it?

    1. Zaxares says:

      I doubt it. It is exceedingly rare that you can point to a moment in your life and say, “Yep. This is where it all went wrong. If I hadn’t done THIS, my life would be different.” Life is more a case of hundreds of choices, and each time you just pick what you believe is the best way forward.

      I know you said not to go into finances, Shamus, but I feel that this needs to be said. (It’s not addressed at you either. It’s just a general warning to everybody who is considering taking up a loan.) NEVER pay just the minimal repayment on a loan. I can’t stress that enough. Thousands upon thousands of people doing that is precisely how banks make money. The interest rates on loans is calculated to make it so that if you pay just the minimum repayment, the bank essentially turns you into a cash cow and you will end up paying off the loan forever. When you die, your children will inherit the debt* and if they make the same mistake, they and their children will then be trapped in debt to the bank forever.

      Instead, when you take a loan, sit down and decide by which date you want to pay it off, according to your financial means. For some people, this will be 30 years. For others, it may be 10 years, or anywhere in between. Then, calculate your repayments per month so you will make that date. Aside from some tax loopholes in certain regions, it is always to your advantage to not be in debt.

      TL;DR: NEVER be in debt longer than you have to be. Even if you have a good, steady job and have the regular income to make loan repayments, life can be unpredictable. If something goes wrong (e.g. you get into an accident and can no longer work), you will be in big, big trouble.

      * This may vary from country to country. In some countries, it is illegal for a parent’s debt to be passed on to the child, but they can swipe everything from your parent’s estate to pay off the debt, leaving you with nothing from your inheritance.

      1. Richard Carboxsin IV says:

        Its not too rare, though its a bit far fetched.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ill second that.Also,one perk of paying more than needed,is that if you somehow screw the math and overdo it,the bank will end up paying you back.With interest!It may not be as much as you gave them,but it does hit the right spot when you get that call from them.

      3. Humanoid says:

        Yeah, it’s a bit of an eye-opener seeing that student loan figure. I mean, I’m fully aware the US has a much more sink-or-swim attitude towards this kind of thing, but over here the reverse is true. Then again, I had no idea it was effectively just a bank loan, as here the loan is directly with the federal government.

        Our version of it is technically interest-free, but it is indexed with CPI. So net increase of the debt in absolute terms by a few percent a year. However, interest from just throwing the cash in a simple savings account is higher than that by a couple percent. Net result, it’s best to not pay your loan for as long as possible.

        There are minimum repayments required, of course, on a sliding scale as your income rises. If you earn less than about $50k, no payment is required. Beyond that, you’re required to make payments ranging from 4% of your taxable income for the year, up to 8% for incomes around $100k. You can make optional repayments of course, and some of the very wealthy or the very unwise opt to do so, despite it being financially disadvantageous. I went for the minimum payments, and have just paid off my loan, which was a similar size to Heather’s, it took 7-8 years.

        A further park is that only income earned locally counts. If you move overseas and earn all your income there, then citizen or not, you effectively *never* have to pay the debt. Obviously if you never earn more than 50k a year, you never have to pay it either.

        1. Mephane says:

          I still don’t get this “go into debt in order to study, pay back later only when you get paid more than sum x per annum”. The obvious and sensible goal is that someone who actually profits from their higher education pays it back, but those who don’t profit are not punished, which would discourage children from poorer families from going to university.

          But someone who earns more also pays more taxes, and thus already gives more back into the system. The student loan setup only appears to serve two purposes: politics can be lazy in balancing the numbers between taxes and budgets, and just increase university fees if the money is insufficient, and some bank makes a profit, too.

          1. Skye says:

            Here’s the thing- what you get out of college depends so much on what you put in to it, and what you’re doing. A lot of people go to college mostly to party and goof off. They wind up not making much money back from it, but it still cost money to try to educate them. So we make them pay it back. A different lot of people go to college for something that we don’t really need. (To avoid argument over the worth of different majors, lets say Underwater Basket Weaving.) We still spend time teaching them, so they still need to pay that back.

