Nov 19, 2021

THANK YOU for reading CFO! (What are you cooking for Thanksgiving 2021?)


I know Thanksgiving isn't until next week, but I love cooking for Thanksgiving, and usually I've planned my menu by early November. For some reason, this year, I haven't been able to get into it until now, but I've finally figured out what I'll be making. 

As always, we'll be eating our main Thanksgiving feast at a relative's house so I don't have to cook a turkey. Since we don't get leftovers, for the last few years, I've made a turkey just for our family anyway. But if I'm being honest, no one in my family actually loves turkey - so I'm going to skip it this year, and make a beef tenderloin or ham instead. 

I will, however, be cooking up a storm for the big day. Since we don't come home with leftovers, I like to prepare all the sides because we do enjoy those - and it doesn't really feel like Thanksgiving without them on Friday and Saturday. Here's what I'm thinking: 

Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole - I've been making this every Thanksgiving for 20 years. I'll be doubling the recipe, because we'll take one to the family dinner and keep one for ourselves.

Zucchini, Rice and Cheese Gratin - I've recently gone gluten-free on my doctor's orders (a "let's see if it makes a difference" kind of thing), so I can't be eating traditional stuffing this year. I'm thinking this casserole will be a satisfying substitution. (But I'll probably pick up a package of traditional stuffing for the rest of the family, and maybe make some chicken gravy to go with it. Or maybe I'll give traditional stuffing a try with gluten-free bread - Breadblok is always at the farmer's market, and my friend says their bread is pretty good.)

Aunty Toki's Cranberry Sauce - I promised to share the recipe last year, but never did. Instead, I just posted a photo of it on the CFO Facebook page. Not surprisingly, I didn't follow the recipe exactly, so I shared the changes I made to create the best cranberry sauce I've ever had.

Pumpkin Flan - Over the last few years, I've really come to love flan, and this will be a perfect Thanksgiving dessert.

Spinach Artichoke Dip - I've been asked to bring this to the family dinner also, and this is my go-to recipe.

I might also make some Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes, mostly so I can use the leftovers to make cheesy Mashed Potato Puffs.

And of course, I'll make some green vegetables, probably some roasted Brussels sprouts and maybe some roasted carrots.

What's on your Thanksgiving menu? Anything I should add to mine?

Most of all, I want to say THANK YOU to YOU because you are what keeps this site going. THANK YOU for being a CFO reader!

Oct 29, 2021

Why We'll Pay for Our Kids' College Education + Tips for Paying for College Without Loans

My oldest child is now a junior in high school, so many of my friends also have juniors and seniors. Not surprisingly, a common topic of conversation is college. What does it take to get in, but especially, how are we going to pay for college?

Most of my friends seem to feel the same way I do: we'll pay as much as we can afford for college, but we don't want to take out loans, and we'd prefer that our children not take out loans either.

Some friends have saved some money in a 529 account, and don't intend to contribute any more toward their kids' college expenses. A few of my friends take a more hardline approach and have told their children that they won't pay for college at all. 

From talking to my friends and researching the subject, there are a lot of reasons why parents don't contribute, or contribute more, to their kids' college education. Among the most common reasons are: 
  • Not being able to afford it (and not wanting to take out loans themselves)
  • Feeling that graduation from high school is the demarcation for adulthood (therefore, college expenses are the student's responsibility)
  • Believing that kids need to have "skin in the game" - i.e., if they don't bear the financial responsibility of college, they won't take it seriously and will waste their time there
I think how a person grew up has to do a lot to do with how they view paying for college. Talking with other parents, it seems like those who had to pay their own way through college or couldn't afford to go (or didn't view it as an option for themselves) are more likely to think their children should at least contribute to their college expenses. Although there are parents who paid their own way who are happy to be able to pay for their children's education, because they remember how hard it was for themselves.


In my own family, my husband and I were both fortunate enough to have parents who paid in full for both of our college educations, and that's a big part of why we want to do the same for our own children. We know what a gift it is to be able to go to college and not have to worry about where the next tuition payment is coming from, and to graduate without any debt. We also know what carrying student debt feels like, because I took out loans to pay for law school.

