14 June 2011

Quilting Progress

I had lunch with my friend Leah today, who is very crafty and is making me an awesome baby carrier that I will be sure to post pictures of once it's home!  But our talk about sewing reminded me that I haven't said much about my quilt's progress recently.

First, the promised picture of the border fabric:

Another friend of mine pointed this out to me at the local quilting shop.  At first, I couldn't see how to incorporate it, even though I liked it.  But when I discovered that I needed a border fabric, this was perfect!  It's hard to see between the pictures, but the colors of the letters match the solid block colors.  I can see now why so many quilters keep fabric "stashes" for just such an occasion.

Tonight I completed sewing all the squares for the quilt!  Here's the stack:

And here's an idea of what they look like unfolded:

I still have to iron out all blocks and then square them off, which might be a little tricky (yay rotary cutter!).  But after that, the piecing can start!  I'm not sure how I'll arrange the blocks, but I enjoy organizing things (I know, weird), so I'm sure to have fun!

I'm trying to finish piecing the front before I travel to see my family next month.  It's going to be tight, but I want my mom's help with the backing and some serious advice on the actual quilting part.  We're going fabric shopping while I'm there (yay!) so my mom can pick out some fabric to make nursery paraphernalia.  We have a teddy bear theme going for the room and I was able to score a great deal on two teddy bear fabrics at Hancock last month:

Aren't they cute?!  I especially love the green one.  The tan-ish one is a regular cotton, but the green plaid is just a little heavier.  There's enough fabric of each to make crib bumpers and plenty of the green fabric to do something else.  Both fabrics are licensed prints and for $2.00 and $2.50 per yard, they're even cuter!

I also have a cross-stitch project I need to finish before the same trip. I think I better start devoting more time to crafting!

13 June 2011

College Cost Stats

College and statistics... what crazy games you can play with these two topics.  Today I read an article (short) and watched a film (long and best watched in multiple sittings) about the rising cost of college.  On the surface, these two seem to agree with one another, but their stats disagree tremendously, undermining their whole argument.

No one doubts that the cost of college is rising, although the relative rates (especially versus income) are hotly debated.  The film argues that college is no longer worth the investment; the article only opines that colleges are pricing themselves out of the middle class' ability to pay, with no mention of return on investment.

Both offer some interesting numbers:

  • The film says the average cost of college is $27k per year, which must be some sort of public/private average (and, in my not researched opinion, not weighted for enrollment).  The article says the average public institution costs $6,500 per year.  There's an obvious choice here, in my opinion.  If the private school you're considering doesn't provide you a value equal to the difference in tuition, go to a public school.
  • Both the film and the article claimed that the Department of Labor's statistic about college graduates making $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetimes is bogus, but neither offered an alternative amount or percentage.  Whatever the difference, I have to assume that it's more than $26,000, the cited average cost of four years of undergraduate work.  This seems to make college worth it, financially speaking.
  • Both the film and the article state that the median household income in the US is about $33,000.  This statistic (cited in the article) comes from the IRS's 2008 data.  Interesting, the US census bureau disagrees.  And by disagrees, I mean, wildly disagrees.  Their data says the median household income is about $52,000, a 57% increase.  I imagine $19k a year would make a difference in affordability for a lot of things, including that $6,500 college bill.
  • Neither the article nor the film looked at grants or scholarships.  I've seen numbers that show how little they cover, but surely even a small cost offset should be mentioned.
  • The film talked some about the total cost of college, including loan interest and lost income.  This is a worthwhile topic, but again, their stats are skewed (they assumed 6 years to finish an undergrad degree, taking the full 10 years to pay off loans, and no income at all while in school).
  • The article starts with an incredibly misleading graph.  It has its axis on two different sides and makes it appear that college costs exponentially more than the median household income, when in fact it's about 19.7% (according to their numbers).
Statistics are a funny game.  Numbers never outright lie, but they can be incredibly misleading.  It's hard to accuse most sources of skewing numbers; these institutions probably just found figures that agreed with their values and stopped looking.  Opinion pieces like these two underlie the need for the public at large to understand the specifics of what a statistic says, its validity in making generalizations and forecasts, and where it is correctly (and incorrectly) applied.

