Updated on 06.05.11

Reader Mailbag: On Workbooks

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Car buying question
2. Food business
3. Student loan question
4. Difficult car choice
5. Moving from Mint to spreadsheet
6. Savings or down payment?
7. Homeschooling
8. Overwhelmed by mortgage
9. Investing versus loan repayment
10. Hidden messages?

Yesterday’s review of The Total Money Makeover Workbook left several people asking me about other workbooks. While I may eventually review a few of them, I’ll say that most of the ones I’ve seen on the market are exactly like TMMW: they’re just rewrites of other personal finance books with some detail removed and some spaces for writing inserted in their place.

By default, I always would recommend grabbing a notebook and a pen and just working through a regular book instead of a workbook. You’ll get more out of the experience – and you’ll be able to work through the book again in the future or easily pass it along to friends.

Q1: Car buying question
My husband and I are moving from New York City to the Midwest and we need to buy a car fairly quickly. We both have jobs (he’s started his, mine starts in three weeks), and will gross about $75,000 a year combined. We have $33,000 in combined student loans (currently paying minimums) but no other debt, and $45,000 in savings earmarked for the move ($4,000 for the movers), emergency fund (no set amount really), and eventual house downpayment or student loan repayment. While we’d hoped to be able to rely on public transit, the job I found is not actually in the city center and we will need to purchase a car for me to get to work. We can borrow a car for a week or two, but that’s it.

I’ve lived in NYC and have been car-free for nearly a decade – and my college car I bought from a kid in my dorm for $1000 in cash on the hood, no negotiation, no mechanic’s visit, nothing (which worked out fine, but it’s not something I want to do this time). My husband bought his last car five years ago by walking into a dealership and walking out with a brand-new lease, which he ended up returning less than a year later when he was transferred to New York. We are both rusty and kind of intimidated by the used-car buying process.

Our biggest priorities are safety, reliability, and gas mileage; we plan to buy used and pay cash, but every time I look on Craigslist I am overwhelmed, mostly because I am not there in person yet and don’t feel like I will have the time to shop around. I will arrive in our new city five days before I start my new job, and as I will be the one driving the car 90% of the time, we feel that I should be the one to test-drive and pick it out. Ten years of ignoring what’s going on in the car market because it didn’t apply to my life has made me feel like I’m in over my head.

How much would you spend on a car in our situation, and how would you shop for it?
– Rachel

I would buy a low-end inexpensive car to start with, one that will allow me to commute easily for a while but won’t financially break me. I would not compress shopping for a $15K or a $20K vehicle into such a short timeframe. Focus on something very low end with the understanding that you’ll upgrade later on.

I would pay cash for this vehicle. I would also expect that within a year or two, you’d be shopping for a better replacement car, but at that point you’ll have the time and energy and focus to do it slowly and with adequate research.

Don’t overthink this purchase. You’re going to have a lot of other things to worry about when you move, so just go low end and don’t stress about it too much.

Q2: Food business
I made excellent deviled eggs. In fact I always make deviled eggs for every office birthday party or office pot lucks. I have been given so many wonderful compliments and people always request that I make and bring my creation at every office event.

I have often thought about starting my own business making deviled eggs. Here is where it gets sticky, eggs aren’t like cookies or other baked goods that can be left out for hours. Any suggestions or ideas how I could in fact get my business off the ground?
– Debbie

Getting into a food-oriented business is almost always difficult, since there are always a lot of laws and regulations dealing with food handling and food serving.

My best suggestion for you would be to find someone who is in a food-oriented business in your area that you wouldn’t be competing with and might be cooperating with. For example, are there any caterers in your area who might subcontract deviled egg preparation to you?

Meet with these people. Find out what kind of regulations they have in your area. Get an idea of what you’d need to do to start your own deviled egg business. You might find, though, that it would be easier to just work with an already-existing catering or food preparation business.

Q3: Student loan question
I graduated in November and they absorbed all of my loans which were prior to this they were about 25% subsidized and 75% private. This was done as a function of our health care bill. In the process of being switched to all federal loans my interest rate was increased. Upon completion of my degree I consolidated and this is where it gets ugly. First I was lied to about the due dates/terms of my loan – consolidated in March still do not have a loan packet with full disclosure of all terms. Now I have found out that on my loans consolidated and handled by the US department of education that I am not allowed to make additional loan payments towards my principal balance all payments scheduled or not will go towards interest which is at 6%. My loans of $57,000.00 approx are set to I believe (recalling from memory) be at total cost of $154,000.00 and the US department of education is not giving any option to cut that down. Interest is compounded daily.

What do I do to get out of this situation?
– Courtney

Something is very wrong here, and I would probably contact legal help. You should not have ever been involved in a loan consolidation that didn’t provide documentation of the consolidation. That, right there, is a giant red flag. Another giant red flag is a federal loan consolidation that doesn’t allow you to pre-pay.

I do not know the specifics of your situation, but I see several very confusing and borderline suspicious elements in what you describe. It sounds like you may have consolidated through a shady business.

If you have a family lawyer, I would gather up your documentation and get an appointment to see if there’s anything awry here.

Q4: Difficult car choice
After losing a high paying job and readjusting to a salary that is lower, I am still looking for ways to reduce my expenses so that I will stop living in a way that does not allow me to save because I don’t have enough income to cover all of my expenses. One of these expenses is the vehicle I drive, a truck. It was a good deal when I bought it 2+ years ago, but now the gas mileage creates a big expense. It is paid low enough to have a positive difference between what I owe and what Kelly Blue Book says it is worth. Should I try to sell it (can you sell a car you owe money on?) and buy a car that gets better gas mileage? Maybe a used car, but I will have to finance because I don’t have money saved to buy another vehicle. My fear is that even if I sold it, used the difference to put down on a car that gets better mileage, I might not be in a much different position with another car payment. What do you think?

– Ann

You can sell a car that you owe money on, but you have to handle the transaction with your bank involved in the process. The easiest way to do this is to execute the transaction at a branch of that bank when you’ve informed them ahead of time of what the situation is so that they can have the title on hand when you actually make the sale and pay off your loan with the proceeds from that sale, all in one meeting. This is how we purchased our most recent vehicle.

If you’re just moving from one car payment to another, I’m not sure you’re going to be much money ahead on this after all of the taxes, transfer fees, and so on. It’s going to depend on what exactly you get as a replacement, how good of a deal you make on both the sale of this car and the buying of the next car, how much in debt you actually have to go on your next car, and so on.

Are you sure there aren’t merely lifestyle options that could reduce your usage, such as carpooling? Bicycling? Walking? Civic transport? These would all reduce the miles you put on your vehicle, likely saving you significant money.

Q5: Moving from Mint to spreadsheet
I have been using Mint.com primarily as an aggregate. I like it because it pulls all my financial accounts into one easy reference to see how everything is doing. I don’t really use it for budgeting or expense tracking (I have my own custom spreadsheets for these purposes).

