Updated on 10.12.09

Reader Mailbag #84

Trent Hamm

Each Monday, The Simple Dollar opens up the reader mailbags and answers ten to twenty simple questions offered up by the readers on personal finance topics and many other things. Got a question? Ask it in the comments. You might also enjoy the archive of earlier reader mailbags.

How do you minimize distractions while you’re working? I also work from home and find that many people are not respectful of this. Even if I choose not to answer the phone, sometimes the ringing proves to be enough to cause a break in concentration, which results in lost time. Is it rude to leave an outgoing message on our answering machine, to the effect of “…we can’t answer the phone right now as we are unavailable or working….”? Even then I don’t think it would get the message across.
– Kristine

I usually just turn the ringers off on my telephones and allow messages to go straight to voicemail or an answering machine. I also shut down my email and log off of any messaging services I’m on.

My feeling on this is simple. The real meat of my work is best done in focused chunks. When I have a two hour period of time where I can just sit down and block out the world, I’m ridiculously productive in my writing.

On the other hand, if I allow myself to be interrupted, my writing slows to an absolute crawl and, in the end, there’s little benefit from the things I was able to immediately handle.

There’s almost nothing on this earth that’s worth interrupting those focused sessions. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

So when you are bad at budgeting, and the money is going willy nilly do you think it is wise to sit down with an accountant to help come up with a plan? I find that people like Dave Ramsey just want you to make a budget and use cash only but if you could do that you would not be in the problem you are already are in! I am meeting with an accountant to help me set up a plan because obviously I can’t do it right. What are your thoughts on this? The accountant also said every time he spends money he thinks how many hours will I need to work to get this, he told me he is a tight wad!
– Tamara

If you’re having difficulty with the structure and numbers of a budget, an accountant can help, but that’s usually not the problem.

A budget is a piece of paper that does nothing more than represent a promise to yourself to get your spending under control. For the most part, we can’t make choices about how much we spend in many required areas, like our rent or our sewer bill. Our choices come in areas like food, entertainment, our automobile, and the like.

The key to controlling spending in those areas is mindfulness and impulse control, not having a piece of paper.

A budget is useful – particularly at first – because it lets you see what you’re really spending in those various areas. It says, “Hey, you’re spending a ridiculous amount on entertainment and it’s hurting you. Cut back.”

In the end, though, you have to make the behavior changes. A budget can’t do it for you.

So, yes, if you’re having difficulty with the structure and the numbers, have an accountant help you. But don’t expect the presence of a budget on paper to magically change your situation.

$350,000, divided out by 18 years, is only $53/day or so.

Counting up food, clothes, field trips, housing, etc. that you pay for your children, would $53 a day sound like an unreasonable number?
– A.J.

A.J.’s comment refers to some estimates that the average cost of raising a child born today into adulthood is $350,000 by some calculations.

First of all, it’s worth noting that such a number is an average. You’re including kids with full-time nannies. You’re including kids that go to private school. You’re including kids whose parents write checks to their Ivy League institutions. You’re including the kid whose parents bought him or her a brand new Lexus for their sixteenth birthday.

In short, most of us will actually spend less than that total raising our children. What is that less number? It depends a lot on the choices you make.

Are you going to buy them a car when they’re sixteen? Are you going to pay for college? Are you going to hire tutors? Are you going to get them into a better school? Are you going to buy them a top-of-the-line instrument for band? Are you going to dress them in new trendy clothes or go shopping first at thrift stores? Are you feeding them organics from day one? Are you going to travel extensively with them as they grow up? Are you going to move into a larger house to accommodate them?

All of these choices will make a radical shift in your total expenditures for your child, either up or down. Parents that make all of the low-cost choices will spend significantly less than that $350,000 total – perhaps half, or even less. Other parents who make different choices will spend more.

It really depends on your parenting style and what you value. For me, I’m more willing to invest on what’s in the inside – educational opportunities, food – than what’s on the outside – clothes, a new car.

I am becoming increasingly aware of the inhumane treatment to livestock in the food industry. Do you have any recommendations for websites or books to learn more on where to buy organic food and what resteraunts offer it?
– Mol

I tend to think that the best solution, if you’re worried about big agri-producers, is not to buy organic, but to buy local. Buying local means you can actually visit the farms where the items are produced and see for yourself how they’re treated.

In our case, for example, we buy milk and other dairy products from Picket Fence Creamery in Woodward. We can drive by the farm any time we like and they have very regular open houses and tours. I don’t care if it has an organic label on it or not, that’s a level of trust you just can’t get from buying an anonymous product in the store.

One great place to start with this approach is http://www.localharvest.org/, which has tons of information on eating from local sources.

Obviously, you can’t get all of your food this way, especially if you live in a colder climate, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Due to reasons too complicated to explain, we have a mortgage where the only ones really keeping track of the balance are ourselves. (In other words, when we make an extra payment, it doesn’t necessarily get recorded unless we keep track of it.)

We have been adding roughly $165 a month to the payment with the goal of paying the loan off early. In the future that amount may go up. But we paid on the loan for a year + before adding additional money. I haven’t found a mortgage calculator that works for us. It is very important to keep track of this (it would be for anyone, but even more so for us). Have you any suggestions for something workable to track these payments?
– Kathryn

It sounds extremely shaky to me that you’re making payments to the bank and they’re not registering. If my lender had this kind of policy, I would make every effort to refinance, because the whole thing sounds really questionable.

In terms of personal financial records, the best thing a person can do is learn how to use a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is so free-form that you can basically track your information in whatever way is most convenient for you. Spend the time to know how to use one.

Beyond that, your best step is probably to find a way through the complicated situation to ensure that your payments are being recorded correctly. There’s little reason for a company to have such sloppy records.

Trent, do you ever enjoy a good cigar?
– Mike

No, I do not. I have had several relatives have a miserable end to their lives due to emphysema (let alone lung cancer) and I’m beginning to watch a few more begin to head down that road. It’s a very painful thing to watch and experience.

This experience has put me firmly in the “not going to smoke” camp. I’m not an anti-smoking zealot by any means, but I do avoid businesses and private clubs that allow smoking and I’m extremely hesitant to visit the home of a smoker.

Many people respond with comments along the lines of “an occasional cigar is no big deal.” Maybe that’s true, but watching my grandmother spend the last few years of her life struggling for every single breath puts me firmly on the side of prudence in this case.

Trent, you mention that you keep your computer on because it automatically collects data at certain times. I was wondering if you are trolling for news articles or something similar to keep up to date on specific topics. I’m interested in doing that myself and was hoping you could suggest the easiest way to “troll” for news or blogger posts using keywords or something. Not sure if this is what you do, but if you have any pointers, it would be much appreciated.
– Victoria Vargas

I collect articles in an offline RSS reader that automatically checks hourly for updates. I save them locally so that, in the event that a blog disappears from the face of the earth, I still have a personal archive of the writings. It also enables me to read such writings when the internet is unavailable, which happens every few months or so here for a day or so.

Beyond that, I also run Folding@Home, which utilizes unused processing power of our home’s computers to analyze proteins, the results of which can be used in biomedical research to cure diseases. I have these programs set to automatically return results as soon as they’re finished and retrieve new ones, which means that Folding@Home sometimes runs in the middle of the night or on weekend afternoons.

Beyond that, my local computer also stores automatic backups of The Simple Dollar.

Between all of these automated things, I’m better off just leaving the computer running. It performs several important tasks, even when I’m not there to manage it.

I’ve been following you on Goodreads and you read a lot! Are you going to make a “best of 2009” list for books so people might have some interesting Christmas gift ideas?
– Kelly

I will probably have a “best of 2009” article or two on my irregularly-updated personal blog (right now, with my book crunch, I don’t have time for such updates, sadly). But I know that a lot of my readers are avid book readers who also often gift books to friends and relatives, so for you all, here’s my current “top ten books of 2009” list. I’m including only books published in the last 24 months that I read for the first time in 2009.