            The rest of us work hard at acquiring a complex skill that society needs enough to pay us for. They spent time teaching us too, so we have to pay for it, but we can usually pay it back fairly quickly, because we get paid enough to do that.

            I fully agree with anyone who says college costs a lot more than it really should, but I disagree with anyone who says it isn’t worth it. It’s almost always worth it for people in that third category. (I was… less than impressed with the state colleges back home, so it’s not like the government was getting any money out of me that way.)

            1. SKD says:

              It is my firm opinion as a working adult attending college to acquire a piece of paper which is worthless beyond its ability to get my resume through HR scanning software that college is worthless to the majority of people who attend. I think they and society would be better served by trade schools that teach actual skills which would be useful in an actual career with further learning and education as needed to ascend corporate ladders.

              1. Blov says:


                Them as come to university/college to make more money need no encouragement – I’d rather we promoted a society of people who know interesting things. I’m not convinced that the marketplace has any rational approach to employment at the moment (for instance, an Economics and Management degree is of very little relevance unless you’re going to become an academic economist; I think it’s also one of the easiest degrees they do here, objectively speaking… and yet, it’s one of the more employable degrees).

                I don’t want to get too political in here but it makes me really uncomfortable that basically every one of my friends from a poorer background here has said they wouldn’t go to university (here in the UK) at all now the size of the fees has been tripled…

              2. Raka says:

                I am a college drop-out, as are a number of my friends. We all have chips on our shoulders about it to one extent or another. A while back, one of them was grousing to me and said “All a college degree shows is that you can sit in one place for four years and follow basic instructions.”

                I agree with that (essentially). Difference is, he thought it was a scathing indictment of stupid HR departments that use degrees as a metric. I think it’s a succinct explanation of why a degree in anything is about the most useful signal an HR department can hope to find on a resume.

            2. But all of this comes from a perspective of purely market-based worth. We want people to be more than just workers: We want them to be smart citizens. You get a lot of people who can do a trade job or profession but don’t have pretty basic geographical, political, economic, etc. backgrounds, or exposure to a wide range of different ideas. College used to be the gentleman’s arena, so they could be fully developed human beings.

      4. Mephane says:

        I second this. So far I have successfully managed to stay debt-free, by planning all my expenses in a way so that there is some money left over at the end of the month, with slowly adds up. I have also set myself a non-zero floor for when the bank account ever goes down to that value, I consider it zero and only go below that in case of emergencies. However, this approach only works because I get paid enough so that there actually is a surplus. Too many people, sadly, get paid so little that it is the other way round.

        1. Ross says:

          This is an important, often overlooked point.

          It certainly helps to be educated financially, but even when you know all the correct financial guidelines, if once you have paid the bills you are already over budget, then you are in a frightening and difficult place.

          Those poor souls forced into debt just to keep barely afloat are those same souls bankers are going to have to answer for when they meet their maker.

          Due to the extreme likelihood of this turning into a rant of EPIC proportions I’ll just stop now. Suffice to say…. (Left mumbling angrily under his breath as everyone rapidly disperses. Again.)

          1. kdansky says:

            On the other hand you can live even off minimum wages decently, if you don’t spend money on crap. It’s just that people who work minimum wage want to keep up with the Joneses.

            Don’t smoke, don’t go out drinking Friday, wear your clothes as long as you can, fix your stuff instead of replacing it, get a cheap broadband, no cable, no smartphone (and a prepaid contract), don’t go to Starbucks, cook your own meals, live in a very small apartment. It’s a long list that’s very painful for many. I see girls who stock shelves with current gen iPhones daily. They can’t afford them, but just don’t know it.

            And don’t skimp on health insurance. If you can afford only one thing, make it this. Chances of getting a malady in the next twenty years that would kill you are pretty much 100%. I’ve recently gotten bills in the five digit area. I earn much more than minimum wage, and it would still have ruined me. The sickness itself is life-threatening enough.