I keep having problems with Mint.com not interfacing with various accounts, so I’m ready to dump it. Also, like you have stated about Mint in the past, I am beginning to mistrust a 3rd party app with access to so much of my financial data. I have a vague recollection of you discussing this in a blog post, and that you mentioned you have your own method of pulling an aggregate of financial data. Do you use a spreadsheet and do a monthly (or other regular) update manually?
– Hillary

I pull information into my own primary spreadsheet manually. It’s pretty straightforward. I just have a column for each month and a row for each different account, with debts separated from assets. This allows me to easily add up my assets, subtract my debts, and get a good estimation of my net worth.

Here’s how to build such a net worth calculator in your own spreadsheet tool.

I prefer such tools for privacy purposes and flexibility purposes. They might not be as “slick” as something like Mint, but I don’t have to worry about syncing errors and I don’t have to worry about identity theft, either.

Q6: Savings or down payment?
My wife and I are currently saving up for a house. We already own two rental homes we have owned for approximately 5-6 years. I bought both of these prior to meeting her and getting married, so both loans are in my name only. I owe a total of about $180,000 between the two of them. We have limited equity in both due to the decline in real estate prices. I am in no hurry to sell either. One is rented out so we break even every month and we are living in the other home for now although it’s not a house I would like to live in 3-5 years from now.

We also have $18,000 we owe on a new car we bought last year and right around $20,000 in savings. We share one credit card for most expenses that is paid full at the end of each month. My car is owned free and clear, the only debts we have our the two mortgages (both in my name) and the car payment. We would like to move into a new home in the next year or two. Mortgage rates should still be low and home prices should be about bottomed out (in my opinion). My fear is that my wife will have to carry most of the loan since the other two mortgages are in my name. Should I keep the $20,000 in savings (we plan to have $30,000) for a down payment next year or should I pay off the car in full now and still have time to save up for a smaller down payment?
– Matt

In my eyes, it depends on the interest rate on the car loan. Is it substantially higher than what you’d expect to get on your mortgage if you didn’t have your 20% down payment?

What number would that be? If your car loan is 6% or over, I’d pay off the car loan. Otherwise, I’d hold onto the car loan, make minimum payments, and then make a full down payment on the house loan.

What you’re trying to do is minimize your interest over the course of both loans.

Q7: Homeschooling
What are your feelings on homeschooling? I’m considering homeschooling our children and I’d love another levelheaded opinion on it.

– Dana

It depends on why you’re homeschooling. In short, your educational goal should always be to expand the horizons of your children.

If you’re homeschooling because you believe the education provided in your public school is too limiting and you believe you can provide more well-rounded education to your child, it’s a good idea. If you’re homeschooling because the school district isn’t teaching exactly what you believe and you want to shield your child from those ideas, then it’s not a good idea.

The best gift any parent can give their child is the ability to process information sensibly on their own and deal with a variety of life situations and issues using those skills. If this is absolutely your goal for homeschooling and you have real reason to believe you can provide it while other school situations cannot, then it’s a good idea. If your goal for homeschooling is to reinforce in your children the values you hold dear and to undermine other values that you do not hold dear, homeschooling will have some awkward results.

Q8: Overwhelmed by mortgage
My husband and I bought our current home in 2003 at the height of the housing market in our area with the intent of renting it out as an investment. Through a series of events we are now living in this small home and are upside down in our mortgage by about $80,000. We have learned some hard lessons along this path, and our family continues to grow. To put it simply we need more space and I see no way out of our current home. Are there any options for homeowners like us other than renting out our current home and moving to another home? Is there anything I could be missing here?

My husband is a teacher and I am a stay-at-home mom so we don’t really have extra money to apply to our already huge (to us) mortgage of $1360/month.
– Megan

Your options with just your current home are to continue paying your mortgage bill, to negotiate with your lender for some kind of short sale (where you sell the home and wipe out your whole mortgage at once), to refinance, or to walk away from the home while taking the huge credit hit in the process.

I would be amazed if you were able to get the credit to buy a second, larger home if you’re finding the payments on your current home to be a challenge. The lending isn’t quick and easy like it was five years ago.

None of these are great solutions, I know, but that’s the reality of the housing market right now. Millions of families are facing the same situation you are. It’s not easy. It’s not fun, either.

Q9: Investing versus loan repayment
My wife and I make about $100,000/yr. We have a substantial amount of debt which were are in the process of working off. The following is a rough summary of our debt:

Credit Cards $8,000 at 0% until 3/2012
Car Loan $16,000 at 2.95%
Mortgage 148,000 at 5.5%
Wife’s Student Loans $86,000 in multiple loans all with rates < 4% My Student Loans ~ $250,000 in multiple loans; approximately $140,000 of which have rates about 8%; the remainder of which are about 3% (Medical School is very expensive)

Most of my loans – including all of the loans with the 8% interest rate – are in deferment and can stay that way for another two years.

My financial goals are as follows:
1. Pay off our credit card debt.
2. Raise our emergency fund to 3 months worth of expenses.

I anticipate that this will take about a year to accomplish. My question for you is what the best plan of attack afterwards? Because of some frugal maneuvering (including some moves inspired by your column) we have a substantial amount of wiggle room in our monthly budget after we’ve paid all our minimums. Is it worth investing our gap in retirement savings while making the minimum payments on our loans? I have seen you recommend investing when you don’t have consumer debt with interest rates greater than 10%. Where did you get that number from?

Alternatively, we could tackle more of our debt. We have minimal retirement savings (about $10,000) and we’re not spring chickens; I am 32 and my wife is 29. I will experience a significant jump in salary in the next 3-6 years. We would appreciate any advice you can provide.
– Adam

The 10% number is a good rule of thumb to use, simply because you’re not going to find any sort of reliable investment out there that returns at a rate of 10% or greater over a long period of time. Your best use of your money if you have debts with an interest rate of 10% or greater is to pay them off first.

Honestly, I’d probably put that percentage even lower, somewhere around the 8% mark. You’re just not going to find reliable investments that return more than 8% per year consistently. Extra debt payments offer that kind of return (in the form of lower interest payments) as compared to just making minimum payments on that debt.

In your situation, I’d tackle those high-interest student loans first. The longer you let them sit around accumulating more than 8% interest per year, the longer it’ll take to ever pay them off. 8% interest on $150,000 is $12,000 per year that’s just gone in the form of interest payments to the bank. That’s just not good over the long term.

Q10: Hidden messages
All of your posts reek of your particular values. Can’t you just write without trying to indoctrinate people to be just like you?

– John

I could certainly write to promote a value set that’s different than my own, but what would be the point of that? The only purpose I could see would be solely to earn money.

Now, if I were to write solely to earn money, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about frugality and ways for people to keep their money in their pocket. I’d be telling people to spend spend spend. Why? Advertiser dollars. Companies that make consumer goods are much more likely to put their ads on sites where the writers are whipping readers into a consumerist frenzy than on a site that encourages people to save their money for the important things.

I suppose I could also do things like try to run seminars and the like, but that would (in my eyes) run completely contrary to what I talk about on here. “You should spend less money… except for the $400 I want you to give me for my seminar!” That seems hypocritical to me.

The only possible reason I’d choose to write a site like this one – and eschew things like seminars and such – is because I believe what I’m writing. If I believe in what I’m writing, it’s naturally going to reflect my values.