1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
2. Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford
3. Supermarket: A Novel by Satoshi Azuchi (new in English)
4. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
5. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
6. Satchel by Larry Tye
7. Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad
8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
9. Sunnyside by Glenn David Gold
… and, honestly, I don’t have a tenth that fits into this group quite yet.

What do you do with the personal finance books you review but don’t keep?
– Millie

Many of the books I review come straight from the library, and that’s where I return them. By now, I must be one of the best customers of the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa.

Aside from that, though, I do pick up a few books for my own use. When I have one of those, I either give it away to a reader randomly (I just pick a commenter that tickles my fancy) or I ship it away via PaperBackSwap for something I’ll find more worthwhile.

On a rare occasion, I’ll keep it because it seems like a good reference or has potential for inspiration in the future.

If you had sufficient money, would you choose to send your children to a private school?
– Charles

No. Instead, I’d choose to live in an area that put a high value on public education, a town where the citizens were willing to pay local taxes to have an incredibly strong local school district. There, I’d send them to the public school.

To me, private school is a good solution for affluent parents who are focused on education but required to live in an area with really poor public education. Since parents often don’t have the choice to simply raise taxes and improve the district with a wave of their hand, private school is a logical solution for them.

What about homeschooling? For one, I don’t believe in my own skills as an educator enough to follow this path. I suppose I would consider an appropriate tutor if money were no object and I was strongly opposed to the public school and I couldn’t move for some reason, but that seems like a pretty narrow situation.

I also often feel as though children are homeschooled to protect those children from certain kinds of knowledge or strongly reinforce particular ideas. However, the purpose of an education is to gain exposure to all kinds of knowledge and build up the tools to interpret and make sense of that knowledge. I want my children to face challenging decisions and ideas, and part of that means being exposed to children and families with different ideas and perspectives and values.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll use them in future mailbags.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Dave says:

    @ Kathryn, Microsoft Excel has a loan amortization template that will help you calculate your loan balance.

    After entering the basic data (start date, term, frequency of payments, interest rate etc), it calculates your payments and has an additional input for any additional payments you’ve made each month. Just go through your records and input the additional amount and it will recalculate what you owe and when you’ll pay off the loan.

    Good luck!

  2. Johanna says:

    Whoa…where did $350K come from? It looks like AJ pulled it out of thin air (or quoted somebody else who pulled it out of thin air) and now Trent is treating it as fact? According to a post on January 9th of this year, the average was supposed to be $200-250K, and I doubt it has gone up that much since then. :)

    Mol, kudos to you for wanting to do something about cruelty to livestock. Have you thought about incorporating more vegetarian and vegan foods into your diet? It’s worth considering, especially since humanely-produced animal products are (1) sometimes really not all that humane, and (2) expensive. Happycow (dot net) might help you find some veg-friendly restaurants and grocery stores in your area. And there’s no shortage of websites and cookbooks full of vegetarian and vegan recipes.

  3. AJ says:

    I did quote someone who very well might have pulled it out of thin air.

    She seemed incredulous at that number, and I was trying to point out to her that $350,000 isn’t nearly as outrageous as she thought. I certainly wasn’t asking a serious question that I thought Trent would take time out of his day to answer (although I do very much appreciate him taking the time to think the whole idea through, as I was just making a semi-off-hand comment on a comment thread).

  4. tentaculistic says:

    “I do pick up a few books for my own use. When I have one of those, I either give it away to a reader randomly (I just pick a commenter that tickles my fancy)…” Oh, pick me, pick me! :)

    I agree with you totally about “Shop Class as Soul Craft” – sorry I didn’t comment on it, work made me drop off the face of the earth that whole month when you did a review – that book has really stuck in my brain and I sent a copy to my graduating nephew (who’s a smart kid who’ll do great in university, but it never hurts to have a good trade to put you through or fall back on). This weekend when our stopped-up sink repair went dreadfully awry and we had to call a plumber, I said to my dh “this service could never be outsourced to China” – an almost-quote from Shop Class as Soul Craft.

    Other books I also liked:
    -“The Survivors Club”: as a one-time read, to tuck away in your brain, statistics and accounts on who actually lives through extreme crises and why.
    -“World War Z”: both as a bizarrely good read, a great book for discussion with anyone who’s read it (they will be as obsessed as you, almost guarantee it)… and because my job involves planning for disasters, and it’s basically a step-by-step outline of societal breakdown. Expecting “them” to rescue you rather than planning for yourself is one of the most important mental hurdles to overcome in emergencies, and taking it to that logical step of no government or society at all is an informative and useful mental exercise.

    Right now I’m reading some books that “everybody” talks about and I figured I should actually read – “Rich Dad Poor Dad” (my read was that pretty much all the stories he told were made up to make his points, but I could see the value of it as a literary device, and was surprised by how much I liked the message of the book) and “Outliers” by
    Malcolm Gladwell (also very thought-provoking, still in the middle of that one, but I would think a must for any parents because of the statistical analysis of behaviors and results!). Oh, and the last of “The Princess Diaries” series because yes, my inner tweener girl loves those books! :)

    I might check out Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem” since I keep seeing it pop up in my library’s eAudioBook list, and listening to captivating books has become my main way of forgetting that really I am not enjoying running to get in shape *at all*. I read “Cryptonomicon” (pretty awesome) and “Snow Crash” (interesting but significantly weaker) and started “The Baroque Cycle” books but just couldn’t get going. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by the beginning of computing (I also loved “The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy…” by Cliff Stoll but maybe it’s because it’s all so simple even I can follow it). Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Emily says:

    Just a comment on Private school – I send my children there – we are by no means affluent, and many of the kids I see don’t appear to be either. We live in a great school district – one of the top in our area. But we send our children to private (christian) school because we want them exposed to what we believe in and we want reinforced a set of core values, not simply because it’s the “right” thing to do but because that is what we’re called to do.

  6. Johanna says:

    Also, @Tamara: I recommend reading Liz Weston’s articles on MSN Money if you don’t already. She had a really good article a couple of months ago about putting together a budget based on the framework (from the book “All Your Worth”) of spending 50% of your after-tax income on needs, 30% on wants, and putting 20% into savings and extra debt payments. (Minimum payments on your debts are classified as a “need.”) True, it’s a “one-size-fits-all” guideline that’s not going to fit everybody, but I think that Liz (and the authors of “All Your Worth”) has a point. If you’re spending 50% of your income on rent and another 20% on your car, say, you’re going to have a hard time making ends meet no matter how hard you try to trim your spending on groceries and entertainment. Trent’s right that a budget by itself is not going to change your behavior, but identifying where your behavior needs to change is a really important first step.

  7. Michael says:

    Trent must think home schoolers have the same dreary stuck-at-the-desk education as public schoolers, except alone. Usually they finish their work in half the time and then read difficult books or build things or go exploring or run a business or volunteer. Since Trent writes about wanting his kids to grow up with those things as ways of life, how can he think home schoolers who do them more often than his children will do them aren’t challenged?

  8. Lisa says:

    * I am becoming increasingly aware of the
    * inhumane treatment to livestock in the food
    * industry. Do you have any recommendations for
    * websites or books to learn more on where to
    * buy organic food and what resteraunts offer it?
    * – Mol

    May I suggest “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” as a wonderful read? Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating locally, raising their own produce (and meat). She’s a very good writer and the book is augmented by journalistic essays from her husband, and short eating essays and recipes from her daughter. Its inspiring and practical.