            Of course, if you ever fall down the debt-hole due to bad luck, climbing out is all but impossible.

            [Edit: I wonder what triggered moderation on this.]

            1. Antwon says:

              Are there many individuals who fail to live within their means, where that’s the core reason for their financial malaise if they fall upon hard times? Sure! Are there many individual who are also scrambling to get by, where they are living as bottom-of-the-barrel as they possibly can, who are still one bad week from having their hand-to-mouth existence implode? Also sure!

              Say you’re just barely scraping by, earning minimum wage, with approximately zero saved for a rainy day. You’d love to get a very small apartment… one that requires a first, last, and damage deposit, which is an exorbitant and unfathomable sum in your world. So you can maybe live out of your car, or at some shady deep-discount by-the-day motel… which is probably not going to give you ready access to refrigeration or a hot plate, which mitigates your ability to cheaply cook a nice cost-saving batch of meals to save you money for the week ahead.

              I have minimal pity for those who are entitled and perpetually squander minimal income on baubles and trinkets. But “you can live even off minimum wages decently” is not a casually accurate statement, deeply dependent on having even a small nut of savings, local friends and family one can lean on, etc.

      5. MichaelG says:

        Sometimes there is just one moment — like in the early 90’s, when I quit Oracle and sold all my stock (because I thought they were bozos.) The stock subsequently went up by a factor of 10 or something. I don’t even want to know…

      6. krellen says:

        Just so everyone is clear: You cannot inherit debt in the US – nor in most of the rest of the civilised world. You can, at worst, inherit nothing, if your benefactor owes more than the worth of their estate. In a few countries (the US is not one of them), you may have to formally (through a legal procedure) refuse the inheritance to avoid the debt if it exceeds the estate, but barring specific circumstances, you are never required to pay the debts of others.

        (Those specific circumstances basically boil down to you being complicit in the debt to start with: co-signing the loan, being a spouse in a community property state (the law assumes you both take responsibility for your joint assets), or abusing a trust – such as power of attorney – to put debts in someone else’s name on your behalf.)

        The worst you can ever do is leave your children nothing, not less than nothing. Even Japan has ways to get out of inherited debts.

      7. Peter H. Coffin says:

        Often, life gets a little more complicated than “Just never go into debt and you’ll be fine!”

  6. Factoid says:

    The human reproductive system in flowchart form really does read like some hilarious Rube Goldberg machine. But in reality it works quite well. Two fertile individuals having intercourse at the correct time have something like a one in three chance of conceiving, so your two month number sounds very reasonable. Since the timing is somewhat complex to work out most people just choose to brute force a solution with excessive repetition. What a chore, right?!

    1. Noumenon says:

      The true odds of pregnancy per intercourse are a little hazy, but I would put them at about 3% per time. It does take months of regular intercourse to make a baby usually. I learned this in Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind, which puts a lot of emphasis on how important compatibility is to human mating. The one night stand is not too normal.

      1. Mephane says:

        That also explains why humans are programmed to do it so often, unlike some animals that do it once and be done with (optionally, the male gets eaten afterwards).

        1. Jarenth says:

          It also sheds a little more light on what Shamus and Heather refer to as ‘letting nature do its thing’ than I technically think I needed to know to live a rich and full life.

          1. Mephane says:

            Well I am not uncomfortable at all with the thought. I found this phrase a lovely way to hint at a lovely thing.

            Unless you refer to the “the male gets eaten” option. In that case we should launch a kickstarter campaign to find out who this Shamus impostor is we have been having conversation with all these years.

      2. kmc says:

        In general, and this comes from the mouth of my reproductive endocrinologist, a healthy (i.e. not infertile) couple in their early 20s has a 20 (or is it 25?)% chance each time, which is also assuming the timing is right. That drops by about 5% every 5 years, although that’s an extreme oversimplification. That 25%, though, still means that it’s common for a healthy couple to require 6 cycles to be successful, and some doctors will make you try for a year (a year and a half if you’re really young and don’t have any obvious complaints) before they’ll begin treatments or really do much diagnostic testing at all.