If you don’t like those values, that’s great. I don’t think you’ll get a lot of use out of The Simple Dollar, though.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Brian says:

    I see a contradiction here, Trent. You state that homeschooling in order to promote your own values is not a valid reason to homeschool (#7). Then you state that you can’t just throw your values to the side in writing this blog (#10).

    The fact is, values are extremely important – perhaps the most important thing. Which is also what makes them a valid reason for homeschooling.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hidden messages? Like what, be frugal, money doesn’t define people, experience matters more than stuff? If the writer is referring to Trent’s Christian values, I think Trent does an excellent job of NOT forcing his religious beliefs on readers, including some insightful criticism of wayward religious thinking (the prosperity gospel.)

    I appreciate your work Trent, and your values. And I’m not a Christian.

  3. Jonathan says:

    @Brian – (#1) – I don’t see a contradiction. Trent’s reply to Q7 is about not attempting to limit your child’s exposure to things that are outside of your belief system or against your own values. His response in Q10 is about how his writing about something he believes in will naturally reflect his values. In #7 he never suggests that parents not pass their values on to their children. What he does suggest is that exposing children only to your values, without giving them the opportunity to see and consider alternatives, may not be the best approach. Having grown up in a sheltered environment I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment.

  4. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – Unless Trent left out an important part of the original question, I don’t get where he came up with the ‘otherwise, I’d be doing seminars and not talking about frugality.”

    What I see as Trent’s [not so] hidden messages are the ideas that: working at home and being a stay at home dad is more righteous than holding a standard job; scrimping on items important to your work (like a replacement, reliable computer) makes sense just because you don’t want to spend the money; not spending money on any extras means a person is financially secure, but having a prosperous lifestyle automatically indicates someone who carries a heavy debt load and lives in total dispair; experiencing a temporary setback = total failure; and any choice is an automatic dichotomy between two extremes – just to mention a few.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Workbooks vs. original book – I don’t think I’d buy a workbook version on its own, but have in the past purchased the workbook after reading the full version (particularly if I had read a library copy that had to go back to the shelves) & wanting a structured more in-depth experience in working through the topic.

  6. Kevin says:

    Re: Megan, in Q8

    I don’t see any mention of a change in income, so I’m not sure why she considers her mortgage payment “huge.” It’s the same as it was back in 2003, and it was fine then, so why is it no longer fine now?

    Maybe she should stop “growing her family” until they can afford to move to a bigger home? In the meantime, why can’t the kids share a bedroom? Newborns can sleep in a crib in the parents’ room. Maybe it’s not ideal, but that’s the hand they were dealt, and they’ve chosen to have all these kids, so they’re going to have to make some sacrifices.

    Regarding Trent’s “short sale” and “foreclosure” advice, I’d add that Megan should find out whether or not she is in a “recourse” state. Foreclosure isn’t always the end of the story. If you live in a “recourse” state, and the bank forecloses and sells your home, they’ll sue you for any shortfall. Likewise with a “short sale.” You’ll still be on the hook for any balance owed on the mortgage that isn’t covered by the sale price.

    I think Megan’s best bet is to hold off on having any more kids (beyond the one that is apparently already on the way), tighten up the family budget, and stay in her current house until the falling mortgage balance (via payments) and rising home value (via market recovery) intersect.

  7. Jayme says:

    Q6 – My husband and I are in a similiar situation (although just one rental home, but renting a small apartment). We don’t have the car loan though.

    I’d encourage you to think about one of these options:
    1) Can you stay in that house for longer than just another year? Allowing you to bank more money. Yeah, it might not be what you’d really, really like, but if another 2-3 years of living there means you can save another big dent for a future mortgage it might be worth it.

    2) Can you live cheaply somewhere else? This is what we did. We rented out the house for more than the mortgage (although just barely more) and rented a itty bitty apartment for 2 years. The rent was super cheap allowing us to save HUGE amounts of money. We’ll now be able to pay that mortgage completely off in case in a few months. If you could get to that point, you could continue to rent out the house (lots more profit!) or instead of paying the mortgage off on the rental, take out a much smaller mortgage on your next house.

    Just a thought that you might not have had.

  8. Jen says:

    Wow, some people are so negative, you have to wonder why they come here. Lighten up.

  9. Johanna says:

    Q8, Megan: It sounds like you are far enough underwater that strategic foreclosure (“walking away”) might make financial sense for you. If that’s an option you want to consider, talk to a lawyer who is familiar with the real-estate and bankruptcy laws in your state. The recourse versus non-recourse issue Kevin mentions is an important factor, but this is a big enough deal that you should not be making decisions based on the advice of some random schmoes on the internet.

    If you move out of your current home, where would you go? With a strategic default on your record, you should probably plan on renting, rather than buying, your next home for at least a couple of years. Is there rental housing available in your area that will meet your family’s needs? That’s something else to consider.

  10. Mister E says:

    I understand a lot of the critisism that Trent gets on here but I don’t see him pushing any particular system of values for the most part.

    Self righteous and condescending at times? Yup, lots of times in fact. But not particularly heavy handed with his values.

  11. Teresa says:

    Trent has stressed finding what your OWN goals are and using frugality to make those happen. His goal was to stay home with his kids but I don’t feel he is “righteous”. I like the fact that he is logical In his thinking as reflected in advice to look at WHY you are making choices you make with money, time, etc.

  12. *pol says:

    Q7 Homeschooling has pros and cons. The biggest pro is you get to choose how the curriculum is taught! With as much depth and personal touch as you want at your child’s own pace (public schools cannot accomodate every learning style with 30 kids in a room). BUT it means a whole lot of extra work on the parent’s part keeping their children SOCIALLY up to speed! And social interaction is something tat DOES come from public schools even if it’s not in the curriculum. Dealing with all levels of differences and finding friends and setting limits… important stuff for real life.

    Q10. I think the question is absurd. IMO it’s YOUR opinions and insights are what makes this blog worth the effort. Not some homogenized fluff piece about functions of money… there are too many of those around already.

  13. Diane says:

    Q10 – And who, exactly, is forcing you to read TSD? Buh-bye, John.

  14. Des says:

    Q7 – I disagree that homeschooling with the intention of teaching children values is a bad idea. Do you let your young children watch rated R movies? Why not? Probably because you don’t think they are ready to be exposed to certain things, things which they will be ready for later but which would violate your own values now. You want your children to learn values such as non-violent resolution of problems and tolerance, which certain movies would undermine. Other people may want to teach their children different values, perhaps religious ones. The values they are trying to teach are no less valid than yours simply because they may be more restrictive. You try to delay your children’s exposure to thing you think are offensive (graphic sex scenes, disturbing images, etc.) and others are simply doing the same.

  15. Another Katie says:

    Debbie, do you think there is a demand for a business based soley on deviled eggs? Sure, your friends and family may enjoy and request them, but that does not equal a market. As for the suggestion to see if a caterer will subcontract you to make them, it is seems highly unlikely that they would hire you for that one task when they have someone on staff that could make them. Plus I worked in catering for years. It may depend on the type of events you do, but we never served deviled eggs, nor did we ever have a request for them. I thnk you should continue to enjoy making them for just your friends. Not everything needs to be or can be a money making venture.