  9. Lara says:

    It is true that some parents homeschool in order to keep their children from ideas they don’t like, but parents choose to homeschool for a myriad of reasons and tackle it with many different approaches. Personally, I think homeschooling offers the chance to expose your kids to a wider range of people and experiences than traditional school. Who sees more – a child that is daily getting out into his/her community and mixing with a wide range of people or one who everyday is sent to spend the day with the same 25 kids their own age in a highly structured environment. If you’re going to comment on homeschooling, it might not hurt to do a little more research on it first like you do with your other topics. A good place to start might be Lisa Whelchel’s book So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling. It isn’t the best book out there, but it is a quick read and gives a good overview. I’m actually a little surprised by this comment given your rave review of the New Global Student.

  10. Gary says:

    Hey Trent – I posed this question in the comments of Reader Mailbag #83, but the comment is still in “moderation” so I figured I’d pose it again here…

    Student Loans Question –

    Hi, recently my wife made the decision to return to school for her teaching certificate. We made the decision to take out a Stafford loan (unsubsidized) at a fixed rate of 6.8%, the duration of this portion of her schooling is 4 semesters.

    This semester (the first), we had an excess of $3500 that was returned to us by the school she’s attending. Her school advised her to keep the money in an separate account for her final semester, as she won’t be able to work during it.

    It seems to me that paying interest on money that’s just sitting in an account for 1-1/2 years is kinda crazy. There’s no way I could safely invest the money and get a return of 6.8%, so we’re effectively losing money each month by going this route.

    My thought is to keep this money, refuse the next dispersion of funds (for semester #2) and use the $3500 to pay for the next semester of school. The only problem is that we’ll eventually run into the issue of her not having an income for several months. That said, we’ve got a comfortable emergency fund and no debt other than 1 vehicle and a mortgage. Any thoughts/suggestions/ideas?

    For now, we’re just paying the accrued monthly interest (to avoid having that interest capitalized when repayment begins).

    Thanks in advance!

    – Gary

  11. michele says:

    The first web site that pops up from a search of what is the purpose of education is http://www.teachersmind.com/education.htm
    it states there really is no clearly defined idea of the purpose. The purpose you stated is your definition. If you chose to home educate you could make sure your idea of education was accomplished. Do the teachers in your district hold the same definition as you do? Do the parents of the students hold the same definition? Are your ideas of when and how challenging ideas/decisions are introduced honored by all parties involved in your public school system?

  12. Heather says:

    Regarding the inhumane treatment of livestock: Have you considered not eating meat at all? It’s easier than you think, and being vegetarian or vegan can save you a LOT of money in the long run.

    See http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/GoVegetarianToSaveMoney.aspx

  13. Josh says:

    I prefer to hunt and fish for most of my meat. This way, I know exactly where the animals came from, you could argue they lived a free and wild life, and I know that I personally harvested them as humanely as possible. Plus, they taste great and the meat from wild game is generally healthier for you than other sources!

  14. Bavaria says:

    Just a few thoughts to add to the school comments. As commercial fishermen, we are gone from home 5-6 months of the year, so homeschooling was an obvious choice. Granted, the kids may have missed out on some events the ‘regular’ school kids had, but they’ve also had some tremendous opportunities because of their different lifestyle. There are pros and cons with every situation. Thankfully, there are options to choose from depending on circumstances.

  15. glad to see Anathem getting mentioned. This is one of the better sci-fi books to come out — ever. If I could write one tenth as good as Stephenson has in that book…

    Anyway, I am always happy to see someone with an attention span long enough and a mind engaged enough to enjoy the book. Would love to read what you made of it…

  16. Archirat says:

    I don’t know if homeschooling is always the best option, however, there is the ability to choose what your children are ready for. (It is not always about indoctrinating or excluding certain kinds of knowledge.)

    When I was in high school, the sheer amount of homework was stressful and I was emotionally unable to cope with all of it despite going to a therapist. There have been cases of children in grades 1-2 getting burnout from the HOURS of homework that they have because of increased demand from teachers and parents.

    I simply do not agree with giving young children so much homework that they no longer have time to decide for themselves what they love to do.

    I’ve also found that public school and college foster only a couple kinds of learning styles, most of these are excellent for academics, but for business-minded people, kinetic-minded people… school can be a real trial. Everyone can learn and love learning, but not everyone can learn the same way and excel the same way.

  17. karyn says:

    As a homeschooling mom, I have to say that one factor in choosing homeschooling is so that my children will be exposed to knowledge and great ideas. As a former teacher, I can tell you that all to often, kids are only exposed to “fluff” and “surface knowledge”. Rather than the great ideas of philosophers, theologians, scientists, etc, they are exposed to the little chunks of information necessary for passing the state tests.

  18. Nansuelee says:

    I agree with Emily. We sent our children to the local Catholic school. We are not affluent and fortunately the school is affordable due to tremendous parish support. We feel our children received the reinforcement of our values each day at school and received a great education. Knowing they were in a loving enviroment each day was a big plus. Unfortunately I do not see the public school as being that way. When our children speak of favorite teachers, they are from this school. Our only “regret,” it is only through sixth grade.

  19. BarbS says:

    Hi Trent — I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but there’s a small HTML error in the list of books above. Looks like some of the text got pasted into the HTML tag (link). No biggie, but probably something you’ll want to fix when you have a chance.

  20. Cheryl says:

    While I agree that many home schooling parents do so with the primary motive of sheltering their children from “undesirable” information, I believe you miss the mark when you imply that home schooled children lack a rich and varied experience. Most of the home schooled children that I know (and I know a lot) have an education and experience that far surpasses their public school counterparts.

    Our choice to home school has many, many motivating factors, but limiting the children’s education is not one of them. Primary, I think, is the profound waste of time coupled with the artificial nature (30 children grouped together by virtue of their age alone) of the entire experience.

  21. Jen says:

    I have been teaching public school for many years, and have known many kids who are homeschooled and who attend private school. I have known great kids who thrived all three situations. I’ve also seen unhappy kids whose personality made a 25-person classroom unbearable, uneducated kids whose homeschool environment didn’t require them to study subjects (math? writing?) they didn’t like, and private school students whose parents hoped that a strict school environment would be a “cure all”. Education is a very contextual decision — each option is right for some families and wrong for others. I do caution, however — don’t assume you know what is happening with public school unless you’ve visited. A lot of talk about public schools has no basis in fact — people add up their bad memories and the things they’ve seen on TV, and come up with a sort of dystopia picture of schools, then shoot arrows at it.

  22. Kim says:

    Don’t forget “Olive Kitteridge” for your book list, Trent.

  23. Meg says:


    “is only $53/day or so”

    ONLY?! That’s over $19k a year — more than some families even make! And you say “ONLY”?!

    Our household income is fortunately larger, but not so large that I could ever imagine saying something “is only $53/day or so”.

    And yes, that does sound like an unreasonable amount to me. I don’t know anyone personally who could truly afford to spend that much on a kid. But hey, I guess some people can. But to those parents, please, for your kid’s sake and the sake of society as a whole, spend wisely and don’t just spoil your kid. They need to learn to appreciate what they have — and that others aren’t so lucky, often through no fault of their own.

  24. steve says:

    I know 2 girls home-schooled by the same parents, only they are 8 years apart in age. The older one finished school at 16 then moved out on her own. There she discovered the course her mother and step-father had chosen wasn’t accredited. She enrolled in another course on her own and finished all the required work in less than 6 months. Although she had successfully completed the coursework, the school refused to grant her diploma before 2 full years had passed. She then enlisted in the National Guard.. only to have to take the GED because they required it.
    Her sister is 16 now and behind in her studies. The parents are using the same tools so her “education” will not be accredited either. She also has the emotional maturity of about a 12 year old because she has been so isolated she has virtually no social skills.
    I’ve also known kids who had attended both public and a private “Christian” school. They reported that drug use was higher in the private school because the students had more money.
    I am not criticizing homeschooling, private schools or religious institutions. I just think that parents should be aware that no matter what option they choose there will be benefits and negative aspects. For people who choose home schooling, I feel you are doing your child a disservice if you don’t let them experience at least a couple of years in public school. That opinion has nothing to do with the quality of education, it just means giving your kids something in common with a majority of their peers.