We also remember how immature we were when we graduated from high school, and how college was an integral part of our maturation. Because of our own experiences, we really want our kids to have the opportunity to go away and live in a dorm their freshman year. 

Paying for college is obviously difficult, so we've been planning for many years now. We even refinanced our mortgage recently to bolster our cash flow. Nevertheless, we haven't saved up enough to pay for any college our kids might want to go to. So finances have been a part of the college conversation in our house from the beginning.

That's really important, because the last thing any parent wants is to never talk about money but then break their child's heart in April of senior year and say, "I know you worked really hard to get into College X but you can't go because we can't afford it." The better way to do things is to talk about cost before the student even starts putting together the list of schools where they'll apply. And then incorporate cost into the application process, so that the student isn't applying only to schools that are academic and social fits, but also a financial fit.

There's no way to know for sure if a school is a financial fit before you receive the financial aid package, but there are ways to roughly predict if a school will be affordable. Here are my best tips:
  • Start by assessing your finances. You can't know if a school is affordable if you don't know how much you can pay.
  • Determine your family's EFC, or Expected Family Contribution (soon to become the Student Aid Index in 2024). Read this discussion about EFC first so you don't go into shock when you do this.
  • Understand the different types of financial aid - schools may offer need-based financial aid and/or merit-based financial aid. There's more information in this post about paying for college.
  • Run a college's Net Price Calculator (NPC). Every college is required to have one on their website, so a search for the school name and "NPC" or "net price calculator" should take you to that page. Unfortunately, not all NPCs are built the same. In general, the more information the NPC asks for, the more reliable the result. Note that most NPCs don't seem to include merit scholarship information, so you'll have to dig deeper for those.
  • Create an account at TuitionFit. This is a new site and should become more reliable as more people use it. The site collects information from financial aid offers, so you can enter a student's stats and get information on the offers received by students with similar stats. The last time I checked, there was a free version and a premium paid version, but that was about a year ago when it first came out.
There are also paid services like Road2College's College Insights, which purport to show you which schools offer the best financial aid packages. I've followed the site's founder, Debbie Schwartz, for years, but I can't endorse the service since I've never actually used it (although I'm considering it for next year when my son is in application mode).

Of course, there's no way to know for sure how much a college will cost until a student is admitted and has received the financial aid package. I know families who have gotten shockingly generous aid that they didn't expect, and families who were deeply disappointed at the lack of aid offered. Again, the best thing you can do for your child is make sure they know that cost is a factor that has to be considered in deciding where they will ultimately attend.

Sep 28, 2021

Why We Refinanced Our Mortgage Again (Should You?)

My husband and I just refinanced our mortgage for the second time. We started the process back in May, so it took four months - these days, that seems to be typical. I have friends who've been in the refi process for months, too. I thought I would share our reasons, because it goes beyond straight finances, and has a lot to do with planning ahead.

First, the basics: What is a refinance? It's when you pay off the existing mortgage by taking out a new mortgage with new terms, especially a new, lower interest rate. This should lower the monthly payment. It also resets the clock - so if you had a 30-year mortgage and refinance to a new 30-year mortgage, you have another 30 years to pay it off. In order to refinance, you'll likely have to pay closing costs, which can be rolled into the new mortgage so you don't have to pay it out of pocket.

The most common reason for refinancing a mortgage is to lower payments and save money in the long run. And of course, that was a huge motivator for us. Our interest rate dropped from 4.125% to 2.875%, lowering our monthly payment by over $300. 

There are calculators that will help you figure out how long you need to hold a new mortgage, but basically, you take the closing costs and divide by the amount you're now saving per month. The result is the number of months you need to hold the new mortgage to recoup the amount of the closing costs. Once you do that, the monthly savings are just that - savings.

