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

What would grandma do?

Ok, here is a test for you. A simulation of sorts.

The room is really cold. Even with the central heat on, the room is just bone chilling cold.  Too cold.

What should you do to warm up?

 

A few years ago I would have turned up the heat. More recently I would have grabbed a space heater and turned that on while congratulating myself on my clever money saving efficiency of only heating the area I was using. Go me!

I have since learned of a different paying for private school power tool: passive money generators. Today, instead of using something active (like a heater)  I first try to use something passive, like a down blanket. Or another later of clothing.

This simple technique has hundreds of applications, some of which we will cover on this site. The general principal is what I want you to take away. A blanket has no moving parts and no ongoing costs to use. It cost the same in the closet as on your lap. A heater has an instant meter of costs – not to mention the environmental costs. Change your mind set and you will find these little adjustments add up quickly and provide passive instant savings to help you pay for private school.

To get your mind right simply consider what your grandmother or great grandmother would have done in a similar situation. Would she have cranked up the heat on a winter day or would she have

caption
By published by Cassell & Company – Reusable art, Public Domain, Link

opened the blinds to benefit from solar gain? Would left overs have been put in the garbage or would soup  have been a meal the following day?

Ask yourself what would grandma do to super charge your cash flows, build your own resilience and reduce your impact on the environment and help pay the tuition. You child isn’t the only one getting an  education.

 

 

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

Five scholarships for the 2017

Did you know financial aid and scholarships are available to help pay for private school tuition?

Income and frugality will be your core mechanism but financial aide can help.  Here are five scholarship sources  to get you thinking about it.

  1.  Your child’s school. Most private schools have financial aid and requests are typically assessed by an independent review board. You won’t know unless look into it.
  2.  The Louisiana School Choice program  had a number of rebates, tax deductions and school choice options. Research programs in your state and keep an eye out – this might expand with the new administrations education appointment.  Georgia has already handed out $117 million in tax credits in 2017.
  3. Or how about an academic achievement scholarship?
  4. Or maybe the better chance scholarship or the Jack Kent Cooke young scholars program is the scholarship for you.
  5. Not enough? Here are 50 more private school scholarship options.

While saving money  will be the driver a small scholarship can certainly help. Feel guilty about applying? Don’t – this isn’t for you.

A new education secretary

In November of 2016, the incoming administration appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and today she started her nomination hearings. What does her nomination mean for the education system?

Betsy is chair of Amercian Federation for Children, a group advocating for school choice for parents and students through the use of charter schools.

They claim the following:

  • Every 26 seconds a child drops out of a public school in America
  • In many of our nation’s largest cities dropout rates exceed 50%
  • America is lagging behind more than a dozen other nations in math and literacy.[1]

These are astounding numbers.

Old School House Sign - Source: Wiki Commons
Old School House Sign – Source: Wiki Commons

Their proposed solution is to introduce choice via charter schools and her appointment is a clear support of that philosophy in the public education system.

I have no idea if a voucher approach will work but I suspect (acknowledging I am the least qualified person in the world to talk about this) that a sudden switch to a voucher approach will leave areas where no education options are available.

The result would be similar to food deserts. These have occurred in cities with big box grocers understandably focusing on higher income areas. The under served areas are left with few if little options and lose access to fresh produce.

Source: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts
Source: American Nutrition Association 

I hope a new national approach results in improved academic achievement for all students but urge caution.

Slow and careful changes with an exploratory approach  may make sense here. For example, can the power of the internet remove geographic barriers to educational access? How can they assure that there isn’t a generational gap for specialty programs such as special needs programs, programs focused on the arts, STEM and vocational studies while they experiment approaches?

We will watch this closely from the lens that every child deserves to use their time in school to have the opportunity to grow to their full potential and be an active part of the broader community.