    Personally, no matter what how your child receives their education, I believe the best thing you can do for you them is instill a love of reading. All of the most knowledgeable people I know, irregardless of their formal education, have one thing in common: a love of reading!!

  25. Nick says:

    @ Emily, #3:

    This is the exact reason why you shouldn’t (in my opinion) enroll your children in private schools, and is the same as why Trent said he wouldn’t home school his children either.

    If you only expose your kids to a narrow set of beliefs and values, they’re going to be in for a big shock when they’re forced to enter the real world.

  26. Michele says:

    My husband and I chose Catholic schools for our two sons…and not because we were wealthy, but because we wanted a solid religious education in addition to a solid academic education. We also reinforced the religious and academic aspects at home. The Catholic high school that was about 1/2 mile away from our home was a blue ribbon school, as was the public high school a few miles away. We felt we made the right decision to send them to a Catholic school. Both of our sons played several sports each year, so they interacted with many kids their age who didn’t attend their school. One son is about to graduate from a state university; the other chose a military career and after completing his commitment, got a wonderful job in the computer industry. He’s completing his college education at a state university, also. They have both said they too will send their kids to Catholic school. It was worth it to them!

  27. Izabelle says:

    I have to admit that I am torn on the private schooling issue.

    I grew up in a rural area where private schools do not exist. Everyone, rich or poor, bright or not, goes to the same public school (no other choice except perhaps homeschooling). My parents fought very hard, to no avail, for me to have access to advanced programs because I was bored and yet always passed with ease (and straight A’s). They had me skip a grade, which did not help (once you get over the slight bump in the learning curve, it is back to effortless straight-A’s, only with all the other kids hating you). I would have given anything to go to a private school with a special curriculum. Instead, I got de-motivated, cut class a lot and grew up with a very low self-esteem.

    What scares me is that a school reform has since passed in my province that has lowered the standards – school is now even less challenging. I do not know what I will do when I have children.

    Trent, your solution of spending the money on extra-curriculars and “broadening their horizons” may not always be the solution. This is what my parents did for me, and I am thankful. But it made school more boring, less challenging and less relevant to my needs, not to mention the difficulty relating to the other, less “aware” children in the classroom, who were jealous and mean. I am by no means advocating under-stimulating a young mind, only saying that in some cases an adapted curriculum during the school day (which is unfortunately easier to find in a private school) can be crucial to a child’s development and happiness.

  28. Average Joe says:

    With regard to the $350,000 number for raising a kid – when you really dig into these numbers, you find that one of the biggest categories is the imputed rent for the child’s housing. For example, if renting a room in a house typically costs $500/month in your area, then that $500/month is included in the number. Over 18 years (at 6K/year), that’s about a third of the total cost. However, most parents will not seperately break out this cost. It’s really a misleading number – almost as misleading as the reoprting of the U.S. “Savings Rate”.

  29. I’d guess that Kathryn is not paying mortgage to a company, but rather an individual and possibly a family member, hence the sticky situation. Good luck with that one, Kathryn! A spreadsheet will indeed be your best friend!

  30. Alex says:

    Here’s my question. The usefulness of automating your finances is well-documented on this site and others, but it strikes me that that same principle would be incredibly helpful if it could be applied in other areas as well, for instance automating shopping, doctor/dentist’s appointments, personal fitness, eating/cooking, and an infinite many other ways. Do you have any tips/websites that would be helpful to automate your life?

  31. Robin says:

    Lenetta (#17), I came on here to make that comment, but you beat me to it. Kathryn, if I were you, I would take the time to learn the interest rate formulas. They really aren’t that difficult, and one you have learned how to use them it will only take 5 minutes a month or so to calculate your new balance.

  32. Dagmar says:

    Kathryn, could Wolfram computation engine be of any help? http://www.wolframalpha.com/examples/MoneyAndFinance.html

  33. Stephanie says:

    Trent, I think you missed the boat on the homeschooling issue. There is an old stereotype of the religous homeschooler sitting home all day, every day in order to protect their kids from the evils of our secular society. But, nowadays, there are a lot of people who homeschool for other reasons. Most of us laugh out loud when someone suggests that our kids aren’t exposed to the world, because we feel like we hardly ever have time to just sit at home.

    After a busy morning of academic work, we head out the door to experience the world. I know for a fact that my kids have been exposed to more ideas, books, experiences and activities than any public schooled child. Our field trips aren’t limited to once or twice a year, we do one almost every week. Sometimes it is hard to squeeze them in among our homeschool sports, our academic co-ops, our social events with our homeschool groups, scouts, music lessons, art club, volunteering, hiking with our friends, swim meets, community college classes and more. Even after all that, though, we still have time to do things together as a family, eat dinner together almost every night, travel and pursue hobbies. I feel sorry for those poor school kids, locked away all day, then doing homework all evening.

    That said, each family needs to do what works best for them. And if your public school system works for your kids, then I am happy for you. Ours didn’t work for us for many reasons. It couldn’t provide an enriching and challenging education for my kids. So, please stop disparaging homeschoolers based on an outdated stereotype.

  34. Laurie says:

    I’m always amazed at the people who claim that public school is “exposing the children to lots of diversity and experiences.”

    The truth of the matter is that Texas and California (the two largest buyers of textbooks) decide what everyone in the rest of the country is going to study (for the most part).

    I’ve not heard of public school system yet that is truly educating children in the liberal arts. .

    Public school probably is great for the average child – and is especially good if you have a child who is learning disabled and they happen to be in a program that meets their exact needs (which depends on where you live).

    Smart and hard working kids are the ones short changed by disruptive classrooms, standardized tests and pathetic standards.

    Anyone who wants to raise well educated kids – who (gasp!) can *truly* read needs to read John Taylor Gatto – New York’s teacher of the year who actually studied the history of education and the reasons why the school system was NOT DESIGNED to do anything more than educate the lower and middle class masses to be good members of society and contribute to the common “good.”

    When there is a public school that is designed to actually teach kids to think for themselves using logic and reason (and I’m not saying that some kids don’t – just that schools discourage that behavior) then and only then will I consider sending my children to a public school.

    For now, my “overprotected” children will continue to be homeschooled. My four yo and 7 yo will be living and learning in their 5th location, 4th country and 3rd continent. My children don’t understand what diversity means because that is the NORM for them. They find it strange to be somewhere where everyone is the same color or the same age or the same religion or of the same political bent.

  35. friend says:

    #13 Steve,

    [ir]regardless of their formal education

  36. Dean says:

    The best spreadsheet I ever found for calculating interest payments was at http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?t=1157173

    Requires a recent-ish version of office rather than openoffice though

  37. Michael says:

    What happens when diversity and lack of protection become the tests of good education? Mixing bad education with good is seen as a good idea. That’s all Trent is proposing here – to lower the average quality of his children’s educations.

  38. Carey says:

    Lenetta, Robin – I’m with you. Trent, I think you may have been a little too eager to use your Jump to Conclusions® mat with Kathryn and her mystery mortgage. It sounds like a family deal. My guess was that the lender trusts Kathryn to do the figuring herself, and Kathryn wants to make sure she’s doing it by the book.

  39. Sari says:

    I think Trent dismissed private schools and homeschools as educational options without really knowing the full story about either. Here is my take on the whole public school/private school/homeschool debate. First from an educational quality point of view and second from a financial point of view.

    First, homeschool.

