Getting in to a private school

One of the advantageous of a private school is the alignment of values, approach and focus with that of the family’s interest and needs.

This is a two way street

Many prospective parents are surprised to find this go both ways. Quickly dispel the notion that you paying gobs of money means you are a customer. Incorrect. You are paying for expenses for a community you are joining (and ideally, have been long part of). And this means it goes both ways.

Many private schools often don’t have enough openings. Others have certain entrance criteria (this doesn’t mean academic) and will not diverge from that criteria, even if it means leaving seats empty or shutting down. That is what makes them special – the ability to focus on their particular mission.

In short, this means your family must earn and keep a spot in a private school. That means not only selecting a school that is a fit for you but the school selecting you.

Where does your family fit in compared to other applicants?

To do this we will examine existing models constructed from the research at (where else) a private education institution – in this case Harvard University  – where Michael Porter describes the five competitive forces that should be considered in shaping strategy[1]. These forces include rivalry, threat of new entrants, threat of substitutes, bargaining power of buyers and suppliers.

In your own situation what is your value to the school community?  If you were the school would you select your family as compared to others? Why? And why not?

Remember financial aide is often managed through a blind trust so the ‘I can pay the tuition’ might not be a factor. Or it might be. Depends on the school. And for grade school, academic excellence doesn’t exist. And for college it might be one of those necessary but not sufficient items.

In our own situation we are members of the religious community where our child goes to school so we offer continuity and shared values.

Our differentiation

Additionally, we joined up during the last large economic downturn when interest in private education waned because of financial challenges for many families.

What about you?

What about you? Is a new school forming that needs students and aligns with your vision of a school? Or is the school almost entirely families from one part of town/culture/group and you family can introduce much needed diversity in the classroom?

Investigate and understand. We have seen a class with 85% boys in the class turn away more boys because they wanted a higher mix of girls. Your value proposition can be as simple as having a daughter who is interested in the school.

Lay aside your tendency to fighting for what you think is the right school for your child – you might be wrong

You might be thinking that school ‘over there’ would be perfect for your child. And that might be the case but more than likely the school ‘right here’ is the ideal fit and will seem all to familiar. It might even be your local public school.

The point here is to find out instead of blindly applying to what you think is the ideal or best private school. Consider your families relative position in the five forces competitive model.

And finally, do you research

Do your research. I assure you that is it much better to find out your situation is not a match before your child joins the school rather than focusing on getting in no matter what.

[1]“The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy.” Harvard Business Review. August 13, 2008.

Frugality is a quality of life compounding machine

 

By Julius SchorzmanOwn work, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

In my grubby little hands I am holding a wonderful 12 ounce bag of dark roasted Starbucks Café Verona coffee. This powerhouse of anti-oxidants and wakey-ness  is sustainably farmed and all of the Starbucks employees get educational benefits and health insurance. So this is the good stuff.

 

A look at the coffee numbers

Each cup of coffee we brew at home takes 2 ounces of the delightfully aromatic Starbucks grounds. And in 12 ounces there are 72 US teaspoons so that means we get 36 cups of coffee from a bag of grounds.

This bag costs us $8.59, or 26 cents a cup. A year of home brew will costs a whopping $96 dollars. For two people that is $191 bucks. We use half and half for an additional $2.29 a week or $119 a year. Total coffee expense is around $310 a year.

That same drink is a very reasonable $1.85 made by a hard working barista. For two people over a year that would be $1,317.

Wow, a savings of $1317-$310 or $1007 over a year.

Right?

Wrong!

A second look at the numbers

This is what is so counter intuitive about frugality. Frugality itself is a compounding machine. It took me years to notice it and first I shrugged it off as improbable if not impossible.

What is missing here are the secondary and tertiary by side effects.

The first is the actual financial savings.

Lets take a look.

It takes me less than a minute to scoop the coffee, add the water and push the button.

The drive, wait and drive back to our local Starbucks is 20 minutes.

While waiting for the coffee I usually make breakfast. Nothing better to do as I have plenty of time. But with a 20 minute commitment to pick up coffee in the morning I simply don’t have time to cook and I will add another $15 in breakfast vittles. Another $3750 in  annual expenses to add to the total.