In the case of this refi, our closing costs totaled $2,340. (We didn't have to pay almost $600 for an appraisal because the loan amount was so much less than the value of our house.) If you divide $2,340 by $300, you get 7.8 months. So after 8 months, we will pay less with our new mortgage than we would have with our old mortgage.

That makes it easy to see why people refinance - who wouldn't want to end up paying less in interest if you can?

Sometimes it takes longer to recoup the amount of the closing costs. The first time we refinanced our mortgage was back in 2010, when I quit working as an attorney and cut our income in half. If I recall correctly, we reduced our monthly payments by $200 but paid between $4,000 and $5,000 in closing costs - so it took us between 20 to 25 months to recoup the closing costs.

If we had planned on selling our house in less than two years, refinancing wouldn't have made sense because we never would have made up the closing costs. But since we knew we were staying put, I wanted that extra $200 per month for the sense of security. (I knew we could get by on just my husband's salary. But I also knew that "things happen.")

The main reason I wanted the current refi to go through is that our oldest child will be heading off to college in two years. And his brother will follow two years after that. An extra $300 per month will obviously be helpful - especially because I will probably sign up for the college's payment plan, which lets you make monthly payments instead of paying the full bill all at once at the beginning of the semester. (I don't where my kids will go, but as far as I know, every college offers a payment plan.)

The kicker is that we've always paid extra on the mortgage to pay down the principal faster. So if we start paying just the minimum on our new mortgage, we'll actually be paying $600 less per month. That's an extra $7,200 per year to put toward college. That could end up being the difference when it comes to choosing one school and its financial aid package over another.

If you're wondering if you should refinance your own mortgage, here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

Will you hold onto the property long enough to recoup the closing costs? Keep in mind that you can shop around for the lowest rates and lowest closing costs.

What will you do with the monthly savings? I think it's important to have a plan for the money. I've always continued paying the original mortgage amount, which means that our monthly expenses stay the same and the mortgage just gets paid down faster. However, if the boys' college costs mean we need the extra $7,200 per year, I can lower our mortgage payment to the minimum and put the difference toward college. Other ways you might plan for the savings include building your emergency fund or putting the money in a 529 plan for your child's future college expenses.

I also want to note that because it took so long to process the refi, the amount we borrowed ending up being several thousand dollars more than the total payoff of our old mortgage plus closing costs. I was told that lowering the loan amount would result in the loan being sent back to the underwriting department, which would basically start the process over again. I wasn't doing that! We ended up getting some of the extra money back as cash (even though it wasn't a cash-out refi) and some of the money was applied to the principal of the loan. I was told we couldn't avoid the cash back - I could have made an extra payment on the loan to pay down more principal, but I just put the money in savings, since the whole point of the refi was to have money available to pay for college.

It was a four-month odyssey, but it was well-worth it. I'm happy we're maximizing our ability to pay for the kids' college educations - and in my next post, I'll discuss why we're willing to pay.

(Note: Apologies if you got a notification about an old post about looking forward to March. I'm doing some housekeeping and accidentally republished a post from 2005!)

Sep 9, 2021

How to Enroll in Los Angeles Community College Courses While You're in High School

Are you a high school student in Los Angeles, or do you have a child who is? If so, did you know that you can take community college courses for free?

I've helped my son through the process several times now, so I've put together a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.


1. Create an OpenCCC account here. You’ll receive a CCCID number, which you'll need for the next step. 

2.  Apply to the community college that you want to attend at LACCD.edu. A few days after you’ve submitted the application, you’ll receive an email with your Student ID number and LACCD email account info, which you’ll use throughout your community college experience. 

3. Activate the Student Portal. The login information will be in an email you receive after submitting your application. 

4. Submit your K-12 Form for dual/concurrent enrollment using the college’s website. You'll be directed to an online portal called Dynamic Forms (search the college's website for a page for high school students or dual/concurrent enrollment). The K-12 form must be submitted each term at each college you plan to attend. Once the student completes and submits the K-12 form, their parent/guardian will receive an email and need to electronically sign it. The form will then be submitted to the high school counselor. Once the counselor has signed it, the form will be submitted to the college. Once you receive the email that says “Your school has completed their portion” of the K-12 form, you are able to enroll in the classes listed on the form. 