    While homeschool laws and programs vary widely from state to state, in Iowa, where where I live (and so does Trent), homeschooling can be a really wonderful option. There is really no need to be a trained educator yourself. All you need is a love of learning and the ability to share that with your child.

    Iowan parents have access to all the same textbooks and the same extensive regional educational library that the public school teachers do and the children receive monthly home visits from the homeschool teachers, who also guide the parents in their teaching efforts. Also students participate in weekly classes at the homeschool office, and can choose dual enrollment, which means the kids can study some subjects at school and others at home. (Not up for teaching your kids calculus? You don’t have to! Worried about social isolation? No need!) Homeschooled kids in Iowa can also participate in all the extra-curricular activities that the school district offers.

    Some homeschooled children do turn out to be socially inept and ill-equiped to deal with the real world, but that is not an inevitable outcome, nor is it an outcome limited to homeschoolers. Parents are responsible for raising well-rounded, competent individuals no matter how they are schooled. When you homeschool there is more responsibility but also the potential for more reward. Homeschooled students can also turn out to be far better educated, more competent, self-determined, etc. than their traditionally-schooled counterparts and often do.

    It is also a mistake to assume that homeschoolers are a bunch of religious nuts. Parents homeschool for a wide variety of very valid reasons, not just a desire to “protect” their kids from the world or push a religious agenda. In my time as a homeschooling parent I only met one family that was homeschooling for religious reasons.

    Private school or public school?

    As for the private versus public debate I think it is a misperception that a private school can offer more for a gifted/advanced student. I took my own daughter out of a K-12 college prep school and enrolled her in the local public school where she has access to the district’s gifted and talented program, very low-cost summer enrichment programs, etc. Her younger sister who was behind grade level in some subjects has also benefited greatly from the special needs programs available in the public schools, going rather quickly from the bottom of her public school class to the top. Private schools do not always have enough students or resources to devote to the relatively small number of students who will need special attention. The public school district can share the costs of special needs/gifted and talented teachers among the many schools in the district and has enough students on both ends of the spectrum to justify the expenditure.

    Another consideration is that public school teachers are required to be certified teachers, private school teachers are not. This can lead to a great deal of inconsistency in the quality of teaching your child will receive from year to year.

    A big benefit of private schools is the emphasis on attending a good 4 year college after high school. When your kids are surrounded by peers with high academic expectations of themselves your kids will also tend to have the same lofty goals for themselves. At my daughters’ public school many of the kids do not plan to go farther than the local 2-year community college, if they even plan to continue their education post-high school. Not everyone will benefit enough from attending a 4 year college to justify the cost, but if you feel that your child will, that is something to consider when choosing how and where to educate your child.

    Having tried homeschooling, private school, and public school I will say that there are upsides and downsides to all. I would hesitate to recommend one over the other, it really depends on each individual family’s educational needs and lifestyle. Ultimately what you get out of any educational system depends not only on the quality and structure of the educational options in your area, but also what you and your children put into it.

    From a financial perspective (since this is a personal finance blog) I will say that unless you live in an area with really terrible public schools, public education offers the most educational bang for the buck. Private school is often as costly as a private university, and homeschooling usually requires a stay at home (i.e. non-income-earning) parent, both of which can mean fewer financial resources for non-school related enrichment activities. A free primary and secondary education also means more resources for the parent’s retirement and the kid’s college savings.

  40. Josh says:

    I live in an area where the taxes are high and the schools are considered national schools of excellence but we are considering sending our daughter to a private school next year for kindergarten. The reason is the style of learning provided. The school in question uses the montessori method which is less focused on benchmarks and more focused on discovery. We may struggle financially to send her but to us it’s worth it.

  41. Liz says:

    Kathryn should go the Microsoft Office Templates page and download the “loan calculator with extra payments.” It’s free and it will calculate her monthly ending balance for the life of the loan, which is what I think she’s looking for. I would post a link but I’m not sure if that’s allowed on this site. Regardless, it’s easy to find via Google.

  42. Gretchen says:

    @Steve: my brother is a very fine person who has a great taste for adventure, moved to Japan without knowing Japanese and now knows it well, and has a great job. He has hated reading for as long as I’ve known him.

  43. Manshu says:

    It is very easy to get distracted with all the different means of communication we have today. It takes real discipline and focus to cut out the noise. If some people can’t appreciate it, I feel sorry for them, not for the person who is trying to be productive.

  44. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “That’s all Trent is proposing here – to lower the average quality of his children’s educations.”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m proposing! I want my children to be intellectually dependent on others! What a concise summary of my views, Michael!

  45. AnnJo says:

    Trent, you should not assume that a willingness to pay higher taxes for public education results in a better education. If that assumption were true, Washington DC (annual per child cost of nearly $16,000) would be first instead of dead last on every measure of student learning, and Utah, with the lowest expenditures (about $6,000 per student) would surely not be above the national average on those same measures.

    Higher taxes provide higher teacher salaries. The salaries are set based on negotiations between elected school boards and teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions often have elected those same school board members, and if that isn’t the case, can often manipulate the boards by strikes (usually illegal) that keep school from starting at the beginning of the school year.

    How much teachers get paid has little to nothing to do with how good an education is provided to the students. Even classroom size (within limits, obviously) has less significance than is usually believed. Average class size for elementary self-contained classes: Washington DC 19.5, Utah, 24.2.

    A district full of people willing to tax themselves, however, sometimes means a lot of parents heavily involved with the school, and that can help a lot.

    Trent, you write to cogently about reducing the costs of living while improving its quality. The same kind of thoughtfulness is needed for public finance as for private finance. Why would you abandon your standards when it comes to education?

  46. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    All of the homeschooling defenders have made up a straw man for what I’ve said.

    Very few homeschooling parents indoctrinate – meaning they leave out or focus on specific areas intentionally. I never said such a thing in my response; instead, homeschooling parents brought it up defensively and made a straw man from my statements.

    My concern with homeschooling boils down solely to diversity in educational perspectives.

    I do not wish to ever be the primary educator of my children because I know very well I would skew them with my own perspectives, no matter how hard I try not to do this. My perspectives would still come through in every word I chose, every book I encouraged them to read, every discussion we have. I want them to have as much exposure to other perspectives as possible, because I know they’ll get my perspective anyway, as they’re my children and they live in my home.

  47. Rosa says:

    Every time homeschooling comes up, a bunch of homeschoolers come out to say people who choose not to homeschool are WRONG and SMALLMINDED and giving their kids bad educations and this is why…

    It’s funny because they are all saying they are broadminded blah blah blah but it makes them sound like cult members.

  48. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Trent, you should not assume that a willingness to pay higher taxes for public education results in a better education. If that assumption were true, Washington DC (annual per child cost of nearly $16,000) would be first instead of dead last on every measure of student learning, and Utah, with the lowest expenditures (about $6,000 per student) would surely not be above the national average on those same measures.”

    You’re comparing state-by-state educational dollars, which don’t mean much. What tells a bigger story is the local tax levies at the municipal level, which is what I was talking about.

    “A district full of people willing to tax themselves, however, sometimes means a lot of parents heavily involved with the school, and that can help a lot. ”

    That’s the truth of it. I’d be willing to bet that any municipalities that have a history of voting in more taxes to help the local school district has a pretty good school district on their hands because the community supports it and is actively involved in it. That’s the sign of education success, in my opinion – a town that cares about it.

  49. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Trent must think home schoolers have the same dreary stuck-at-the-desk education as public schoolers, except alone. Usually they finish their work in half the time and then read difficult books or build things or go exploring or run a business or volunteer. Since Trent writes about wanting his kids to grow up with those things as ways of life, how can he think home schoolers who do them more often than his children will do them aren’t challenged?”

    Your stereotypes are tired ones.