        On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’re not twenty years old and you do have other stuff going on, and it’s easy to drop a few thousand dollars on a successful pregnancy, and that’s not even requiring IVF treatment. Shamus, you and Heather are one lucky couple–okay, that’s true anyway, but in this particular instance, I’m talking about the fertility thing. Particularly because there are many options that weren’t available even 5 years ago, much less 12.

        I have also come to the conclusion that the human reproductive system is wholly unreliable, and I think that humans would not be terribly successful as a species if it worked much better.

        1. Noumenon says:

          What is a cycle, a month? I can believe healthy couples have a 25% chance each month to be successful.

  7. Axion says:

    As always a really interesting and emotional read Shamus. It’s really intriguing reading your auto-bio posts. Thanks for sharing it with us :)

    Also the pictures on the second best man post seem to be broken, doesn’t show anything in my version of chrome.

    1. Merzendi says:

      Just a big white square on my version of Firefox too, and on IE (I keep it around purely for checking site bugs like this.)

  8. Ross says:

    Wow. This bit, ‘You can ask ten people how to handle this and get ten different answers, and the only accurate answer is “it depends”.’, rings so, so true.

    As a recent new home owner myself, this currently feels like the permanent point of flux between myself, my house, and the crazy branching infinite skill tree of home DIY. I don’t know where to spend my XP!

    Also, ‘Still, we can't go on like this. I'm going to have to think of something soon.’ – Simply lifted verbatim directly from my waking thoughts. Eerie.

    1. Akri says:

      “As a recent new home owner myself, this currently feels like the permanent point of flux between myself, my house, and the crazy branching infinite skill tree of home DIY. I don't know where to spend my XP!”

      I’m having the same problem. I’m loathe to pay contractors for what I’m sure are simple enough things to fix, but at the same time if I try on my own and bungle it up then the problem because even worse, and costs more to get fixed. The truly annoying thing is that both of my parents are handy with DIY projects, but I never bothered to learn the necessary skills from them before moving 5 hours away.

      What we need are home improvement guides for computer geeks who only know what a “hammer” is from rough description :D

      1. This kind of thing is easier than it used to be, though. For any given DIY task, if you google it there will generally both web pages talking about it and actual videos of some dude (almost always a dude) performing the task on film with some attempt at explanation.
        In the old days, about the best you could do was those Reader’s Digest manuals of how your home works.

    2. Fang says:

      You could always ask your more building/DIY friends to help you, those type of people always seem to want to help build something for someone else just to either A: show off, B: actually generously help you, or C: try to teach others so they don’t have to come back to do something again.

  9. I think I took away three things from this article:

    a) Wow, I’m soooooo glad that I’ve never been pregnant and never will be. That sounds like an absolute nightmare!

    b) So I’m not the only one who got financially screwed by deferring their federal student loan? (I spent over 10 years paying on mine.)

    c) Stop worrying about whether or not anyone else reads your blog and just write for yourself.

  10. Vextra says:

    I want to add my voice to the others thanking you Shamus for writing this blog. I’ve been reading your blog more or less non-stop since 2007, and its really touching and amazing to see how much you’ve changed since then, and how much I’ve changed, aswell.

    The problems you talk about facing then are ones I(and probably a tonne of your other readers) are experiencing now. I know I’m facing a £25k+ Student Debt myself, with a strong possibility that itll be at 30k before I’m in any position to even start repaying.

    Worse, it’s been nearly 3 years since I graduated, and I still havent found any sort of permanent job. Its become obvious to me that I probably never will find that, and part-time, fixed contract work with minimal hours that manages to barely top that which you can get by Welfare seems to be the life I and at least a million other people in my age group in this country will have to get used to.

    I guess I’m thankful for the perspective you writing about your own trials and tribulations provides, and whilst I am grateful I dont have to face the challenge of running/owning a House and providing for a family just yet, I can see the applicability of the lessons you learnt by doing so to my own life, and hope to make some effort towards better grasping finance, and maybe getting a better grip on my life.