5. Clear any prerequisites. If you want to take a course that has prerequisites that you took in high school, know that those need to be cleared separately from your K-12 form before you will be allowed to enroll in the class. Each college has its own way of clearing prerequisites, so you'll need to search check their website. 

Other things to know:

  • Once you have an LACCD Student ID number, you can take a class at any of the Los Angeles community colleges without re-applying. Just log into the Student Portal and click on manage classes. You'll be able to search for a class at any of the LACCD colleges.

  • You need to complete a new K-12 form each semester or summer session, and you'll need a separate K-12 form for each college you attend. For example, if you want to take a class at Pierce College and another class at Valley College in the same semester, you'll need to fill out K-12 forms at both of those schools.

  • If you want to talk to someone at a college, use the Online Services & Chat link in the Student Portal. LACCD uses a system called Cranium Cafe, and it actually works well once you get used to it. Depending on your needs, you can choose to chat with someone in a specific department. If you need to talk to someone about your K-12 form, chat with someone in Admissions and Records. If you need help clearing a prerequisite, chat with someone in the Counseling department.

  • You can take classes for free! As a high school student taking community college classes, you don't have to pay for tuition, but you may have to pay for books. 

  • Keep in mind that unless the textbooks/material are digital, it can take some time to get them, whether you order them from the college bookstore, Amazon, or elsewhere. Textbook information is often listed in the Details section when you look up a class in the "Manage Classes" section of the Student Portal.

  • Information listed here is subject to change, so you should always check with the college and/or your high school counselor for the latest.

Aug 30, 2021

Heads Up: If you want to get Chief Family Officer posts via email, you'll need to subscribe to the newsletter

I've used Google's Feedburner service to send out new posts by email for well over a decade. But Google is terminating that service, so if you want to keep getting CFO posts by email, you'll need to sign up for the CFO newsletter if you haven't already. Just go here and input your email address. Rest assured, your email address will only be used to send you CFO news. Thanks as always for reading!

Aug 1, 2021

Random Roundup Catch Up Edition: Books, Shopping, School and More

Hello, stranger! I hope you and your loved ones are doing well.

I didn't mean to take a nearly three-month hiatus, but it happened. And so has a lot of life, which I'll catch you up on below. But first, just me say THANK YOU for being here - it means so much to have friends in this little corner of the internet!


Some of the links below are affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for using them! You can read CFO's full disclosure here.

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I continue to read lot thanks to #Read21in21, and my Instagram feed is basically all the books I've been reading. I mentioned the Book Collector mystery series in my last post, and because of it, I started reading the Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers. It's set in the early 1900's, so it's something of a history lesson on what society was like then (it seems like every day, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to be a woman today and not at a previous time in history!). The stories are quirky, and it took me some time to get used to the style, but I'm enjoying myself as I slowly make my way through the books. (I'm apparently not the only one reading the series since I have to wait for each book to become available at the library.) I'll also give a shout out to the Bakeshop Mystery series, which is light and fun.

Speaking of the library, I can't rave about it enough. I just love being able to borrow e-books and read them using the Kindle app. I can also borrow audiobooks, which I listen to using the Libby app. It's all free, and they've been quite good about acquiring books that they don't have that I "recommend" (it's an option that usually pops up for a book they don't own).

If you're not in Los Angeles, your public library probably offers the same or similar service for digital content. Look for a link on their website about borrowing digital material or even just a "get a card" link.

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Now that my entire family is fully vaccinated, I've been going out more. I eat outdoors with friends and I go shopping! I always knew I enjoy shopping, but having to take a long hiatus from doing it in person as opposed to online has given me a new appreciation for it. I know lots of people don't like it, but I love perusing the different options and picking out my own products. (Although now that the delta variant is so prevalent, I've been double masking and getting in and out quickly.)