    I went to public school. My teachers always encouraged me to read independently and often recommended challenging books. We were also encouraged to work with charities; I even started a short term one to help children of people ousted by the Mississippi River Flood of 1993.

    My choices in those areas had to do with my home life, not my school life. My parents pushed me hard at home and encouraged my teachers to push me hard at school.

    Public school fails students only when parents fail kids.

  50. Archirat says:

    I believe my phrasing was blown out of proportion, but the fact that it was blown out of context is just a sad testament to how some parents abuse homeschooling…

    I simply wanted to say that there would be more opportunity to structure a curriculum that would fit your child’s specific needs. Public school might very well be the best option for your children, but don’t demean yourself by thinking that you cannot offer them what they need should circumstances require, or hint, toward other options.

  51. A great book to read on productivity, time blocking, and doing more with less, is “The Four-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferris. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Pick up a copy and read through more than once, it’s that good!

  52. Lara says:

    Trent, I really don’t think that most the people responding about homeschooling were trying to set you up as a “straw man.” In your post you stated “I also often feel as if children are homeschooled to protect those children from certain kinds of knowledge or strongly reinforce particular ideas.” You also state that you prefer public school because you want your children exposed to a variety of ideas and a diversity of people, thereby inferring that public school is better than homeschooling in this regard. Perhaps this wasn’t what you meant, but that is certainly how it came across. Your later post explaining why you want different teachers than yourself was much easier to respect. The one comment was certainly out of line. No one who has read your blog would ever suspect you of wanting anything but the best for your kids.
    Public school, private school, and homeschooling can all work well and they can all work poorly. Like financial decisions people need to – Do what works best for them and understand that it might not be the best decision for someone else. Even if you have no intention or desire to homeschool, I think you would find some of the information about homeschooling to be intriguing. It might expose you to some people with “different ideas, perspectives and values.” (-: It would probably at least help you understand why many people responded so defensively to your comment.

  53. Shevy says:

    I disagree with so much of what you’ve said here regarding both homeschooling and private school but it’s late and I wasn’t going to take time to post. Then I read this:
    “Public school fails students only when parents fail kids.”

    That is so wrong on so many levels. You cannot just blame the parents for an institution’s or the education ministry’s problems.

    Public school fails, for example, when a popular and charismatic teacher is convicted of sexual misconduct with a series of female students. The parents had no idea what was going on. They weren’t the ones at fault. (This particular situation took about 30 years to come out!)

    Public school fails, for example, when 2/3 of a child’s class consists of ESL and at-risk students, resulting in little attention being given to the “regular” students. The parents’ only “crime” is to not make enough money to live in a different catchment district.

    Public school fails, for example, when a parent goes for Meet the Teacher night in October or early November and introduces herself to each of 8 teachers as “so-&-so’s parent” and only *one* teacher actually knows who her child is!

    Public school fails, for example, when there is so much demand for a core course, required for graduation, that they end up adding an extra class at 7 am! It compounds the failure when it adds up a graduating student’s credits a 2nd time partway through the year and decides that a) the child is going to be a couple of credits short and b) there’s nothing that can be done; the child will simply have to graduate the following January.

    These aren’t stereotypes; these are real. The first 2 have been in the news in my community over the past couple of years. The second 2 happened to my child the one year of high school that she attended a public school.

    What did I do when she called me up in tears after learning that they had “miscounted” her credits and there were no openings in any classes she could use for credit? I phoned her old (private) school and we were in the principal’s office about an hour later. Less than an hour after that she was back in her old school with more than enough credits to graduate and no 7 am class.

    And the bonus? She was struggling in Biology 12 and there were too many students having a variety of problems for her to get all the help she needed. There was *no* Biology 12 at her old school that year but the science teacher had a free period at a time when she was available. So they created Biology 12 just for her and she passed with a solid B. Tell me that would *ever* happen in public school!

    Oh, and cost? Sliding scale with tuition assessments below scale based on circumstances.

    There is no one school or system of education that works for every child and every situation. You may even find that each of your children will need different educational choices in order to be successful. I’ve done all 3 (public, private & homeschool) at different times with my 4 kids and 3 of them came out on the other side and now have good careers. The 4th is still in Grade 1.

  54. Johanna says:

    “She was struggling in Biology 12 and there were too many students having a variety of problems for her to get all the help she needed. There was *no* Biology 12 at her old school that year but the science teacher had a free period at a time when she was available. So they created Biology 12 just for her and she passed with a solid B. Tell me that would *ever* happen in public school!”

    In the public school I attended, I had a teacher create an AP Music Theory class just for me. The math department was willing to create a second-year calculus class just for me, but the schedules didn’t work out. This was a better than average public school, I’m sure, but not by a whole lot. It certainly wasn’t the best in the area, by a long shot.

  55. Johanna says:

    “I want [my kids] to have as much exposure to other perspectives as possible, because I know they’ll get my perspective anyway, as they’re my children and they live in my home.”

    Exactly. Your children will be exposed to other perspectives (and they will be, eventually, regardless of the educational path you choose for them). Some of those other perspectives might come from people who don’t have children of their own. This is exactly what a lot of us were trying to say in the thread about candles in the wind.

  56. Michael says:

    Trent #44: I know you are writing sarcastically, but that is exactly what you are proposing. It’s clear from this blog that mentally, socially and financially you are in the enviable position of being able, along with your wife, to give your children top 0.001%? 0.0000001%? educations yourselves. Yet you want to deliberately give your children some measurably worse state education along with the good education they’ll get during the off-hours instead of giving them 100% good education. The only reason you’re doing it is for the sake of diversity.

    Even though you were sarcastic, you correctly identified that you want to lower the average quality of your children’s educations. I hope you realize what you’re losing before your children are too old.

  57. T says:

    Saving vs. Divorce
    I recently read a report that stated how savers and spenders often attract. Say that you were a saver and no matter what budgets you made, how often you preached the importance, the significant other just would continue spending. I am in a similar situation…I’ve tried to explain, but the money disappears…after changing everything to my name, I found the significant other had opened a new credit card where the statement was sent to work so I could not see. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything else in the relationship is great…very much in love, but find myself sacrificing things I want to do to keep paying off the other’s debt. I have the need to be stable money wise…so my question is…given all of the above, if money is the only problem in a marriage, is divorce the only way for a saver to be 100% happy? If you’ve tried budgets, allowances, cutting up credit cards, long talks about retirement and the future, etc…what are the options other than that?

  58. Dawn says:

    Just a comment on the question about reading on a more humane approach to eating meat – Catherine Friend wrote a book called The Compassionate Carnivore: Or, How to keep animals happy, save Old MacDonalds Farm, Reduce your hoofprint and still eat meat. It is a good read.

  59. deRuiter says:

    One excellent reason for home school or a specialized school like a Christian school, is that the children grow up with people like themselves, they socialize with people like themselves, and they marry people like themselves, which makes life easy (you have a better idea of what you’re getting in a spouse, and the entire community has a stake in your success, and is ready to help) and continues the homogeneous community. Amish do this, Mennonites do this, the Dutch Reformed do this, Orthodox Jews do this, groups of very wealthy people in rich areas do this, all groups which incidently have an extremely LOW VIOLENT CRIME RATE. Home school or private school helps homogeneous communities to continue, to pass on their beliefs, to marry like minded individuals. On the other hand, if you want to find out which school systems produce (not necessarily graduate) the most violent people in America, the least productive citizens, look to public schools in cities like Detroit, Gary Indiana, Newark NJ, paterson, NJ, Chicago. These are all places encouraging a rich, multicultural curriculem where every lifestyle and government regime is considered no better than any other. The public schools practice programs which guarantee failure (think bilingual education where children graduate without fluency in English). At the moment you are free to educate your child as you wish in America. The teachers’ unions are fighting private schools, and home schooling, because these institutions take work (money & power) from the unions because they do not use union teachers. FOLLOW THE MONEY!