    Anyway, tl;dr: Your blog has been a persistent source of entertainment, advice and now humbling life perspective for me. Keep it up!

  11. Cyranor says:

    As with the autoblography, thank you Shamus for sharing your life with us. Even the bad parts with the good. I know I don’t post here often (more of a lurker who reads comments and blog posts but only occasionally works up the courage to actually post a comment) but I am glad you trust us to be able to read about our life and comment on it in a mature and insightful manner. Also I found TwentySided through the web comic like many people around 2007 and its kind of nice to see how much its matured into its own entity beyond its roots. Thanks again Shamus.

  12. Aldowyn says:

    2005. That’s… a long time. I wonder how many blogs have been going for eight years. I wonder how many (if ANY) blogs remotely like this one have been going on for 8 years. It’s quite something else…

    The end of this article seems to be focused on the heating issue. Somehow I don’t think that’s the main issue. I guess we’ll see in part 4, hmm?

  13. KremlinLaptop says:

    “If we were in the middle ages, she would have puked until she died and I'd be a widower by now. Well, aside from the fact that I would already be dead myself. Twice.”

    Seriously, it’s stuff like this that I want to point out when people start deriding modern medicine in my presence. If we were a society purely reliant on herbal remedies and nonsense we’d be so much worse off. Honestly, the conditions people live in these days are so much better than ever before it blows my mind.


    “Heather has student loans. She owed $15k when she left college, a month before we got married. We were pretty broke as newlyweds, so when they asked us, “Would you like to defer your loan?” we said, “Sure!” I mean, they'll wait patiently until we get the money, right? That's really sporting of them! The bank was indeed a “good sport” about stacking on interest while we dithered about. By the time my career was going and I got around to checking on it, we owed 25k.”

    This makes me feel like an asshole because just like people take modern medicine for granted I’ve taken for granted — and even just outright ignored the possibilities I had in my youth — the education system we have here. Student loans are a rather foreign concept here, not completely, but you don’t need to pay absurd amounts to schools to get in 95% of the time.

    The idea of saddling people with this huge anchor of debt right out of the gate seems rather unfair to me. I mean fuck. I get stressed out if I owe 100€ in some direction.

    “For a while I didn't notice because we had cash in the bank. Then I figured the problem was just the various spikes in medical bills we've been dealing with.”

    Same as above. Except I managed to shatter my right leg into a billion pieces on a dirtbike at the age of 17. Medical bills? Negligible. You have some amount of “personal liability” but in the public sector basically everything is covered. Including the mass of surgeries preformed to give me a fairly good right leg.

    …Only problem? Those with a certain mindset might start worrying about how much of a burden they and their stupid antics are on society (I no longer do so much stupid shit on bikes).

    TL;DR? Always humbling to to realize people out there deal with things on a day to day basis that I just take for granted.

  14. rayen says:

    “We could replace the furnace and / or the windows, but either one would cost thousands of dollars we don't have.”

    This quote sums up why i will forever be thankful for my father teaching me carpentry and DIY home improvement. I have actually done both of those things with my father to my parents house. The furnace got a little sketchy and we had to bring a company man in to make sure it was done right but the difference between doing that kind of thing yourself and having some do is the difference between hundreds and thousands of dollars.

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Please do not attempt DIY window and furnace replacement.

  15. froogger says:

    I read it, backtracked, clicked the link and slapped myself. Now I want to do it again.

  16. Jarenth says:

    Shamus, you mind if I ask why you guys originally wanted four kids specifically?

    Loans are terrifying and I’ve put off dealing with mine for longer than I think is strictly healthy. And by that I mean ‘about one year’. I should really get some repaying set up after my contract gets extended.

    1. Shamus says:

      I dunno. Four just felt like the right number. We really, really love parenting. Our kids are our joy.

      I guess the thinking was, “The more the better, but fives seems like it might be too chaotic, crowded, or expensive.”