And we aren’t done yet. It is a mere 4 miles to our local Starbucks and back. Sweet! Or is it? The federal government estimated cost of 51 cents per mile in car operating costs. Add another $2.04 to the cost or $532 bucks a year to the total.

  • Coffee savings – $1000
  • Breakfast -$3000
  • Car – $500

 

This results in a grand total  (and I rounded down a  lot here) of $4500 in expenses annually. That home brew actually saves you $45,000 over ten years.

The second benefit is even better. The quality of life effect is what keeps so many already financial independent people to stick with their frugal ways.

Once you have bought a coffee maker, got into the habit of buying ground coffee and then learned to operate the dang thing the actual process is easier than going to get coffee. And there is never a line.

Self taught barrista super powers

This means, after you become a coffee brewing expert, you will have a choice.

Choice 1: Stand in your kitchen drooling with one eye open until the coffee is ready about a minute or two later.

Choice 2: *Or* you can throw on some clothes, find your keys and shoes, rush out, feel the cold rain go down the back of your neck, fight for parking, wait in line and then zoom back home to reverse the process.

If both choices are available which would you choose? Yes the coffee isn’t quite a yummy as the store made stuff but your overall quality of life is so much better.

This is the power of frugality and of doing just some of the steps yourself.

The skeptics among you will note you don’t go to Starbucks 356 days a year and certainly don’t scoff down scones.  I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to try it out for a month and make your own assessment.

This is just a single example. You can find a lot more ways to pay for private school that are much bigger such as avoiding Black Friday, saving $3000 in a single weekend, or using the Granny Smith cash multiplier method.

 

Adjusting your Amazon Echo’s Time for daylight savings March 12, 2017

We are fan(atics) for Amazon’s Echo technology. It is a low cost way to replace radios, clocks and ipods with a single device.

However, this morning (March 12th 2017), our Echo dot did not automatically adjust to daylight savings. Alarms went off an hour late and there was a stern set of inquiries asked of Alexa, including the all  important “Alexa, what are the laws of robotics? ”

After much searching for a solution we started  fidgeting  with the thing and found that going to the Alexa application and switching the time zone to Amazon time adjusted the device time to match  the correct Eastern Standard Time. This shouldn’t work (as Amazon Time should be Pacific Time since they are based in Seattle) but it did. Until the bug is fixed on the server side this is a work around for our fellow east coast folks.

To try this on your Amazon Echo dot,follow these steps:

  1. Start the Alexa Application on your tablet or computer
  2. Navigate to the Home->Settings area.
  3. Find the list devices of devices section.
  4. Select the device you want to modify and click on it or tap it.
  5. Find the section under General called Device Time Zone area.
  6. Use the menus to select US  and Eastern Standard Time for the time zone combinations.
  7. Wait 30 seconds
  8. Test it buying  ask the device the time.  Confirm the time is correct and matches the day light savings time.

The America and Eastern Standard Time zone combination is the one that doesn’t work. If that fails for you the American and Amazon zone also gave me the correct time.

Perhaps a bug fix will come out in a few days. Recommendations on better ways to do this are encouraged and welcomed in the comments.

 

Are you a bad person for sending your kid to private school?

A recent slate article proposed that if you send your kid to private school you are a bad person.

The thesis for this claim is that if every single child to public school they would improve.

No studies or data are presented to back this up.

And she might be right – but convince us!

Will putting more people into a bad system help? Maybe. But why didn’t it help from the previous generation? Or the one before that? Were those parents lazy? Didn’t they use their influence and connections to improve the education system? Is it better?

An alternate approach is creative destruction. In a system where bad actors (second rate phone companies, restaurants that get everyone sick) are allowed to fail and good actors (first rate phone companies, barf-free restaurants) are enabled to thrive, over time, the bias tends towards more good actors.

That is the private school system. A public school can be reformed but, until folks move away it can also continue to operate “as is”. Indeed, private schools put pressure on public schools to get better by their higher performance. I emotionally get the “we all need to go to public schools to improve it”. Then I think of the clogged roads and how teleworking is opting out and improves

caption2
Does more here help? Image attribution: CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

my circumstances and enables more of a scare resource (roads) to be more available to those who need it.