[1] http://afcgrowthfund.org/school-choice-facts/

Be ok with second place

There seems to be a built in mechanism in most of us to want the best of everything. What is the best car at the best price? Where is the best place to live? Reports are written and millions in advertising spent to help you get the best. And given that you earn enough income to consider private school you are probably (over) trained to analyze, sort, prioritize and select the optimal solution as part of your work life.

Stop trying to optimize at home.  To pay for private school, for many of us, this is the route we take. Sure, measure, but often second, third  or fourth place is just fine. Indeed, you don’t even need the best private school – just a school that fits for your child. And that may be your local charter or public school.

Add the phrase “good enough” to your lexicon and your life will get a lot simpler and you can focus your resources on the things that matter most to your family.

 

 Lt. j.g. Aaron Lanzel takes second place at the Armed Forces Cross Country Championship with a time of 39:32. Source: Wiki Commons
Lt. j.g. Aaron Lanzel takes second place at the Armed Forces Cross Country Championship with a time of 39:32. Source: Wiki Commons

The Granny Smith cash multiplier method

There is a very subtle multiplier effect which is essentially a tax free income booster that can help you pay for a private school tuition. Here is how it works.

In November my wife was looking for a tree to plant on our very (very) small yard as a screen for a nearby street. The tree had to be fairly small given the constraints of said small yard.

She happened upon one that was ascetically pleasing with a maximum height and width of 30 feet by 30 feet. Measured from the location of where we would place it with a yard stick (it’s a small yard) at full size the tree will expand 15 feet each way. Perfect!

Method Tip 1: Avoid having to earn as much income on the purchase by purchasing a lower cost item.

The ten foot tall tree, while ideal in form and habit, was half bereft of leaves with a bit of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look going on. The tree was originally $120 but was marked down to $30. A sale!

Enter step one of the multiplier effect. She saved $90 dollars on the original purchase.

US Currency - Source Wiki Commons
US Currency – Source Wiki Commons

That saved amount removed the need to earn that extra $90. Let’s assume a 40% cumulative, federal, state, sales taxes and mystery fees on the income. That extra $90 would have cost $126 in earned income to cover. Whew!

To restate- that is $126 in earnings we didn’t have to make to actually end up with the $90 extra we would have needed for the full price of the tree.

Method Tip 2: When making a purchase, have it solve multiple problems at once.

My mother told me that her grandmother had a purpose for every plant around the farmhouse, in addition to looking nice.

In our case we were looking for a small tree that provides a summer screen from the nearby street but still looks good and drops leaves in the winter for additional sunlight in the colder months. This works for both screening and sound attenuation in the winter as it is quite dense with branches.

What else could it do for us?

In our case the tree selected is a Granny Smith apple tree! It should produce about $20 bucks of

caption2
By No machine-readable author provided. Fievet assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, Link

organic apples every year (ok, more like $50 but I want to be conservative here to make a point).

And we placed it on the west side of the house to shade (and cool the air) going into the AC and near the house.

What about having to pick the extra apples that we won’t eat, giving bags of them to neighbors, family, coworkers and the local food pantry and then still having to pick busted ones off the ground? What a hassle right? Sure, but we have arranged our lives such that we get regular physical activity with this sort of money saving effort all year long. Annual gym memberships were cancelled long ago but we will only count the month of apple picking and leaf raking mayhem here for another $50 saved.

And for the grand finale, our nearby park has crab apple trees. These can be used to cross pollinate Granny Smith apple trees (they self-pollinate but word in the fields is that a nearby pollinator will help with yields). That is a second $30 tree we didn’t have to buy (nor had space for) because we selected a compatible tree for our neighborhood.

Total economic impact

The first year we saved $90 on the tree and $30 on a second tree we didn’t need to purchase. The tree (fairly big already) should produce apples about three years hence and provide the shade to assist with house cooling.

Lets look at the numbers using the Granny Smith multiplier method.

Year 1: $120 saved

Year 3 on: $50 saved on gym membership, $20 on apple costs and $5 on AC costs for an annual savings of $75.