      1. Mogatrat says:

        As the second child of four, I will submit to you that you should be very glad you stopped at 3. :P

        1. Nick Pitino says:

          Could be worse, I’ve met couples who seem like they’re working on creating their own baseball team.

      2. A natural number for an RPG party surely? :D

        1. krellen says:

          You realise Shamus is now going to waste the better part of a day trying to figure out which kid is which class and which parent has to fill in the last role, right?

          1. Mephane says:

            I wouldn’t be so surprised if he had done that already at one point anyway.

          2. anaphysik says:

            Shamus writes it all up as a (Twenty Sided) tale; isn’t it obvious he’s the bard?

            1. krellen says:

              So what you’re saying is that Heather needs to fill any holes in the party makeup, because clearly Shamus is unqualified?

      3. kmc says:

        We always said we wanted two, and I think that still holds true, but there’s a part of me that would love to have more. “Joy” is really the right word to use with kids, and I tend to think that life is too hard to forego something joyful for mundane reasons. That being said, I’m already freaking out about what we’ll do when college comes. Excuse me, I have to go hyperventilate…

      4. Mersadeon says:

        Four makes sense. You and Heather have four arms together, meaning you can keep them all apart if they ever end up in a massive sibling-brawl.

      5. BenD says:

        The gut sense that 4 is the best number for a couple who enjoys parenting, but that 5 would somehow arbitrarily be too many, makes real sense if you put any stock at all in the old adage about the ‘right’ number of children being equal to (or less than) the number of parental hands!

    2. Syal says:

      I would assume it has to do with being able to send a kid to time out in all four corners of the house at once.

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    Shamus, you sure know how to keep interesting and suspenseful a story that’s about pretty much just regular life for a regular family. Your cliffhangers drive me as crazy as the ones in the old Batman TV show did when I was a kid. I can’t wait for the next chapter.

  18. Jez says:

    This student loan stuff has always seemed pretty wrong to me. In Australia we have something called HECS where the government pays half of your tuitition, and loans the rest of the money for the other half to you with zero interest, the debt is just indexed to inflation. You’re not even required to start making payments back until you’re earning over 50k a year as well. I think Elizabeth Warren wants to try and do something similar in the states.

  19. Andy_k says:

    Thank you for writing!

    It is always worth reading your articles.


  20. Mike says:

    Holy crap. I didn’t realize (or remember, I guess) that your blog went so far back until I saw your link to Crunch Mode. How did you remember that and find it?

    I guess for me your blog really started when you left AW, since I had contact with you at work, I didn’t read the blog as regularly as I do now. (which doesn’t *really* follow now that I think of it, but there ya go)

    It’s funny going back there and seeing the only comment is from Heather. What a sweetie.

  21. John says:

    I actually looked for your cyberpunk story again a few weeks ago and was surprised that your domain’s home page has been completely emptied.

  22. anaphysik says:

    “In April, Heather injures her knee”
    “In March, the doctor diagnoses Heather's leg problem as patellar subluxation”

    Damn, that’s some doctor!

    Was his name Who? #timetravel

    1. Shamus says:

      Why are you the first person to notice this!?!?

      Also: I’m going to assume I inverted the months.

      These projects really drive home just how wobbly my memory is.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        It might not be wobbly so much as it is wibbly-wobbly.

      2. Irridium says:

        I saw it but I wanted to see how long you’d go without realizing it.

        Yeah, that’s it…

      3. Daemian Lucifer says:

        He isnt the first to notice.He is the first to not forget to post about it before reading the rest.It seems your readers are more on the other side of “forgetting about stuff 5 minutes later” age barrier.

        1. BenD says:

          Which age barrier is that, and on which side of it lies the faulty circuit? I am sure I remember having a 5-minute memory as a child, and now it’s a few decades after that and I seem to have a 5-minute memory again. Maybe I haven’t found the barrier yet? MAYBE THERE IS HOPE? :D

      4. Chamomile says:

        When I saw the reference to diagnosing a “leg problem” I kind of assumed it was something that had been mentioned in passing earlier and which I had forgotten. The storm of stuff happening was difficult to keep track of.