We can do better than sacrificing a child’s education in the hopes that doing so might improve the over all system. A better use of these energies is to educate the children who need it now and thereby raising the standard upon which all schools are evaluated.

An ode to Peapod

First up, this is an unsolicited article. No one is paying, pushing or promoting me to write this piece.

Here is my typical grocery shopping experience;

Grocery shopping experience diagram -multiple ways to waste
Grocery shopping experience diagram -multiple ways to waste

I will admit, I am very impressed with people who can clip coupons, keep a price book and then find everything on their list, in exactly the right size, in a massive store with an average and ever changing 47,000 items in the store. I have tried many times and repeatedly failed at doing so.

We kept seeing a Peapod truck at the neighbor’s house each week. We quietly snickered and thought even though they are super frugal on everything else they had a hidden weakness.

My interest was piqued so we tried an experiment with this online grocery thing. We intentionally keep detailed records so it was easy to load a Peapod cart online and compare to last weeks grocery expenses.

Oh man was it easy to find stuff. They have a search engine! And it was certainly educational. For example, the two red peppers I buy each and every week have gone up from 50 cents in the summer to almost $4 in the winter.  Green peppers will do just fine and only cost a buck.

That kind of real-time-pricing-feedback adds up – in our case to $50 less than we normally spend (that would be $2,400 a year). So we went crazy and got the Peapod meal kits (all the ingredients in a box). And it was *still* $20 cheaper and we will waste less food as a result. Hmm.

A few months in we found we saved about $300 a month on groceries. And this probably points more to my ineffectiveness as a shopper and my susceptibility to “buy it now while supplies last” sales. Know thyself.

If you end up trying this or a similar service I would love to know how it works out for you – or if it doesn’t. And if you are inclined to do so please use my Peapod referral link and hook me up with free (Green) Bell Peppers for an upcoming stir fry. Woot!

Wait for it. Wait for it. Steady. Steady…..Now!

When paying for tuition for years on end I found that be willing to wait can be an ally.

We are going camping soon and usually it’s a school thing (includes tents). But this outing is a separate tent and we needed some gear.

Reviews of the low end tents revealed they are ok unless it gets windy or rainy. A wet tent would not be good for little (or big) people so we wanted to upgrade. Car camping tents can become really expensive quickly. And each night not in a hotel sort of pays for itself.

What we wanted it the glorious 6 persons REI Base camp tent. Ventilated awesomeness. With a footprint and tax it comes in a very reasonable $500. However, we aren’t reasonable. We are paying for private school. So I kept an eye out for a week, and then weeks, and then months. Prices would vary but even on Ebay the used ones were going $300+ something. They must be great tents. We spent weeks looking for one to rent from numerous places (check out lowegear.com if you camp).

Didn’t work out. We really wanted that one. But we have since learned it can be productive to be ok with second place. REI (who we like to support because of their fantastic educational programs and supporting community and the natural environment) had a two week only sale in the spring – 25% off on goods upon check out.

They only had one tent for sale with that would comfortably fit us – a Big Agnes. The reputable brand had a model with good, but somewhat mixed reviews. It was presumably on the way out for improved models so it was 25% off. After further reading I realized it wasn’t selling because bad reviews were being posted about that actually referenced a previous model. So this was an excellent tent and more than we needed for basic car camping and was small enough to serve for other trips as well.

Curious, I put the tent in the basket and saw and additional 25% off. This sucker, new, we being dumped because of mistaken reviews (or REI needed to clear inventory, or both).

It was cheaper to buy this tent new than rent the exact same model. By being patient, and flexible we were able to get an excellent tent for a price that didn’t bust our budget.

Big Agnes Tent

Not a camper? It is low cost adventure option. The long weekend we have planned would have been $600 in hotel costs alone – it is much less money to camp for this particular outing.

 

Vacations are for wimps

It is cold outside now but warm breezes and the faint scent of sun screen on everything are only four months away. Time for  summer vacations!

Have you every wondered about the origin of a vacation?