  60. Anna says:

    #56 T: Marriage counseling! It isn’t just for people whose relationships are falling apart. It can be for people just like you whose relationships are otherwise in good shape. (And trust me: if the money problem continues, it will erode your marriage in other ways.) A trained third person will help you and your SO talk to each other, and listen to each other, and understand the underlying reasons for this disparity, and resolve it.

  61. Shevy says:

    Wow, Johanna, that’s impressive that your public school created a class just for you. I can’t imagine it happening here in the public system. As I said, they wouldn’t even try to come up with a 2 credit course of *any* kind that would have kept her graduating on track. The fact that they hadn’t bothered to count up the number of students in Grade 12 in order to make sure there were enough English 12 classes available for all those who still needed to take the class in order to graduate (hence the addition of the 7am class a week after school started) speaks volumes. But they added that class because they couldn’t ignore 25 or 30 kids. A class for one? No, she can graduate next January. And this was a highly desireable, west side school, high in the rankings.

  62. Emily says:

    Private school may be “indoctroning” my children but at least I know what they are getting!

    Studies show that private schools succeed not necessarily because the education is better (I don’t think it is) but because there is more parental involvment. If I’m going to pay out $5000 a year per child – I’m going to make sure they’re getting the most out of their education…and hold my child and the school accountable for it.

    But it’s about personal choice – I think my point to Trent was that it’s not reserved for those with ample resources, many of make HUGE sacrifices for our children’s education…that’s a priority for us.

  63. Lesley says:

    I think Trent missed the boat on private school and home school options – as do many folks who have always simply accepted the public school system as the only option for them.

    We are by no means wealthy. But we sacrifice to send our kiddo to private school. We live in a “good” school district, but public schools in our state focus far too much on teaching the standardized test – and little else. They do NOT teach children how to solve problems or think for themselves. To succeed in the future, our children must learn to solve problems. Teaching to the standardized test does not accomplish that.

    And talk about indoctrination. The left-wing, anti-capitalist indoctrination now pervading the public schools is far more dangerous than a religious private or home-schooling education.

    We chose a moderately priced private school that focuses on problem-solving, critical thinking skills, entrepreneurship, etc. My favorite part is the business and entrepreneurship class – even for kids as young as 5. They learn about revenue, expenses, profits, marketing, etc. The older kids even have an elective to launch and run a business, with the help of a mentor in the community.

    Preparation at our private school for standardized testing totals about 5 hours for the entire year – compared to hours upon hours each week in the public schools.

    Also, disruptive behavior and social promotion are too pervasive in the public schools. In our private school, if you don’t perform (behaviorally or academically), you’re out. That way, the kids who want to learn are not dragged down by the dregs of society.

  64. Why I homeschool

    I can teach my two kids better than 1 teacher can teach 25 kids. Yes, I am a college graduate, but I think this would be true even if mom/dad only had an eight grade education. Once the kids surpass mom and dad’s knowledge, local community colleges step in.

    I like being around my kids. I love learning. My kids love learning.

    I want my kids to be able to think in spheres and cones outside the box. School does not foster that.

    I’m convinced the job market will be very different in 20 years, and I don’t think schools are preparing kids for that, unless they go into service or manufacturing.

    I had some awesome teachers in PS, and I’m still in touch with one of them. The scene has changed though. While I had access to more AP classes than I could take, schools are lucky these days to have anything other than the 3Rs.

    Every PS teacher I know thinks homeschooling is a good option. I know several PS teachers who quit so they could homeschool their kids.

    The teacher your kid gets at PS is the luck of the draw. Last year, my best friend’s kid had a teacher who decided on Day 1 he was trouble. They had a horrible year. This year the kid has an awesome teacher that understands the kid and meshes with the family.

    I like homeschooling co-ops. I purposely don’t teach any of my daughter’s classes, because she latches onto me. I do teach my son’s science class, and I teach science class for some older kids. The kids get exposed to different teaching styles and I get to do science experiments.

    The only thing I don’t like about homeschooling co-ops is that I do have to be careful of what I say. There are many different reasons to homeschool, and some of the parents actually do homeschool for religious reasons.

    We have time for 4H, singing lessons, piano lessons, Colorado Children’s Chorale, swim class, visits to the science museum, butterfly museum, art museum, and whatever other museum strikes our fancy.

    When family emergencies arise, it’s no big deal to pack the kids into the car and go. School work can come with us. They miss their friends, but do not fall behind in class.

    My kids surprise me sometimes. They can think on their own, and they don’t just take mommy and daddy’s opinion as their own. The classic example is that I’m agnostic. My husband is agnostic. While my 6 yo son is on the fence, my 8yo daughter totally believes in God and asks us to take her to church on Sunday.

    I don’t think homeschooling is for everyone. My best friend could not possibly homeschool her son–he’s too argumentative and so is she. It’d be a bad scene. My sisters shouldn’t homeschool their kids. One sister’s kids need that daily interaction with other people. The other sister’s kids have control issues.

    My son would probably survive public school. I think he’d be bored, but he’d survive. I suspect my daughter would be crushed like a bug.

    If the kids ever come to me and say “I want to go to school” and it’s for a real reason and not “I want a lunch box,” I will let them go to school. It would be so much easier to send them to school, after all. (I could get an out-of-the-house job.) I doubt they will, but who knows what will happen once the hormones kick in.

    In my experience, few homeschoolers do this to restrict the kids’ information. Even the super religious homeschoolers I know still want the kids exposed to other ideas, so the kids know what is out there.

    My husband was not into the idea of homeschooling. After a few years, he is. We both had decent public school educations with teachers we liked, but we think in this day and age, homeschooling is the appropriate choice for our family.

  65. Kate says:

    Saving for Multiple Things

    I have so many ideas of different things to save for, but I’m not sure of the best way to approach it. In the retirement category, I’m maxing out my company match, so that seems right. I’m also putting $25/week into a Roth IRA with Vanguard. How useful is this if I’m hoping to become a stay-at-home-mom? Beyond retirement, I’ve got 2 months of bare-bones emergency fund in a Vanguard mutual fund (that I put $25/week into). With my credit union, I’ve got another 1.5 months of bare-bones E.F. in a money market. I recently read your post about doing a CD ladder for an EF, but do I transition to that & ditch the money market & mutual fund, or somehow do all of it?

    After all that, there are liquid-but-not-definite plans for the future that will cost money. Saving for a wedding, saving to upgrade to a house from a condo (extra mortgage payments vs. saving??), saving for kids, saving for private schooling, saving for a boost toward college… Not so far in the future is the long wishlist of projects for around my condo for home improvement, which includes the junk heating/cooling system…

    What’s the best way to save for all these ideas with different & undetermined lengths? Do you have a “bucket” for each one, just lump them all together, or only separate it as “emergency fund” & “other?”

    Thanks for challenging me for thinking about money in different & smarter ways!!

  66. Diana says:

    Home schooling has come a very long way for parents who take advantage of the many options available now. When my kids were young, I home schooled my daughter for one year. But, based on that experience, I would not have continued doing it.

    Since then, however, I have changed my mind. My niece has home schooled all three of her children. She is completely absorbed in the process, and they are more well-rounded than any other kids I know. Field trips are a regular part of their educations and they socialize with their peers on an almost daily basis. These field trips include all sorts of fun activities, from music and art related, to cheerleading and trips to museums, botanical gardens, historical sites, zoos, etc.

    The parents each have special talents which add to the educational experience. The children’s natural interests are encouraged, as well.

    One of my nieces has become an absolutely amazing designer and seamstress. Her plan is to go into fashion design as a career. Every opportunity is provided to get her there. Each child is given such encouragement and support.