I've been going to the farmers market every week, which always makes me feel good - I get to buy great produce and prepared foods, and support small business owners and local farmers. (A few weeks ago on Facebook, I shared a link to an article about how over half the products in a supermarket are made by just four companies.) I've also checked out the new Pavilions and Whole Foods markets that opened in my neighborhood during the pandemic, and they're great. My friend's son is actually going to start working at the Pavilions, so I'm looking forward to seeing him there. 

We're saving money compared to when I ordered everything online, because I don't stock up unnecessarily, the way I did when I wasn't sure if something would be in stock the next time I needed to place an order. I can also buy in quantities that work for me (e.g., a quarter pound of deli turkey instead of the full pound Ralphs made me buy for a pickup order).

And I've rediscovered the joy of a great deal. Over on Facebook, I shared the moneymakers I recently picked up at Whole Foods. (By the way, even when I was only buying groceries online, I consistently used the Ibotta and Fetch apps to earn free money.)

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I spent a the first half of the year starting to work toward a certificate in College Counseling. As you might recall, I've spent a lot of time the past few years learning about the college application process and especially, how people pay for college (aside from loans, which I really want to avoid). As my kids and my friends' kids have gotten older and my friends and I talked about college, I realized I had so much knowledge that I could use to help other families, so I decided to try a course in the certificate program at UCLA. So far, I'm really enjoying the classes (although I'm taking the summer off).

Since my goal is to help other families, please let me know if you'd be interested in a video series that gives an overview of the college application process, and then goes deeper into different areas, like what to think about in middle school, what to do junior and senior years (with a timeline), and explanations about various aspects of financial aid. I had to make a slideshow for my final project in one of my classes, so I'm envisioning a slideshow with my voiceover, giving more details about what's on each slide. If that's something you'd be interested in, please let me know! (You can fill out the contact form in the right sidebar at chieffamilyofficer.com or email me at cfoblog@gmail.com.)

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A word about going back to school: If you liked school when you were younger, you'll probably still like it now. I was nervous about taking classes again, but it didn't take me long to remember how to study and although some things are different (no face-to-face time with professors in my online classes), the rhythm is mostly the same. It feels good to learn new things and analyze and explain them. And I have to say, the big benefit of taking online classes is that you can do the work on your own schedule and not worry about getting to class on time. If you've been thinking about taking some classes but have been hesitant, let me encourage you to take just one class and see how it goes.

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I also want to share one of my favorite resources when it comes to learning about applying to colleges, the Getting In: A College Coach Conversation podcast. I listen to it every week when I'm vacuuming, and I always learn so much. I love that they cover every facet of the college process, from what eighth and ninth graders should be thinking about to how to write essays for specific colleges to applying to a military academy or to college as a veteran. They also talk about paying for college and what students should do to prepare to be successful when they get there. They answer lots of listener questions, too, so if you have a specific concern, you can submit it to them and get expert advice.

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It's hard to believe that it's August. My cousins' kids in Hawaii start school this week (!) and my kids start in two weeks. Not only is waking up early again going to be a major adjustment, I've been trying to remember what my morning routine on school days was a year and a half ago - things like what time I used to wake up, when we used to leave the house, and what time school started and ended. They seem like such fundamental things that I can't believe I forgot them, but the fact that I did is just another indication of how bizarre life has been for the last 17 months.

The craziest thing is that I'm about to have two kids in high school. My older one just got his driver's permit, and I'm hearing that if you drive your kids to school, then it's common to have your kid drive to and from school when they're learning how to drive. I'm not sure I'll be doing that.

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I'm heading over to Costco tomorrow. My younger son has fallen in love with Dubliner cheese, and they sell giant blocks of it there. I also realized that I would love to have some freezer meals again to make dinner time easier. Because I've been getting my meat from ButcherBox, it comes frozen and I can't meal prep the way I used to (since you can't re-freeze raw meat that was already frozen). So I'm thinking about buying some meat at Costco and prepping some meals for the freezer, like chili and meatloaf. What are your favorite freezer meals?