  16. Katie says:

    Another Katie, this Other Other Katie thinks the same. I loved deviled eggs, but realistically, they’re something most people have a recipe for and the best deviled egg on the planet isn’t that different from a mediocre deviled egg. Combined with the fact that they have a short shelf life, it’s difficult to see it as a business. Now taking your deviled egg skills and developing those more broadly into catering generally is a different story . . . .

  17. Johanna says:

    I agree with Des that just because a thing exists in the world (whether it’s a graphic movie, a form of advertising, an opposing viewpoint, or something else) doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to expose children to it at a young age.

    On the flip side (sort of) of values and viewpoints from which parents might want to shelter their children: Since I don’t have kids, I haven’t been following this *that* closely, but as I understand it, some states require that science teachers teach that the scientific merit of the theory of evolution is a matter of opinion, or is the subject of real controversy in the scientific community. I’ve also heard of similar things going on with history curricula. Since my “values” include scientific and historical accuracy, these aren’t “viewpoints” to which I’d want my children exposed (if I had children, and if I lived in one of these states). Would I be condemned for wanting to homeschool for that reason?

    I admit that at least some of the parents who homeschool their children for “values” reasons have values that I find distasteful. If it were up to me, I’d rather those parents send their children to public schools. But it’s not up to me. If you wanted to argue that my values (or Trent’s values, or the values of the people who write the public school curricula) are objectively better than these parents’ values, maybe that’s an argument you could make. But I don’t think the “exposure to multiple viewpoints is always a good thing” argument is a winning one.

  18. jim says:

    Q3 : you should not face any prepayment penlty on a student loan, it is actually the law. You are probably misunderstanding the interest payment. If you got private loans consolidated into federal loan due to medical debts you likely got a good deal. Private loans are generally worse terms and rates.

    Q4 Ann : Note that kelly bluebook can be an often inflated value. Don’t rely on it too far and also comparison shop used cars to check market values in your city.

  19. Ryan says:

    The student loan situation in #3 seems really shady. I have both Stafford and Plus loans and interest does not compound daily. Interest accrues daily, but it is only back into principle I think on a quarterly basis. There’s also nothing stopping me from making payments anytime I’d like, even though my loan repayment start date is September of 2014.

    In almost all cases of homeschooling I’ve seen, it was done for religious reasons. I think this may have been what Trent was referencing.

  20. Tom S. says:

    It is a common myth that homeschooled kids are often overprotected, indoctrinated and unprepared for the shock of the “real world”.

    Trent seems to be saying that parents ought not to indoctrinate their children with their own narrow view of things. Instead, we should turn them over to the unbiased, diverse, balanced, well-rounded goverment school, where they will be instead indoctrinated into someone else’s narrow view of things, over which the parents have little control.

    I guess it comes down to whether you’re tolerant of parents who have a different view of things or if you think that children should be protected from their parent’s bad ideas.

  21. jim says:

    My cousin homeschooled her kids for what I feel are the wrong reasons. The boy caused fights in public school which he lost. My cousin has various extreme religious views. I remember that exposure to teenage mutant ninja turtles in school was a problem for her and the Wizard of Oz was too cause of the witches. The kids were barely educated and taught 19th century gender roles. They are poorly prepared for the real world and the girl at least resents her parents for it. This version of sheltering kids from different values was not healthy choice.

  22. jim says:

    Q3 : you may also need to specifically ask the lender to apply payments to the principle. By default they often use extra payments as acellerate future payments instead.

  23. Debbie M says:

    Q5, Hillary: I thought you were asking how to pull in the financial information and were told how to make a spreadsheet. I don’t know a way to pull information in either; I also use a spreadsheet and just pull up the information and type it in myself. Bookmarks and multiple windows are my friends. (In the olden days, I would wait for the statement to come in the mail, and then type in the information from that.)

    When keeping track of my stock investments, I actually keep track both of the number of shares I own and of the price. Then, even though my shares are in three different places, all I have to do is check my personalized list of stocks on google and just type in all the new values. Then the spreadsheet does the math and shows the totals and percentages and graphs.

  24. Sonja says:

    Q7 – Home schooling. There are pros and cons to this. Traditional schools offer a set routine and children learn organizational skills from this. They also learn that sometimes you have do things you don’t want to do. Kids learn to be part of a group and how to interact with others, how to be part of the class (line up, raise your hand, etc). They have opportunities for team sports and band and chorus and extra-curricular activities with other children with common interests. If you can provide these kinds of learning opportunities as well as the academics, you will be fine. But have your kids tested/evaluated annually to be sure they are at least at grade level. You can usually get this done at tutoring business such as Huntington or Kumon.

  25. valleycat1 says:

    Q1 – “Our biggest priorities are safety, reliability, and gas mileage” – Trent pretty much reiterated what you said in your question. I wouldn’t go too much to the low end, if reliability and safety are that high on your list.

    A great way to check these factors for used cars as well as new ones is the Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Issue published each April. Available at your local library or by online subscription. They have a list of top recommendations as well as extensive charts and discussions of various vehicles. That will help you narrow down the vehicle makes and year of production to look for. Kelley Blue Book’s or Edmund’s website can help you determine the expected valuation based on year, make, and condition. We used all these sources several years ago and were pleased with what we ended up with.

  26. Des says:

    I don’t mean to champion homeschooling, but I also think there is a sort of chicken & egg thing as far as homeschooled children ending up socially…er…awkward. To be very general, weird parents produce weird children, and it tends to be the weirder parents that homeschool. I would venture to guess that those children would be socially awkward even if they were in public school. God knows there are plenty of public-schooled weirdos in the world, after all.

    It reminds me of the Freakonomics documentary where they say that reading parenting books statistically doesn’t make you a better parent. But, the TYPE of parents who go to the trouble of buying and reading parenting books tend to be good, attentive parents. I would speculate that it is not homeschooling that generates weird kids, it is the TYPE of parent that would choose to homeschool that tends to create weird kids.

    (In general, that is.)

    I don’t personally plan to homeschool for more selfish reasons – I want those kids out of the house 7-8 hours a day!

  27. bogart says:

    @commenter 6, Kevin, @Megan’s mortgage may well have gone up a lot since 2003 if she purchased it using an ARM. I wouldn’t assume that her monthly payments now are no more than her monthly payments then.

    @commenter 12, #pol, you write, “The biggest pro is you get to choose how the curriculum is taught! With as much depth and personal touch as you want … ” Well, maybe. I’ve seen more than one homeschooling parent who lacks the knowledge they intend to impart to their kids. Certainly, adults as well as kids are capable of learning, but not every parent has the willingness or the ability to commit to acquiring all the skills they need to be an effective teacher across a wide variety of subjects, even if they value those subjects and/or the effects of being knowledgeable about them.

    @Q10, so why are you reading?

  28. Nancy says:

    #6 Kevin, You speak the truth!

    I’ve taught a long time (31 years) and most homeschooled students have great difficulty academically when they transfer into high school.

    Parents have the best intentions, but some can’t teach algorithms or physics all that well!

    When my children were younger we also “homeschooled”, but it was AFTER school…it’s called lots of homework!