    As far as the academics, these children are way ahead of the average student in their age groups. They have built in tutors for individualized help at every step. Truly, no child is left behind. The kids exceed all state educational guidelines.

    Of course, this is the best of the best home school situation. Any parent has the same opportunity for their child. With careful research and lots of commitment, it can be the best option for a child’s education. The only issue is whether at least one parent can commit enough time to make it work. That could be the missing factor for many families with both parents working outside the home.

  67. Miguel says:

    Hi there Trent! I have I question for you: in one of your posts (this one: https://www.thesimpledollar.com/2009/10/13/when-one-partner-is-self-employed/) I have noticed you use a dryer to dry the clothes you take from the washing machine.
    Being such a cost-sensitive person (that even uses home-made laundry detergent) why do you use a dryer?! I really don’t get it, I only use mine a few times per year (a dozen or less, and only if I have tons of laundry at a time that I want to take care quickly), all the other times I hang the clothes outside or in the garage if it is raining, a small opening in each of the garage allow wind to enter and dry the clothes.
    Knowing how much electricity a drying machine uses, I simply don’t understand how can you use it on a daily basis.

  68. Cindy B. says:

    About the mortgage. I read that if you do not make extra payments to your lender, and instead put the money in an interest bearing account you will have enough to pay it off in 1/3 less time. Something about mortgages are simple interest (calculated monthly) and a high interest savings account is compounted daily.
    This might be wise especially since you have to figure out by yourself. Just wait until you have enough for a payoff.

  69. Katie says:

    @Josh: My son attends a public school Montessori. It is wonderful. There are more than 200 counties in the U.S. that have them. Check to see if it is available in your area! I think the existence of this school underscores Trent’s point about municipal tax dollars. I wouldn’t say that is the only measure of whether local people value public education, but I think – combined with other factors, like looking at the level of parental involvement in area schools – it can be an indicator.

    Also, Trent’s wife is a teacher, and if I were a gambler I’d bet she teaches in a public school. It is almost automatic that his experience of what is positive where she teaches will sway his opinion. I think the fact that he wants to send his kids to public school indicates the schools are pretty good. In our area, lots of public school teachers send their kids to private schools.

  70. Cheryl says:

    Trent wrote: “My concern with homeschooling boils down solely to diversity in educational perspectives.

    I do not wish to ever be the primary educator of my children because I know very well I would skew them with my own perspectives, no matter how hard I try not to do this.”

    Trent, thanks for clarifying your opinion. It is interesting that this discussion comes up now, because I have recently struggled with something along these lines.

    First some background information… I am staunchly libertarian, my husband is moderately conservative, and most of our friends are independents or liberals. We regularly attend church, but adhere to one of the more liberal, progressive denominations. I home school our children utilizing the Classical Method, and we are reading our way through “The Great Books.”

    Now my dilemma… Recently one of my teenagers has been dipping into old copies of my husband’s “National Review”, and I have became aware of the need to counter this influence, which has alternated between being humorous and annoying. I do feel the need to point out that my son did this entirely on his own.

    My approach has been two-pronged. First, I began purchasing “liberal” slanted media and keeping them around the house. My son reads everything, and I can already see results. (Whoever wrote “candle in the wind” was on target, so far as this child is concerned.) My second idea has been to organize a discussion group for the “Great Books”. Several friends and acquaintances have expressed strong interest in participating, and expect the final group will be quite diverse.

    While it is true that I am the sole educator for my younger children (ages 8 and 10), I have long since ceased to be so for my teenagers (ages 14 and 16). The very nature of the teenage beast is such that they seek out what information they want, and the public library is their favorite source.

    I feel that one of the most important contributions I am making to my children’s educations is that I am giving them the tools they need to formulate their own decisions. Will they be immune to my libertarian views? Probably not, but I do not feel this influence is any more so than it would be if they were schooled elsewhere. And besides, they love to argue with my opinions, and nothing makes them happier than when they shoot down one of my poorly reasoned arguments!

  71. Sandy says:

    Trent, I have a situation at work I was hoping you could provide some input on. For birthdays, it’s expected that everyone chip in a significant amount on a nice lunch for a person’s birthday in the department. There is really no option to decline – most recently, I got an e-mail at 8 p.m. the night before saying what food was already ordered for lunch the next day (food I don’t even normally eat) and that everyone had to pay $12 each. When I said I brought my own lunch and that I wouldn’t be eating, but that I would chip in a few dollars for the colleague who was celebrating the birthday and partake in the celebration, the person wasn’t willing to change the food order and didn’t understand why I felt “forced” to give. I suggested that if we clear the food selections with everyone first, that might help. And that as a department we should agree on a comfortable and affordable process for everyone. (There are many new people, including myself.) So far, this suggestion has been ignored. I’m afraid this can get out of control – in the six months I’ve been there, I’ve been “mandated” to give $20 for another birthday and $20 for a baby shower. There are 8 people in the department, so this is a nice chunk of money every year and I can’t afford it. Unfortunately, no envelope is passed around, so my most recent act was very much noticed. Do you have any suggestions for still making this a nice good will gesture without seeming like I don’t want to participate?

  72. Andy says:


    Here is my question:

    I just recently finished my first historical novel (The First Man In Rome). I have to admit, it blew away my expectations. Do you ever read historical novels and if so, do you have any recommendations? I can’t wait to get my hands on another one.


  73. Johanna says:

    @Andy: I’m a big fan of books by Edward Rutherfurd. Each one tells the story of a different place from ancient or medieval times up through the present. He stole that format from James Michener, but I think he does it much better.

  74. Sarah T says:

    The “average” cost of raising kids presumably includes both those whose parents pay for college (a group I feel very lucky to have been a member of) and buy them cars, and parents who work two jobs to make ends meet and kids on food stamps. To tell whether a frugal person will come in under the average number or not, you probably need to know a lot about the demographics of the group used to make that number.

  75. Michael says:

    Johanna, those look pretty good. Thanks for the recommendation.

  76. Rachel says:

    Hi Trent,

    After spending three month unemployed, and getting hired in a tough economy, I feel as though I’ve entered a sort of “AA” for spendthrifts. I making headway on my balances, and have plans outlined for saving, investing, etc. I’ve also noticed that the stress of going from unemployed to new employment has left it’s effects on my waistline. This got me to thinking about how control of personal finances has a lot of parallels to healthy diet and excercise, such as impusle purchases/treats, planning ahead, etc. What are you’re thoughts on this?


  77. Daniel says:

    You picked very good topics w/ the public vs. private vs. homeschool education. I don’t know all of the particulars of this discussion. I am the product of a public education. I graduated in a class of twenty-two students, twenty-plus years ago.
    I am now a returning graduate of a junior college completing an elementary education degree so I can go to a four-year college and be a teacher.
    I have known several classmates there who were homeschooled with the majority public school graduates. I think the difference in the quality of student is mostly dependent on the student and their support system(parents). I do know that of the homeschooled students I know the schedule, meaning the education dense time, is more difficult to adjust to than the curriculum. These students are in a new world with all of the distractions and pressures which are new and may be frightening. It usually takes about two to three weeks longer for these students to get assimilated into college life than public or private school educated students.

  78. Todd says:

    This entire gives me hope for the state of civil discourse in this country (or at least among the kinds of literate people who read The Simple Dollar). While some posted just to be defensive about their own personal choices, most people really seem to be able to see the value in other people’s choices even when they disagree. If everyone could do that, I wouldn’t worry about any of our children, no matter where they are educated.

  79. AnnJo says:

    @Andy (#72)

    Kenneth Roberts is a great historical novelist. His “Oliver Wiswell,” a book about the American Revolution from a Loyalist’s point of view, is one I come back to with pleasure every few years. “Lydia Bailey,” about the Haitian Revolution and Barbary War, is also fascinating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *