Paying for private school

Tips and tricks for sending your child to private school

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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.

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.

How to save $3000 in a single weekend

This weekend we had quite the coup on the financial front. In short, we saved $3000 in a single weekend. The largest portion of these savings is very counter intuitive. Specifically, it is something we *didn’t* do that resulted in the savings.

Our sidewalk has sunk  down into the ground quite a bit and we need it back here on earth. To do this we were considering hiring a contractor to repair and replace our entire front sidewalk.

Grassy Slate Sidewalk - Source: Wiki Commons

Grassy Slate Sidewalk – Source: Wiki Commons

We diligently obtained lots of quotes – some as high as $8000 and one  contractor quoted us is a good deal at $2000. And the contractor seems excellent. And the firm is made up of U.S.  military service veterans.  So, heroes.

And then we paused.

We are all correctly hardwired to an action for bias. But to pay for school means to prioritize spending in a most singular way. And that often means *not* taking action. After some thought we decided to pass. $2000 saved immediately. There are lots of other much lower cost options available to us. The alternatives aren’t as quick, or as fancy looking, as a new slate sidewalk. But a $40 slate patch serves a more important purpose.

Many people say this and I can’t stress it enough; The most effective way to save money is to not spend it.

It is not the 2 for 1 deals, coupons or thrift stores that get it done. Those are indeed effective tools – but only after not spending is considered as the first choice.

The saving super power of not doing anything is often forgotten. It goes against our bias towards action.

And it is sacrifice. That is what is required to pay the tuition for someone else. Embrace it. The lower cost solution still meets the need and makes room for something more valuable. It also has the benefit of keeping us from getting a little too proud or having the neighbors get envious of a brand new slate sidewalk. Instead they will see a nice and neat, but uninspiring, repair job.

So that is the first $2000.

The remaining $1000 was saved on a train trip using an Amtrak rewards card. We had enough points to take a required family trip for free. Score! This is what most of us will get excited about. Goods and services for free! Points! Free travel!

I want to reiterate that this isn’t where the magic happens. It happens on the cracked and aged (but still serviceable) sidewalk staying that way. Boring, simple and requiring no action. Embrace the self-restraint and acknowledge that it is difficult to do. The children aren’t the only ones who get an education from a private school.

Do nothing - Source Wiki Commons

Do nothing – Source Wiki Commons

$3000 saved in 2 days, most of it through pausing and then… doing nothing.

Are you sure you can’t afford  to pay for private school?

Hero profile: Dorothy Counts

In 1957, Dorothy Counts desegregated an all-white school by being the first person of color to attend. She is still fighting for equal rights for all today.

Private school is about having choices but a valid argument of public school proponents is that the private school system can be used as, or  inadvertantly beome, a  method of discrimination.

In addition to selecting the appropriate education and value system for your child, you have a moral obligation to make sure doing so doesn’t adversely affect other children. Take a close look at the private school your child is attending. If it doesn’t include a diverse student body drawn from the community, connect with other parents and demand a change.  Paying a tuition gives you a powerful voice at your school. More importantly, future parents will want to know about a school that has this problem and did nothing to make it better. Don’t look the other way if your child’s school isn’t diversified.

We are lucky in that our child’s school considers diversity a core value. Use your considerable influence to start the conversation at your school.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”[1]

Desmond Tutu

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/desmondtut106145.html

Paying for private school is training wheels for college expenses

I often hear from folks who say that can’t afford to pay for private school for their young children because they are saving for college.

That is like saying you are going to wait to train for a marathon until the day before because you don’t want to wear yourself out.

The time to educate your children is now, not after they have grown up and are using education primarily for job skills acquisition.

And a benefit of this approach is you are running a college simulation program! You are practicing paying for a portion (or all) of college, right now. Good for you! Keep it up!

Yes, there is a risk that things won’t work out as expected but life is full or risks. Don’t wait until the end of it to do what you feel is right.

You can do this.

Black Friday! Act now! Don’t miss the holidays!

 

Today is Black Friday. One can save thousands by acting fast!  One day sales only! Act now! Quick! Save hundreds by spending thousands. Sure, your cash balance

caption2

By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA – Black Friday, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

will drop and credit card balance will rise but hey, look at all the new fancy stuff you didn’t even know you needed!

Resist.

Slow down.

Get out of line. Empty your online cart.

That stuff will still be there next week. And the week after that. And without time pressure you can buy fewer items and spend less money overall.

How about this instead? Consider just 4 items for each child for the holidays.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Give them the benefits of a frugal Christmas. This in turn may allow for higher quality items to be purchased while creating less waste.

Expect complaints. And comparisons to what other kids received. Be ok with that. Instead, you are giving your kids a great education and the tools, later in life, to buy stacks of material goods if they so choose.

 

The power of record keeping

Earlier this week our Volvo’s  “check engine light” came on. I grabbed my handy dandy OBDI reader and plugged it in to the White Whale’s (That is what we respectfully call it)  OBDI reader slot. This is really easy to do and at a dealer this work costs $160. I know because I paid for that service once.

Two second later I saw the offending error message – a cylinder misfire.  Knowledgeable people on the internet had noted this might affect gas mileage but was not an immediate safety issue.

We purchased the car volvo-wagon-blueused but it came with an extended warranty and this is beyond my (current) rudimentary car maintenance skills so we took it in thinking this might be a warranty item.

The shop dutifully noted that it was likely because we hadn’t had the 75,000 service and since that needed to be done anyway why not go ahead and perform the work.

That item – the 75,000 service – rang a bell. I quickly bounded up the stairs and checked my records. We keep a file for each call and just add the work to the running list as it is performed.  And sure enough – there it was –  $990 for the 75,000 mileage  service a mere 12 weeks ago. We didn’t do it at this particular place so they didn’t have it in their records.

This wasn’t malicious intent on their part and was a good guess as to what might have been the cause. More likely one of the brand new spark plugs wasn’t seated properly, or faulty which is a much smaller repair. Indeed, the problem was a cable that wasn’t plugged in properly. The technician reconnected the cable and the problem was solved.

A $990 expense saved – all from a line in a word file on a ten year old computer. Keep your own records for big things like car expenses. Saving $1000 here and there can fund a tuition.

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