Getting in to a private elementary 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 part of the 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 schools, 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 enrolled during the last large economic downturn when interest in private education waned because of financial challenges for many families. For us the religious framework was more important than the bank account.

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. And consider your families relative position in the five forces competitive model.

And finally, do your 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.

 

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!

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

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.