  29. JS says:

    @Q1: A co-worker of mine did something similar to what Trent was suggesting, and it worked well. Chances are, by the time the cheap car needs its first major repair, you’ll have had time to shop for the permanent car and can get rid of it if you don’t want to spend the money. You also might get lucky like my co-worker did and have no major repairs. He kept it as a spare for awhile, then sold it for almost what he paid for it.

  30. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for offering a balanced view of homeschooling. I was homeschooled temporarily as a child, and I have a LOT of friends and neighbors who homeschool; I’ve seen all kinds of homeschooling motivations/situations/outcomes, and I think your assessment is right on the money.
    Most of the homeschoolers I know do it because they feel that their local public schools are not up to par in terms of safety or academic rigor. The parents are well-educated, they seek out external socialization for their kids, and they want their kids to be well-rounded critical thinkers. Those kids are turning out fine.
    I also know a few families who homeschool as a means of indoctrination/isolation. Those kids are the ones who turn out “weird.”
    BTW, there are a couple of other reasons homeschooling can be a good option: it gives tremendous scheduling flexibility (e.g., so families can travel together or accommodate a parents’ unconventional work schedule), and it helps maintain educational consistency/stability for families who have to move a lot (e.g., military families).

  31. Julie says:

    We must remember that Trent is the husband of a public school teacher and thus is certainly not without bias in this area. Generally public school teachers will not acknowlege that a parent might possibly be able to do the same job…if not a better job…with their own children. With a ratio of 3 to 1, I don’t see why the concept is such a threatening to a public school teacher dealing with 30 children at a time.

    Teaching children their values is a primary reason many parents homeschool. Are some stating that my values are inferior and thus it is better that I hand my precious children over to the public school system so they can be taught the values of the public school educators…as though their values are superior to mine? This is a very judgmental conclusion.

    I have had my children in a variety of environments which include private school, homeschooling and finally public highschool. Where I live it is very common to homeschool up through Jr High and then place a child in a public high school. Besides the invaluable time spent with my children, I was able to explain our value system and also teach them the ability to defend that value system. In order to do so, you must expose them to the competing ideas that Trent is suggesting. I don’t know anyone who simply ignores them. However you are also able to do so in such a manner that you can explain to your children that there are actually multiple viewpoints in a vareity of areas…not just the one sided veiwpoint that is taught in the public school system and presented as truth. When the time comes that he/she ends up in a situation in high school, college, etc. where their beliefs will be challenged (and generally disrespectfully mocked) by a public school teacher, they are prepared for the situation. And believe me…it happens.

    When I was homeschooling, I joined several coops for subjects so we could teach certain subjects, such as science and art, in a group. Many of the parents were very highly educated, and one woman in my particular group had a PHD. I found these women (and a few men) to be some of the brightest, most well-read women I have ever met.

    I challenge Nancy (#28) to come up with some statistics about most homeschooled children having difficulty when transfering to high school. This is an outdated idea that has long been proven false unless possibly she is teaching in an area where there are migrant farm workers who are homeschooled so they can help support their families. Or another exception might be if the student was homeschooled primarily to provide extra support for a learning disability. With educational aids available on the internet, it is not difficult at all to teach a child up through Jr. High math. My sons both have a 4.5+ GPA in high school and the vast majority of their previously homeschooled friends have done just as well. In fact it would be fair to state that many are at the top of the class…the cream of the crop…in many areas. Their parents have taken a personal interest and have made incredible sacrifices to educate these kids. They should be commended and congratulated for what they have achieved.

    Finally, it is well known that many Ivy League schools are looking for homeschooled children as it is not uncommon for them to be unusually skilled in the area of critical thinking. My own son was just accepted to an institute that should end up rated as the most difficult to enter (based on admittance %) during 2011. Not too bad for a homeschooled kid!

    It is obvious that many posters today either 1) are not parents 2) believe much of the outdated information (propaganda) about homeschooling that has long since been proven false 3) are really only concerned that the next generation be taught the values that “they” believe to be correct and believe that the government is better able to rear a child than a loving parent.

  32. Julie says:


    It sounds as thought you are trying to use your 31 years of teaching experience to add credibility to your comment, but your comment doesn’t make sense. Those subjects aren’t taught until high school…thus the children wouldn’t have had exposure to them when home schooled through Jr. High.

    Also, it is unfair of you to not mention all of the tools/resources available to teach these subject via the internet if the parent isn’t strong in a particular area. You can actually have your child sit through these classes as though they were in a classroom. Many are even interactive and questions can be asked.

  33. MattJ says:

    There is a youth contingent at the Ballroom dance studio where I learned to dance – they’re all high school age. About 2/3 of the youth students are homeschool (as far as I can tell, for religious reasons) kids who are using ballroom dance lessons as some (or perhaps all?) of their PE credit. I’ve never met a group of kids who are as sharp, polite, and well-adjusted as these kids. My experience with homeschooling isn’t broad enough to talk about it generally, but these kids give me a very good impression of the idea. They’re going to be just fine.

    For what it’s worth, I am not religious, so if I had a bone to pick, my point would likely cut the other way.

  34. Kathleen says:

    Not to be too picky, but…



  35. Julie says:


    I think what you have experienced is by far more the norm than the exception. Thanks for keeping an open mind about homeschooled kids. Personally I believe they will be the leaders of tomorrow…

  36. David says:

    Whether or not they will be the leaders of tomorrow, one may at least conclude with regard to Julian Assange that home-schooled children are the leakers of today.

  37. EngineerMom says:

    We have been seriously considering homeschooling our kids (a son who is almost 3 and a baby daughter on the way) for the following reasons:

    1. The freedom to live where we want, not bound by living in a “good” school district.

    2. The ability to let our kids advance at their own pace, rather than be restricted to whatever grade room they’re in (I was reading at a very high level at a very young age, and was frequently bored in class).

    3. One-on-one time with a teacher on a daily basis.

    4. Schedule freedom – being able to take advantage of discount vacations or cheap flights because we’re not locked into the local school schedule.

    5. Exposure to more cultures. Both DH and I ended up in school districts that were almost uniformly white middle- to upper-middle-class. I had very limited exposure to people from different races and religions until college, except for a few Chinese and Indian guys my dad worked with. I want to take my kids to mosques, churches, synagogues, and as many meetings of people of various cultures as possible – I don’t want them to grow up thinking the world is white and every 16-year-old gets a new car for their birthday.

    6. Avoiding bullies until the kids are emotionally and physically mature enough to handle them. Both DH and I were bullied – nerdy, relatively quiet, bookish, I was taller than the average girl (5’9″ at full height), and we were both chubby until late high school. We were both bullied, and it was horrible. I don’t trust schools to be able to stamp out bullying, especially the emotional bullying that is so much harder to spot. I would like my kids to learn how to deal with conflict, but they shouldn’t need to experience those personal attacks until they’re at least most of the way through puberty and starting to have a more solid foundation of their own principles and self-worth. Middle school is horrible for everyone I’ve ever talked to who wen to a public or private school, yet the homeschoolers I know have said their middle school years weren’t significantly different than the prior or following years.

    7. Time to discover interests. Homeschooling is much more time-efficient – a school day is typically just a few hours long. That leaves plenty of time for kids to do volunteer work, independently pursue activities of interest, and in general find out what really makes them light up. They aren’t locked in a school 5 days a week, for 6 hours a day.