May 9, 2021

Random Roundup Mother's Day Edition: Books, Recipes & Meal Ideas, Work Outs + More

 It's been a while! (Again.) Things have been kind of crazy, but I'm thrilled that my husband, my oldest son and myself are vaccinated now (we just got our second doses). I've got my fingers crossed that my younger son can get his first shot this week! (We experienced almost no side effects from the first shot; we all got Pfizer. I had about 12 hours when I felt like I was coming down with the flu, and my son had a headache and a little nausea for about 24 hours. My husband was perfectly fine.)


At the end of April, we had another stretch of adaptation because our school district implemented a new hybrid schedule. The schedule for middle and high school students involves staying in homeroom and attending virtual classes, so my kids chose to stay fully virtual. But their schedule still changed because the bell schedule changed, and I had to spend some extra energy trying to remember when lunchtime is, when they get out of class, etc.

During this pandemic, I've really noticed that sometimes little things suck up my energy, which explains why I don't have the will to do things I normally get done. Sometimes I just accept it (especially if they're temporary), and sometimes I try to figure out ways to eliminate the energy drains. With the schedule, I did both - I accepted it the first week, but as soon the final schedule was released for the following week, I printed out several copies and posted them where I can easily see them so I don't have to keep checking my email.

This post contains affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for using them! You can read CFO's full disclosure here.

Here's more of what's been going on ...

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Thanks to #Read21in21, I'm still reading a lot. I haven't done book roundups the last couple of months, but I do post every book I finish on Instagram. Thus far, I've read over 50 books, which has got to be a personal best for me in such a short time span. (At least as an adult. As a child, I was a voracious reader, and I wouldn't be surprised if I used to read 50 books every month or two.)

Some highlights have been the Port Danby and Book Collector series - lighthearted mysteries that are easy and fun to read. But the book that has had the greatest impact on me was The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh - it helped me understand systemic racism in an articulable way for the first time. It also gave me motivation and tools for continuing to learn and grow to be the person I mean to be.

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Like a lot of people, I'm still cooking a lot. For Easter, I made these Bunny Cinnamon Rolls:


I got the idea from Instagram, although I can't find the post that inspired me. These are just Immaculate  Baking's cinnamon rolls in a can. All I had to do was pull them apart, then unwind each roll a little bit to form the bunny ears.

For Passover, I made this 4-Ingredient Flourless Chocolate Cake, which my husband said was the best cake I've ever made because it was crunchy on top and soft inside. That's not exactly my ideal cake, but I'm probably going to make this every Passover now.

Recently, I made Buri Daikon, which is yellowtail (hamachi) simmered with daikon radish in a soy sauce mixture. It was quite good:


Some super easy meals I make involve cold cuts - either sandwiches or a charcuterie platter. The freshly prepared pasta from Truffle Dealers is delicious, although a little pricey (I order them as add ons to my Edible Gardens LA weekly delivery). My favorite ramen is now Sun Noodle Miso Ramen - it's particularly delicious with some greens and a poached egg. (Their other flavors are good too. My only complaint is that I can't made heads or tails of the expiration date sticker.)

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I signed up for the Peloton app after reading How to Trick Yourself Into Liking Running. I realized that I too would like to have someone encouraging me to push myself, and it's been awesome. (I will admit that the cult-ish way the overall group is referred to as "Peloton," as in, "So glad you're here today, Peloton," is a little off-putting.)

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I can't wait to go to the farmer's market in two weeks, when I'm fully vaccinated. I've really appreciated being able to get deliveries from Edible Gardens LA, and I'll probably continue to order from them at least periodically. But I am so looking forward to picking out my own produce, and buying my sons' favorite tamales and croissants!

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It's Mother's Day, so I can't sign off without wishing all the moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day! But I still remember how hard this day was the year I had my second miscarriage, and I know some have lost their mothers, and others have strained relationships with their mothers or as mothers. If this day is hard for you, please know that you're not alone!