        Also, I remember that post where Shamus went to his brother’s wedding. Was that all the way back in 2007? Have I really been following this blog for more of its existence than I haven’t? I still feel like I’m a new guy poking my head in occasionally.

  23. Chamomile says:

    But Shamus, why didn’t you just start selling heroin?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Because kids today are all about bath salts.

  24. swenson says:

    Regarding student loans: you can get Pell Grants and whatnot these days (not sure if you could back in the day), but they don’t help much when your parents fall into that uncomfortable gap where they make too much for you to get a Pell Grant, yet don’t make enough to be able to contribute much to tuition costs.

    I’m just glad that due to a confluence of good circumstances (I came from a very small school and am going to a small university with low tuition) I ended up with a scholarship that paid for most of my tuition. Also got a Pell Grant my first year, but then my parents fell into the aforementioned gap. I’m not complaining, though. I’ll take paying a couple thousand over 15k any day of the week.

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Pell Grants have been around for decades. They’re nice little bonuses, but even “back in the day”, they might cover half a year’s tuition, leaving you to come up with the other half, books (which then and now are about half of tuition anyway), and living expenses or dorm fees (usually tuition again). Is getting 20% of a year’s cost taken care of? Sure. Does it enable someone to go to college that otherwise wouldn’t be able to go? Probably not. Lowers the debt some at the end, maybe.

    2. Wedge says:

      The cutoff for “makes too much to qualify for grants” is pathetically low. For me, I had a scholarship that covered 100% of my tuition for the entirety of college, and I *still* graduated with $17000 in loans, because I had to pay for pesky little things like rent for that time, and it’s pretty hard to live off of minimum-wage, part-time jobs when you’re also going to school.

    3. Ithilanor says:

      I’m very glad for Pell Grants; between those, some other scholarships, and going to a smaller school with low tuition, I haven’t needed student loans. (Also helps that I don’t have much in the way of living expenses, but that’s a long story)

  25. Cuthalion says:

    My own loans are a fun subject. I went to a mid-tier private university, and got tons of grants for having good grades and tests, along with a low-income family. I managed to get it paid for without my parents having to chip in beyond transportation and summer stays at home… but now, between my fiancee and I, we have something like $40,000 in student loans. ($17k for me, more for her.) Most of them are via the federal government and have generous terms, but will still take 10 years to pay off at the standard rate, which amounts to roughly the same amount of money per month that we’re paying on rent. Still worth it though, as I met her at college. ;)

  26. Xapi says:

    I’d advise any young man who has studied Spanish in High School to come to Argentina for a free university level education.

    By the numbers you guys are throwing out there, you could very likely pay for transportation, residence and food for a fraction of the cost of tuition.

  27. SteveDJ says:

    Your comment about “leaking money” sure rang true with us, too! And it wasn’t some loan here or there, either — just that feeling of “where’d it all go?” For us, the solution was two-fold:

    1) We finally put together a monthly budget. We started by just keeping every receipt and recording everything we spent, on anything/everything. That alone revealed this problem of spending-more-than-was-coming-in. So we then set up a monthly budget based on our previous spending, but just with lower limits (so that what we spent only equaled what came in). This included budgeting payments for credit cards. (And purchases on credit go against the budget, too — no hiding purchases in there)

    2) We earmarked a specific $$ amount for each other, as a sort of allowance. We can each spend from that money, on whatever/whenever we want – no questions asked. This alone solves a lot of issues. :)

  28. ccesarano says:

    I don’t comment as often half as well as I would like, and I don’t comment half as well as you deserve. Nonetheless, I just want to express my thoughts from reading this series.

    I love your blog. I’m sorry you’ve endured many of the struggles you’ve endured. I’m glad that it all seems to be going uphill, though, and into something that you love.

    Thank you for writing this stuff.

    1. Zekiel says:

      Hear hear. Thank you for writing this blog Shamus.

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