    8. Rewarding time management. Public school does NOT reward time management – it doesn’t matter if you absorb material quickly and finish your daily tasks – you still have to stay physically in the school until “closing time”. There is no value in looking for connections between your classes, no value in working diligently on that day’s assignment or completing a project early because there is no schedule flexibility.

  38. kristine says:

    @Engineer Mom,

    Good points all. But you may want to live where a good high school is, as it difficult for any adult to master the curriculum for all HS offerings. Often HomeS kids go to HighS outside the home.

    Your child may want to do Physics, or Art History, Earth Science, learn an instrument, become a serious artist, or take Drama, or robotics, or AP computer science, or even edit the school newspaper, or all of the above. While all of these can be done to some level at home, the expertise of a teacher accomplished in those areas would be hard to match. For art in particular, I do not believe in art teachers who are not also solid practicing artists. No more than I would want a robotics teachers who had never connected a circuit, or an English teacher who did not also write or read many books. Or a Latin teacher who was not fluent in the language…The ratio difference might not make up for it.

  39. Diane says:

    My sister homeschooled her four boys all the way to high school. When the boys shot up and discovered G*I*R*L*Z, they insisted on attending their local public school. They had lots of friends from their community and did very well. The oldest two are in college now. The third and fourth are heading to HS soon. Their transition will be even easier as they are in a magnet school that supplements their home learning. I am amazed at all the different options there are to tailor kid’s learning to their needs. I was not a huge fan of my sister’s plan to homeschool, but they have turned out to be bright, well adjusted kids.
    On a related note: Kristen at The Frugal Girl homeschools her bunch and has posted a number if interesting articles about how she manages their education. Worth a look!

  40. Julie says:

    Engineer Mom,

    I can understand all of the points that you have made, but the reality is that point #5 is the least likely to actually happen just because you are homeschooling. While we were the exception, most of the homeschooling families that we knew could not afford much travel unless they could accompany a husband on an occasional business trip. Generally the mother put her career on hold for the sake of the children and most lived quite frugally by necessity.

    Kristine’s point about high school is valid, however I have a number of friends who have homeschooled their children through high school with great results. It tends to require more time and effort in some ways…and less in others, but it is largely dependent on the personality and study habits of your child. There are so many tools available that it is much more feasible today than even a few years ago when we stopped. I would say that one of the most important factors in making the decision to homeschool in high school is the personality of your child. When they become teenagers, many start to “push back” on the parental instruction and sometimes it is easier at that point to let someone else become “the bad guy.” Thus it does pay to consider traditional high school options in the area when purchasing a home.

    The years we homeschooled were not easy, but both my husband and I cherish those years with our children and consider ourselves very fortunate to have had the opportunity. We are also very grateful to those parents who paved the way for us over the past 20 years. They generally raised exceptional children and helped eliminate many of the incorrect negative impressions of homeschooling.

    I would say GO FOR IT!

  41. deRuiter says:

    Megan #8. First of all, if you’re short of money, you husband has ten weeks in the summer, weekends, school vacations and evenings when he could hold a second job to earn more money and prepay on what you owe on your mortgage. School teachers work many fewer days / hours than the rest of the world, and there is no reason your husband could not work instead of using all his free time as leisure. Or you could work summers, evenings, weekends, vacations, and your husband could watch the children. As to, “our family continues to grow.” perhaps it’s time for some birth control until you get more space if your current house is too small. You’re the ones who bought the house, how about your husband getting a second job and prepaying on the mortgage? Then you could rent out this house at a profit when it is free of a mortgage.

  42. Joan says:

    Q#7 If you are considering homeschooling check out a program called K-12. It is in many states and is a free program where they send you a computer and all the lessons for your child; All you have to do is check their work and the answers which are also sent to you. They provide all the lab equipment and they even take field trips. There are many reasons to homeschool, but I found the best reason for me was the freedom to teach the extras like dance classes, theatre, latin, and other classes for which I paid extra; but which my child could attend during the day with other homeschoolers; instead of taking up half the evening. Google homeschoolers in your state and you will find many willing to help with any questions you have.

  43. Joan says:

    Q#7 Oh yes, many colleges now want the homeschooled children because they are better educated than public school children. I homeschooled for seven years, and my child can communicate with all age groups, not just his peer group. He is also an independent thinker, not a spoon fed thinker. He has won awards in reading, English, and Science. Now that he is in high school he is a member of the National Honor Society. I made my own curriculum using many different books, computer, and even lessons on TV. Not everyone can homeschool, just as all public school teachers cannot teach even tho they are in the classroom all day.

  44. Johanna says:

    @kristine: The school I went to – which was pretty good by most standards, although it was small and therefore not exactly flush with opportunities – didn’t offer musical instrument lessons past the fifth grade. Almost all my activity with both the instruments I played came outside of school: private lessons, community orchestra, summer music camp, etc. (I also played in the school orchestra, but that was about half a step above being a total joke.) A homeschooled student could easily do the same, or do similar things with the other activities you mention.

    I suppose there are advantages to going to a public school that has teachers who are the very best in everything. But from what you’ve described about your children’s overscheduled, ultrahypercompetitive high school experience, it sounds like there’s a huge downside as well.

  45. Golfing Girl says:

    @ #4: I would go to somewhere like Carmax, where there is no haggling. The price is the price. Dealerships will wear you down and you have to insist to be quoted the “out the door price.” Another good option is Craig’s List in your new location. Look for cars in the $5000 range, since you have the cash, and maybe you can offer closer to $4,000.

    @#6: Quit worrying about “hers, mine, and ours” debt. You are married now and the lender will be looking at both of you, not just her. I doubt they’ll even consider putting it in her name only since you are married. I would definitely keep your $20K in savings since you are a landlord of two properties and may be on the hook for repairs. I would advocate staying in the 2nd property until you actually get a long-term renter. Until you have two renters who can cover the mortgages, (and can prove that to the bank by showing them lease agreements) you have no business looking to take out another mortgage. Clark Howard advocates a seriously thorough screening process to avoid getting poor tenants and being stuck with people that are hard to evict. Good luck getting the property rented so that you can find a home that suits your needs, but be prepared to stick it out at the current place while you save up. $20K in savings might sound like alot, but I would shoot to double it before moving.

  46. Kevin says:

    I never understood the dichotomy with teaching.

    On the one hand, you have people who swear that teaching is the hardest, most underappreciated, selfless workers out there, criminally underpaid and deserving of every hard-earned penny of their rich defined-benefit pensions.

    On the other hand, you have purile yuppies who consider it to be so easy that they – with no formal educational training whatsoever – can do not just an OK job, but a BETTER job than experienced, professional teachers.

  47. Stephanie says:

    @Julie–I am a public school teacher and I have no problem with parents who want to home school their children–I don’t think I know any teachers who have an issue with it. Not really sure if you’ve experienced negative reactions from a school teacher or if you are just generalizing.
    Once again, I encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in their children’s education to read “Weapons of Mass Instruction” By James Taylor Gatto (or anything by him really…)

    @kevin–you seem to know nothing about teaching and don’t really seem to appreciate or respect the profession, so please stop commenting on it. I am tired of hearing you go on and on about “rich teacher pensions” (which isn’t even true for most teachers). It’s tired and overplayed…so just stop already. Or move on to another, more accurate (hopefully) point.