Did farmers – the majority of people through much of recent human history – who had to milk the cows daily and couldn’t leave livestock unattended for more than a few hours – take a two week cruise? Did they take time off? Absolutely!  They called it Sunday (other terms across religions but a similar concept in many of them). And they had holidays.

A holiday is a special holy day that didn’t fall on a Sunday. We have since worked in various national holidays as well but it is the same idea.

And many resorts and retreats started with a religious focus – not an opportunity to imbibe, spend and be idle. Admittedly,  I am over extending this a bit but the main point is that there are different ways to take a break.

More recently there is pressure – and I mean that in the worst way – to to visit some exotic local, take photos and post them to Facebook. Look how much fun we are having!

Disney Springs
Disney Springs – Wikicommons Theme Park Tourist

A trip to Disney for four costs about $4000 and I know of a family who spent over $10,000 in a single week.

You know what is a lot less stressful? Stay home that week. Make a lovely dinner. Do some work  around the house you normally would have outsourced and you can easily handle. Go to a movie. Splurge for popcorn and drinks. After all, you are saving about $500 a day.

This turns a week off into a low stress even rather than a mad dash to somewhere and back again.

We have done this before and in sourced $1000 dollars of basic kitchen repair work *and* spent lots of quality time with family. And my kid learned how to paint a kitchen (Don’t worry – I just had him try it for a few minutes – it was low pressure) and was pretty pleased about it.  There was still plenty of pool time, time with extended family, games, day trips and eating out.

We experience the same warm breezes and relaxation and at the end of the week we are well rested and financially better off. Now *that* is what I call relaxing.

When to send your child to private school (now)

As I have mentioned before, public school is wonderful and we need it. However, for some of us, a private school education is a good match for our children.

This leads to the next questions – when should they go?

The answer is simple: now.

Many people wait as long as possible to send their children to private school. The idea is that you save money in the meantime and then make the switch at “right time”. Others wait to see if the child really needs the benefits of such a school. Is this worth the investment? And is the child worth sending?

Marble column pediments . New York City 2005
Marble column pediments . New York City 2005 Wiki Commons

There are three problems with that line of thinking.

The first, is that the private schools have students at all grade levels and you might not be the only one thinking of this approach. There may not be a seat at the table and there is no obligation for the school to make room for your child.

Second, this isn’t how education works. Would you wait until the end of the summer to “catch up” your garden by watering it a bunch at the end after a long hot summer? What kinds of results would you expect? Every child deserves the best education we can provide them, no exceptions.

As a private school attendee from an early age I witnessed many students coming in to help redirect their behaviors and academic approach. And it helped, somewhat, but having seen them grow up and become adults I can assure you it didn’t “fix them”. Some of my friends who fall in this category also have criminal records and a confused identity.

Third, and most important, is the idea that you are being clever to save money. Don’t approach this like a consumer. This isn’t a dishwasher purchase. It is the two way involvement in a community with shared values. It goes both ways. You have a moral obligation to participate, improve and sustain the community. Not just show up at the last possible minute when you are in need for the private school service. Many teachers and administrators dedicate their lives and make huge personal financial sacrifices to educate the children of the community – including yours. Stop treating them like a business. It is insulting to them and reveals you as a consumer and not a contributor.

If you believe in private education as a concept step up and support the community before, during and after your child attends. And if you don’t want to that is fine and there is a great option available for you: public school.

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

― AristotleThe Philosophy of Aristotle

The simple life

One advantage of sending your child to private school is that much of your income goes along with them. As a result it limits the other available choices because you have much less discretionary income.

Fretting over a grand tour of Europe? Fret no more! You aren’t going!

This extreme financial constraints limit your choices and the resulting simplification actually leads to longer term happiness. It is known as the paradox of choice.

Have you always wanted to simplify your life? Now you can! And what better way than the assurance of a monthly tuition bill.  To be clear this isn’t about poverty – this is about voluntary simplicity. It is an interesting side effect we have noticed over years of sending the kiddo to a private school.

Read more about it in this outstanding book The Paradox of Choice (you are going to have a lot of time on your hands).

Oh, and for the trip? Easy, you are either staying home or going camping. Pick one.

 

Mountains in Italia
By Marco Bonomo – https://unsplash.com/photos/Sa7787z58VQ/, CC0, Link