Have you seen any funny statistics lately?  Do they bother you as much as they bother me?

07 June 2011

Couples, Money, & Choices

Wow, it's been a busy few weeks!  One of the nice things about being currently childless is that summers actually slow down, rather than becoming schedule-crazy.  That means I've had a chance to catch up on some things lately, from laundry (there's my favorite capris!) to reading to finances.

Speaking of reading and finances, Get Rich Slowly had a cool article today about couples and managing money. One of the things I like about the site is the promotion of a "do what works for you" mentality.  The site author/owner (J. D.) and his wife (Kris) were recently interviewed for a short Redbook article about modern couples and finances.  Because of the number of questions he gets about their choices, J. D. put up the longer interview on his site.  It's an interesting look at one couple's system and a reminder that it's a good system if it achieves what you want it to.

The reason this caught my brain, however, is because my husband and I recently did something we swore we'd never do: bought a new vehicle.  Not just a new-to-us vehicle.  A new-to-the-whole-world vehicle.  A new-car-smell vehicle.  A vehicle with an odometer reading of less than my age (at least till I drove it home... I'm not that old!).  Scary!  But to me, it's a great example of meeting our needs with our resources in our way.

As I've mentioned before, we're expecting our first child this fall and we only have (had) one vehicle.  The one vehicle situation has been tricky but good, cutting our cost of living for well over a year.  But a new baby forces a lot of new questions, like: what if the baby spikes a fever and the car isn't at home?  Which, on the surface, is ludicrous; one of the reasons we decided to start a family here is the incredible friends we have, one of whom would surely either drive us to the hospital/clinic or would loan me their keys.  But you still worry.

Then we started asking more sane questions: what about our next move?  My husband is in the military and moving is inevitable, likely to happen in the next 18 months.  Our last move was done in one vehicle... packed to the brim with two dogs crammed into one seat for four days, because all the other seats had Stuff in them.  While my packing priorities will change this time (baby-stuff likely outweighing the Wii Fit), neither of us could picture a situation with less bulk to carry.  We still have two dogs, we will have an infant, and who knows how long we will be house-less.  So, we said, larger vehicle, an SUV.  But not till next spring, when we have to plan our move.

Right.  Then we started talking about summer plans, like the baby showers that our family is graciously throwing for us.  We save money by driving to see family (looked at airline tickets lately!?) in large part because we can take the dogs with us; plus it's built in us-time.  But baby showers, unsurprisingly, come with baby-stuff and it's the same stuff that we will eventually be moving with.  And my sister will be traveling with us for 1.5 trips this summer.  All of which adds up to needing the space now.

And so we researched.  And shopped.  And did a lot more research because we are nothing if not careful with large purchases.  We calculated what we could afford; we started a car fund where we've made a monthly car payment to prove we could do it; we looked at cost of ownership, not just sticker price.  And then we did some more shopping.  It turns out that through a combination of USAA's car buying program and a Memorial Day special, we could buy the basic Nissan Pathfinder we wanted for less than what we could afford.  In fact, for less than a two year old version cost, which is what we had been considering.

It was scary.  The whole time I was thinking "Are we really doing this?  We didn't come in today to buy and we especially didn't think we could buy new.  Are we jumping on something when we should wait?  I know we ran (and re-ran) the numbers, but can we really afford this?"  We asked the salesman to let us talk it over several times and (to his credit) he did it with no pressure to us.  We talked it over, re-ran the numbers quickly, and couldn't find a downside worse than not having intended to buy that day.

And you know what?  Besides one false-panic moment (3 in the morning is a bad time to be awake and trying to do math, especially while pregnant), I've been comfortable with it.  It's what we wanted, for less than we were willing to pay, for way less than the average sale price, and it has all the benefits of a new, warrantied vehicle. It would never have been possible for us to do this without prior planning, some serious advice-style help from family and friends, and a lot of communication between the two of us about what we wanted and could handle.  I'm thankful that my husband and I can have regular conversations like that without it becoming an argument.

Plus, since it's the color I wanted, what's to argue?  ;-)