  48. Allie says:

    @Kevin – God forbid that different groups of people have different opinions on a matter!

  49. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: I don’t even have any experience with teaching (or homeschooling or raising children), but even I can tell you that there is a big difference between working as a professional teacher (where you’re dealing with 30 students at a time, maybe hundreds of students a year, and different ones every year, each with their own personalities, quirks, issues, talents, and disciplinary problems) and homeschooling your own children (where you’re teaching the same few children, whom you already know and who already respect you as an authority figure, for a period of years).

    I bet that if you gave any professional teacher the same kind of beneficial conditions that homeschooling parents have, they’d achieve superior outcomes too. It’s not magic.

  50. MattJ says:

    #46 Kevin,

    I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten what High School was like. I went to a wealthy suburban school with a good reputation, and I got excellent grades while there. I say that only to let you know 2 things: First, I don’t have a grudge against the school because I was a failure there, and secondly, being at the top of my class, I was assigned to the best teachers in the school, both because I was taking college prep classes and because the school seemed to have a policy of putting the hardworking and/or academically talented students in some classes, while putting the not so talented and/or not so hardworking students in other classes.

    My experience was that most of the teachers were not particularly good at their jobs. They couldn’t control their classes, couldn’t motivate their students to care about learning, and couldn’t really challenge those of us who did care about learning. The best of my teachers (I can count them on one hand) were good at two of those things, but none were good at all three. Of my favorite teachers:

    One was an engineer who had left his career to teach math and was somehow working as a teacher without a teaching certification, but the school district put an end to that and he had to leave the job.

    The second taught physical science and physics who was tired of all the administrative crap that the school put him through and was building a boat in a shed behind his house so he and his wife (a math teacher at a different school) could sail to Hong Kong where they were going to tutor some children of a friend of theirs. He left my junior year.

    The third taught computer programming, algebra II, and calculus. He had a mastery of his subject matter that few of the other teachers could claim in their subjects. When the school got a new computer lab (a changeover from Apples to PCs) the summer after I took computer programming, he went to bat for me and two of my friends who wanted to take a second programming class (the school did not offer it) and we got a special class the next year, the first semester taught by him, and the second semester taught by a student teacher he arranged to have brought in so we could learn a second programming language. He went the distance and recently retired. He and my stepfather (who built his house) keep in touch and he tells my stepfather I was his favorite student.

    Regarding the teachers who I would say were not particularly good at their jobs, I could go on and on. Teachers who allowed open bullying in their classroooms, teachers who allowed their students to openly mock them, teachers who didn’t know their material, professional high school coaches whose day job was teaching basic math, history, or social studies badly, teachers who didn’t know their material (after decades of teaching it!), teachers who would write tests with multiple choice questions featuring no right answer, or two answers that were perfectly correct (I had one teacher who stopped letting me ask questions during the tests for this very reason), teachers whose method of grading essay questions was (apparently) to look at the length of the answer (Sitting on a 98% in History class, I ‘tested’ a teacher who I suspected of doing this by writing a nonsensical story about a biscuit that travelled the world on the back of a whale instead of answering his question about ancient Rome or whatever and got no points taken off. For the rest of the class I would just write whatever I felt like in the spaces he left for essay questions. Perhaps he let me do that because I was amusing him and he was aware that I knew the real answers, but shouldn’t he have put a stop to it? Wasn’t I owed some feedback on my real answers? As a high school kid, I thought it was awesome that I could get away with that, as an adult, I realize I was cheated.) I typically spent the time in his class reading instead of listening to him. Despite his lazy grading policy, he was at least good enough to understand that his material (at the rate he was covering it, anyway) didn’t challenge me, and I had already read the text, anyway. As long as I was reading a history book of some sort he left me alone.

    Remember, I was one of the top students at a comparitavely good school, generally getting placed into the classrooms of the best teachers. A dedicated parent (or group of parents, working together) who can read & write will likely do at least as good as a set of ‘average-to-good’ teachers, and if your student is an average student while your school district has an average school, she probably won’t generally get ‘average-to-good’ teachers, and she’ll get very little exposure to the best teachers. In the face of all of that, homeschooling makes a lot of sense, and ‘yuppies’ opinion of their own teaching abilities (remember, they’re not going to be teaching 5 sets of 25 kids, but 1 set of 1-4 kids whose abilities they know quite well) doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

    The best teachers I’ve had in my life were college professors with little-to-no training as a teacher. They had a love for and mastery of their material that was seldom matched by the teachers I had before college. For that matter, I taught undergrads while I was in grad school and my training for that was a two-hour class dealing primarily with sexual harrassment.

    Sorry for the long post. I get fired up about this because my school failed so many bright kids, and it happens every day all over the country. They’ll likely fail your kids, too. You’re better off teaching them yourself, if you can.

  51. Johanna says:

    @MattJ: “Sitting on a 98% in History class, I ‘tested’ a teacher who I suspected of doing this by writing a nonsensical story about a biscuit that travelled the world on the back of a whale instead of answering his question about ancient Rome or whatever and got no points taken off. For the rest of the class I would just write whatever I felt like in the spaces he left for essay questions. Perhaps he let me do that because I was amusing him and he was aware that I knew the real answers, but shouldn’t he have put a stop to it? Wasn’t I owed some feedback on my real answers? As a high school kid, I thought it was awesome that I could get away with that, as an adult, I realize I was cheated.”

    As an adult myself, I realize that you were cheated, but I still think this is kind of awesome. :)

  52. Allie says:

    Now I just want to read MattJ’s story about the traveling biscuit… :)

  53. MattJ says:

    I wish I still had all of those tests, Allie…

  54. kristine says:


    You are right in that I am basing this on my own children’s high school, where the a voice coach from the Metropolitan Opera coaches our chorus, and our students place as finalist in Intel and Seamans (spelling?) every year. It is crazy with options (e.g. 12 languages taught), and competition. You have to pick a schooling forum that suits your kids. My school excels with extremely bright and driven kids, so my kids are doing well. If I had kid who had difficulty in class- I would choose another district, one that was more nurturing to every kind of student.

    Homeschooling may be best for some, but others have made an excellent point that during the teen years, there will be resistance, and it might be easier for all to go to school outside the home at point.

    But if a kid dreams of being a scientist, and could won the Intel competition, would they have that opportunity as a homeschooler? Do most home-schoolers have the resources to purchase that kind of equipment? My job as parent is just to open as many doors as possible for my kids, whatever door they choose to walk through is up to them. For us that means stretching it to the limit for this district for 6 years, for others it means homeschooling.

  55. kristine says:

    Just a note- in NY, the school districts are funded by property taxes, so wealthy areas have great schools, and poor areas have poor schools. It is definitely not the land of equal opportunity here! But I post all my lessons online, and PDFs of all my handouts, instructions, and rubrics, and hope that teachers with less time or research resources may be able to use them. Teachers can help level the field a tiny bit that way :)

  56. Johanna says:

    @kristine: The Intel competition (used to be called Westinghouse when I was in school) has always really bothered me for exactly that reason – it always seemed to me like it’s a competition for rich, well-connected kids to prove how rich and well-connected they are. My small, good-but-not-great public high school didn’t give me any support whatsoever in putting a Westinghouse project together. I tried to go it alone, but I had no idea what I was doing (I was mostly interested in math at the time, so it wasn’t a matter of access to lab equipment, just coming up with a good idea for a project), and none of the professors I knew were any help, so I dropped it.