Ten year economic output: $645

And remember this is all tax free after the initial $30 we spent. That is a money tree that offers $60+ annually in savings, builds community as we gift organic apples, screens the street and provides a beautiful tree to look at. Plus it is pretty cool to have an apple tree.

Let’s assume my conservative numbers are *still* too high and it only saves us half that, or $30 a month.

Fine. An investment with a yield will take a hit of 15% on the income so I would need $34.5 in monthly income ($414 annually) to produce that same value.

A typical safe stocks yield 3%. We would need a stock portfolio with a market value of $13,800 to produce that same income. And to purchase that stock we would have had to earn $20,010 in gross income to purchase that investment.

Oh, and the yield on the Granny Smith Apple Tree is $30 a year or 100% of its original purchase price, annually.

We just trounced the stock market and avoided having to earn an additional $20,000. Thanks Granny Smith!

Don’t overdo it

The multi-purpose mindset does have its limits. Spending an extra $10,000 on a fancy pick-em-up-truck because you might need to haul a jumbo pack of toilet paper someday is just a slow way to lose money. Just think about it first and run the numbers is all I am saying.

Get into the multi-purpose mindset. You can do this.

Breaking news – the faucet is fixed!

Breaking news in our house – the 25 year old leaking bathroom faucet has been replaced!

I know, huge!

Why is this breaking news? I am glad you asked!  The news is that we saved money in two places – the $5 on the Amazon Prime movie rental we were going to watch instead of fixing the sink as well as on the labor to install the replacement faucet.

To get this double benefit we followed the instructions (repeatedly) and after extreme highs (it works!) and equally bad lows (nope, the new connections leak) we got stuff disconnected and the new stuff reconnected. There are only three connection points – hot water, cold water and the drain but I assure you for a novice like me it was a slow and laborious process.   Let talk benefits in order to convince you to consider in sourcing  before hiring someone.

First, we changed from passive consumers to active producers (and I use that term loosely). From observers to doers. This mind shift is more important that the actual money saved.

Though we did save a chunk of change. According to HomeWyse.com, this would have normally cost us $331 in labor for an expert. And to earn that we would have had to earn $479 in income to pay for it (not to mention asking someone to work a holiday weekend).

$300 bucks might not seem like a lot but ten of these $300 do-it-yourself gigs adds up to $3000. Combined with other habits this can help out with the tuition bills.

Of course safety is paramount and we double and triple checked to make sure the circuit breaker was off and that the dishwasher was off before we did anything else. Start small with something simple that you are comfortable with but would normally hire out to someone else.

Doing your research

You have decided to send your child to a private school! Good for you! And good for your children and the broader community!

However, in doing so you suddenly switch from a mindset of a exploring a single school system to lots of choices. You soon realize you aren’t selecting a school. Instead you are starting a two way conversation about joining a community.

It can be overwhelming and you don’t want to start from scratch. The good news is there are many information sources out there to help you out.

The leader in our area, the DC School Hub, provides families in and near the national’s capital with information daycare, nursery school, preschool and independent and private schools.

What is wonderful about this resource is the variety of perspectives. They include descriptions of the areas schools, messages from the heads of

DC School Hub schools and detailed stories written by parents *for* parents describing their children’s experience. In about ten minutes of reading you can learn from decades of real experience.

They even list  who has spots open for new students.

Look around for something similar in your area. Even if there isn’t one, reading through the DC School Hub will provide a framework for the kinds of questions you should be thinking about when selecting a private school for your child.

The key take away here is you want the variety of perspectives – the head of school, teachers, parents and the students. That depth of information is too much to gather and absorb during a school’s open house so a site is a valuable resource. In addition to visiting the school, read the information on these sites and ask neighbors, colleagues and family members about the schools you think might be a match. We were very surprised to learn that someone we know quite well was both a teacher and a board of trustees member at our child’s school and had all kinds of helpful tips for us.

The worst you will get by asking around is a shrug or a lecture on why all children should attend their local public school or advice on how to better spend your money. And hear them out – that is information for you to consider as well.