The truth exposed

The truth about how to pay for private school isn’t very exciting. While good income, low costs, careful spending and regularly saying no to a myriad of worthy spending choices are important they aren’t “it”.

Voluntary Self-Sacrifice

Instead, they are signs of an underlying philosophy that is rare these days but common throughout history. And that is self-sacrifice.  In short, this is giving up something worthwhile for you so someone else can have something even more worthwhile.

This framework may seem familiar to you as it the basis or morality of most religions.

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

This beautiful concept has a stark reality. Rare vacations. Older cars and furniture. A higher thermostat in summer. A delayed retirement. Smaller living quarters.  On paper this sounds good but the reality is a bit different. For example, my old Subaru leaked gas fumes in the car when the temperatures dropped by 30 degrees (a clip as contracting too far). While not overwhelming it did result in the windows down in January and February.  Freezing winds, icy rain and strange looks penetrating even the fuzziest of ear muffs.*

Voluntary self-sacrifice is how family of limited means pays for private school.

This can make you all stronger

Madeyski Suffering -Source: Wiki Commons
Madeyski Suffering -Source: Wiki Commons

As an extra benefit, these hardships are part of the education process. They build toughness, humility, empathy, resilience and demonstrate to all the ability to focus as a family on higher goals. They teach you to be resourceful and solve difficult problems without simply purchasing your way out of every discomfort. It helps prevent a family with extra resources spoiling their child. By definition they will have less materials goods, entertainment and goods as a result.

A better quality of life

You will invariably become an environmentalist as well as produce more and consume less. You will make mistakes, adjust and move on. It might not work. But you will take the leap. Some will praise you but most will criticize you. Be ok with people being upset with you because they think you are wasting money or choice is seen as undermining the public school system. It is ok not to have every one agree with you. Indeed, it is desirable.

.* The Subaru was eventually replaced by a 10 year old Volvo station wagon – a low cost way to get a top IIHS safety rating on the cheap. The second week I had it the passenger window fell into the well. Forever open. Instead of rushing to the dealer I checked the weather (no rain for a week!) and after a lot of research and $19 later the window opens and closes again.  It’s not perfect, but it works.

Volvo Wagon - New to us!
Used Volvo Wagon – New to us!

 

 

Should I get a loan?

No, you should not get a loan to pay for private school elementary or high school.

A loan means you don’t have the money

A loan means you don’t have enough money to pay for the school. A loan means you would spend more than you have, every month. That is not sustainable for the long haul of tuition for private school which can go on for decades.

Debt has specific uses

caption2
By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands – Depressed, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Debt is appropriate for a business venture where you can reasonably expect to recoup it and then some – such as a highly employable four year college degree or a medical emergency. Or for a house where the deductible interest usually (depending on interest rates) makes the loan cost less than paying cash outright.

Everything else is a pants on fire debt emergency. Don’t add to it.

Here are your options

  • Cut expenses
  • Increase income
  • Choose a lower cost school
  • Choose a public school

What!

Public school?

Yup, public school is an excellent option. Seriously consider it. It is ok to not go to private school. It is not ok to destroy your family life and health in the pursuit of this singular goal.

Confront reality, and then adjust

Confront reality, whatever that may be – don’t put yourself in bondage and mortgage your future time just because you wished things were different.

Instead, you can send your kids to public school and pick up a  tutors and religious education on the side to augment the education. That is an acceptable and perfectly fine version of private education. So is home schooling. Remember the goal: an education for your child that results in a balanced, centered, inquisitive and knowledgeable adult with an internal morale compass. There are lots of paths to get to the end result without selling your future on this  one way of achieving your goals.

Half priced cars ! On sale now! And every day!

An introduction to mispricing

Use the economic concept of mispricing.  to reduce your costs and free up more money for tuition.

Mispricing occurs where sellers out number interested buyers for a particular item and where the item is able to be repriced lower based on that demand imbalance.

The example usually comes up in relation to financial assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate and so on but applies to consumables as well.

An Example: Mispricing in the stock market

Charlie Munger executed this perfectly in the 2009 financial panic as described in an article in Bloomberg News.

“By diving into stocks amid the market panic of 2009, Munger reaped millions in paper profits for Daily Journal. The investment gains, applauded by Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in May, have helped triple Daily Journal’s own share price. While Munger’s specific picks remain a mystery, a bet on Wells Fargo probably fueled the gains, according to shareholders who have heard Munger, 89, discuss the investments at the company’s annual meetings. “Here’s a guy who’s in his mid-80s at the time, sitting around with cash at the Daily Journal for a decade, and all of a sudden hits the bottom perfect,” says Steve Check, an investment manager based in Costa Mesa, Calif., who has attended the publisher’s meetings since 2004.

The stock market profits were first disclosed in a May 2009 Daily Journal regulatory filing under the heading, “Liquidity and Capital Resources.” The section outlined how the publisher was sitting on about $9 million in gains after spending $15.5 million buying common shares over six months through March 31 of that year. The results kept getting better. By the end of September 2009, they had appreciated to almost $48 million.

[1]

The five steps to benefit from mispricing

To execute a mispricing purchase you first must recognize one and then be able to act on it. This requires a number of elements to be in play at the same time:

  1. Patience
  2. Cash
  3. Analysis
  4. Flexibility
  5. Willingness to purchase an unpopular item in scale

We use the mispricing approach for our own benefit on vehicle purchases.

Early on we were striving to get the “best” instead of “good enough”.

Flexibility

So we went with a popular vehicle at the time, a Toyota 4runner. These were popular and expensive and we used the only mispricing technique we knew about at the time which was flexibility. We purchased a new 4Runner from the left over trucks from the previous model year. The $45,000 vehicle only cost us $40,000. We didn’t get the color or exact features we wanted but we saved $5000. Woot! And that popularity was not unfounded. We had the car 14 years and it is still on the road today.

Product is Currently Unpopular

For the next vehicle we got a little better at finding mispricing. The SUV boom was well under way and hatchbacks were unpopular and considered no longer cool. When we actually looked at the features they delivered enough mass and safety features to be safe, better gas mileage and all the functions of a full size SUV (that we needed). They were simply unpopular compared to the monster truck models of the day.

We combined the unpopular feature with the late model technique and got a Subaru Forester for $20,000. This was half the cost of the previous car purchase. Woot! $20,000 saved! These cars have since become popular again as more and more folks figured out the many benefits of these mid sized sport utility vehicles so mispricing affect is largely gone (on this model).  We were in style again, at least for a while.

Cash, Analysis and Patience

For our most recent purchase we added analysis and patience to the mix and to further benefit from mispricing. Many cars are rated by reliability. And they if aren’t rated top tier for reliability they really suffer in the used car market. People don’t want to own something that wasn’t best for reliability when purchasing something used. But when you do the analysis a middle tier rated car is actually more reliable than cars of the past.

We saved $30,000

We combined flexibility, our reliability analysis and the unpopular status of middle tier to watch, wait for and eventually obtain a used Volvo wagon for $12,000 dollars with very low miles. Woot! $30,000 saved! The battle wagon doesn’t have a lot of advertisments 

 

In summary

The market (us buyers and sellers) occasionally misprices goods and servies and assigns artificially high prices to the best and artificially low prices to the runner ups. You can discover and use this mispricing if you conduct the analysis, are flexible, patient and willing to select something currently unpopular (not easy as it sounds) that meets your particular needs. Just do your homework to make sure it is actually mispriced and not low cost for a reason you care about.

What about you? Have you benefited from temporary mispricing conditions?

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-07-25/berkshire-hathaways-charlie-munger-shows-a-golden-touch

Is it wrong to go to private school?

In a conversation with friends, they made the case that it is wrong for parents to not send their children to public schools.

Are they right?

It is wrong and elitist to send your child to private school?

The argument proposed has a similar stance to that of insurance or immunization – we all have to do it for the overall system to be effective.

Their line of thinking was this: the diversity of income, education and perspectives creates a better situation for all.

For example, the mechanic can provide both material support and assess the conditions of the shop class. The lawyer can monitor what is expected, and, if needed, use the legal system to ensure the children are getting the resources needed. Meanwhile the single parent who is working three jobs benefits from the extra set of eyes and benefiting from the diversity of the community. The worse the school district the better the benefit.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=700891
High Court Bench – Source Wiki Commons

This is a compelling argument. So let’s take it further. If we seek to optimize this benefit it would make sense that we all live in public housing. Clearly, it is unethical to pick a house based on your preference. Surely a well heeled lawyer could do wonders to improve the community. And a police officer and their family would be a welcome presence to thwart malfeasance. Along this line of thinking if you are an involved parent you can make the most difference if you send your child to the *worst* possible school available. Certainly your child will suffer as a result because of the time it takes to reform a school but it is for the greater good. Right?

Similar arguments have been made for public transit and even employment sharing. And on paper it sounds good.

The role of self interest and competition

The observed reality is a bit different.

In a resource constrained environment a lawyer will understandably use their limited time to focus on the needs of *their* child which they understand best and have a prime interest in. Other children might lose attention as a result. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And that wheel might sue. And the police officer in a dangerous public housing project will want to protect *their* family. Why should they have to patrol their own neighborhood after a long overnight shift after already doing that somewhere else? Should they have to work for free after a long day? Isn’t that a shared responsibility of everyone in the neighborhood?

Instead, grade the schools

An alternate model is one where schools competes to serve the needs of all the attending children. Those that fail too many for too long shut down. Those that do well can grow their system and benefit from economies of scale. This free market approach does require regulation (and for education, lots of it) but in aggregate it is a pretty good system in other areas. That is today’s private school system.  And home schooling. And the public school charter school system.

Indeed, the reason we send our child to a private school has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with the school naturally working faith and reverence into each day. That is important to us. For others it might be a school with a world class music program.

We donate beyond the required tuition and will likely send money long after our child has graduated because we want to see the religious framework of that school continue. Many of the children attend for free based on economic need. And you should see the children who graduate. They are concerned about social justice, have a sense of right and wrong internalized and have the academic framework to be able to make a difference. And that is good for everyone.

 

 

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.

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.

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

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