    And you know what? It didn’t interfere with my path toward a career in science at all. I still got into (and got a scholarship at) a top school for undergrad, and again for grad school. I think that anyone who has the talent to win the Intel competition, but lacks the opportunity to do a project, could easily do the same.

    And once you’re in grad school, nobody gives a rat’s nether region what you did or didn’t do while you were in high school, or even while you were in college. (An exception may be if you want to go into a really competitive field where professors only take a small number of students each year – then your undergraduate research record may come into play. But for the vast majority of fields, this doesn’t apply.) In fact, in terms of its effect on your later career, I’d say that the only really good reason to get involved in research as a high school student or as an undergrad is to figure out whether you like doing research or not.

    So no, I don’t think that doing your job as a parent absolutely requires that you “stretch it to the limit” to send your kids to a superimpressive high school. Whether the alternative is homeschooling or a more modest traditional school, truly talented students are going to thrive wherever they are.

  57. kristine says:


    I agree it is a game, and I am not in favor of the game at all. I think public education is somewhat fascist the way it is set up. But since we were stuck on LI, (for the kids to be near their day). we do the best we can for them. Since my divorce left me 52K underwater, and with nothing but the shirt on my back, with 2 toddlers, I had very little time to save for their college. We went the alternative route-rent in a great district for high school only, and let my (luck of birth) extremely bright kids thrive. While I know my daughter could have gotten into a good school from anywhere, she would not be able to afford to go anywhere at all.

    For us, so far, it was our only play, and a gamble that is paying off big time- full tuition scholarship to MIT. She tried for Intel, but her mentor college’s laser broke, and it was needed for her experiment, so she was out of the running. But I do recommend, to any parent, the Kaplan courses, it brought her scores up a bit, if only because it gave her dedicated time to focus on the exams, and a concrete study plan. The most effective few hundred bucks we’ve ever spent!

    I too went to a marginal public school, with 1 art teacher, but got a full scholarship to one of the 3 best art schools- a school my guidance counselor had never heard of- I found it in the big book of schools at the library at the advice of my teacher. It absolutely depends almost entirely on the determination of the student. My parents did not even understand why a girl would want to go to college!

  58. kristine says:

    Hey Johanna,

    I just want to make clear that I agree with everything you are saying. I just feel inclined to defend my personal choices, which were excruciatingly thought out, logical for our situation, and worked for us. There are many paths to success, security, and happiness.

  59. Johanna says:

    @kristine: I’m not questioning your personal choice to send your kids to a top-notch high school. That’s the product of your own situation, and if it’s working out for you and your children, then I’m sincerely happy for you. What I’m questioning is the implication that it’s the right choice for everyone (or even most people) with talented kids. If you didn’t mean to imply that, then we have nothing to disagree over. :)

  60. almost there says:

    IRT Q#1, find the car of your choice by researching like valleycat1 recommended. Use a search engine to find the car of your choice. I sold a car like this after listing it at cars dot com and in my local paper. The buyers found the car via a yahoo search. I have been happy with a vehicle I purchased this year on ebay. Lots of cars listed there have a link that you may pay 99 bucks to have a mechanic check it out and give a report prior to bidding. I purchased my vehicle for buy it now $500 less than what the dealer was asking (the largest independent used car dealer in the country located in Houston TX) flew down and drove it home. No vehicles like it were offered in my state for the price I paid. So it was worth the time and travel costs to buy it far from home. Or, use the closest to you search to find the car of your choice and if the price is in your range buy it. Or, if that isn’t your cuppa use an auto broker. More cars on market than buyers. Good luck.

  61. Julie says:

    #54 Kristine,

    I did mention that teenagers sometimes start to resist their parents efforts and that often high school is the time to let someone else become the bad guy, but I know of many teenagers who do not resist. In fact I am aware of a number of families that actually started homeschooling in high school. High school presents a whole different set of social pressure for teenagers, and this is often where the real bullying can kick in. Plus the class sizes are often larger and as a few other posters mentioned, many teachers have absoultely no control over their classrooms. This is a problem when you are dealing with 7 year olds…but it can be a life threatening situation when you have 16 and 17 year olds involved. It can actually be very scary for many children to be in this type of classroom situation.

  62. Julie says:

    Matt #50,

    The experiences of my sons are very similar to yours. I will be generous and say that each had more than 3 good teachers. Maybe about 25% of them were good. Only a handful were excellent, and these teachers were all in the A/P or I/B classes.

  63. Amanda says:

    @45 I agree. $20,000 isn’t very much money. It’s a sufficient emergency fund (which wasn’t mentioned) but there should be a separate fund started for a downpayment.

    Some homeschool without realizing the amount of work that it takes. The parent should become the teacher to help the child be successful. I know of some who let their kid quit because of bullies but she only studies less than 5 hours a week. RIDICULOUS!

  64. DOT says:

    I enjoyed reading and agree with what you posted in #50.
    As well,the best teachers I have experienced in my life had one thing in common..They were not educated teachers, meaning they left college with a degree other then education, took up a profession, experienced life and then decided to pass this experience on to others in the school system.
    A freshly graduated 22 year old with a 4 year “education” on how to educate without actual experience in what they are “educating” is only passing on a limited amount of knowledge obtained through their college days.

  65. Georgia says:

    About home schooling, I don’t know much but I do know it is growing fantastically. The ones I do know about are the Amish. They teach their children until the 8th grade, no high school. They are learning to earn a living and be productive.

    Paul Harvey once had a review of Amish children who left their homes and went onto college. He said that the majority of them tested much higher than regular students who had had high school and many science courses. This may be a little different now with so much tech stuff, but if they are bright, it shouldn’t take long for them to catch up.

    In my area we have Amish who have a thriving business in the building trade. They are bright and motivated to succeed. Hooray for them.

  66. SwingCheese says:

    @MattJ (#50): HA! My freshman year world history teacher used to assign us the same questions at the end of every unit. My friend and I would switch off every other unit – one would do the work, and the other would copy the answers. This worked out just fine when we were in different sections, but at the semester, we were switched to the same class period AND, due to our last names, we were sitting one in front of the other in our row. And although I would reword her answers, she often copied mine verbatim. And inevitably, I would receive a higher score than she would. I never figured that one out! And, as a teacher, although your answers would have amused me, I would have docked you points because they were wrong. I once had a student write an essay about Aeneas’ trip to Disneyland, since she hadn’t studied and couldn’t answer the real question. Her answer did make me laugh. But, it was wrong. As for comments, I wrote something like “Very creative, but there is nothing about the role of pietas here 0/20”. It’s a shame that your teacher didn’t care enough to do the same.

  67. Fawn says:

    Q9- If it were me, I would pay off that 0% interest card before the others, and then work on the one Trent suggested. You have 8-9 months before the interest rate will jump up and you possibly will be paying the back interest on that balance.

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