Saturday, January 23, 2016

How We Afford Catholic School

After our disastrous 6-week run in a public charter school, we homeschooled Sean for a bit, then we eventually got back into school and both of the boys now go to our parish school.  The Catholic school tuition system, like the cost of higher education, is broken.  However, balancing all the elements of our kids' education, its where we find ourselves right now.  I always remain open to homeschooling again at some point, but at this moment in our lives, we all need the community of our school (I hate the word "socialization" as a rationale in and of itself to send your kids to school, even if its a terrible academic or emotional situation), James is thriving in the structure of a classroom, and Sean has wonderful friends and has a lot of ownership in his school community.  On the whole we are happy there, and we truly believe in the mission of Catholic education.

That doesn't mean its cheap though.  And, given our deliberate decision to remain a single-income family, financing this Community requires creative thinking and lots of sacrifices.  As I see it, we are at the bottom of the family finances totem pole: The top being DINKs (Dual Income No Kids); then DIPS (Dual Income Public School); then SIPS (Single Income Public School-- Or Single Income Homeschool): then suckers like us: Single Income, Catholic School.  Right now, we find our tiny Catholic school to be the best place for our kids.  So, we have to make it work on our one (Public Defender) salary.  I hear people say all the time "We can't afford private school," or, we'd love a Catholic education, but its just so expensive, we can't do it."  It is expensive.  But you can do it. It just takes a little more thought and discipline when you're at the bottom of the finance totem pole.  But, if you make a decision for your family and you believe in that decision, own it and make it work.  Here's just a few ways we are doing that:

1. Ask for Help
Did you know that almost every private school has funds set aside specifically to help people who need it?  AND, most pastors WANT people to go to Catholic school and also have (additional) funds set aside to help people who need it?  But, you have to ask.  When Sean started back in school I thought there was no way we would qualify for financial aid.  We're both lawyers.  But, then I started looking around and noticed I was one of (maybe) 2 moms in the class who didn't work.  Plus Cody's "lawyer" salary was earned by representing indigent (read: POOR) clients.  I thought, why not, maybe our single income was low enough to garner some support, or at least pity.  Sure enough, these two lawyers get a little bit of financial aid from the school.  Plus, our super son gets a little bit of scholarship just for being an awesome kid.  Plus, we get a little more financial aid from the Diocese.  This isn't even asking our pastor for help. There are many layers of people who want to help.  In addition to all this help, because Jamesie has an IEP he qualifies for a special scholarship from the state (!) for kids with exceptional learning needs to attend private school (so the public schools aren't stuck with another IEP and the parents aren't stuck with the public schools).

2. Earmark Extras for Tuition
We have a separate savings account just for tuition payments.  Any "extra" money goes directly into this account.  Gifts from family (let them know you need help with tuition!), tax returns, maybe some money you earn on the side (I've known a few moms through the years who maintain part time work solely to cover tuition).  Dump it all in there and don't touch it.  Sell $100 worth of junk from your garage on Craigslist (I promise you will not miss whatever you sell) and put it in there. It adds up, and you won't be stressing about the monthly payment coming out of the monthly budget.

3. Pray
When we made the decision to send Sean to Catholic school, we knew it was right.  We also knew we had about enough money to get him through the half of the semester that was remaining in the school year.  But we prayed about it and we had a lot of peace that this was the right path for us and for him.  Allow the terribly trite statement, but the Lord has provided for us.  Sometimes he requires blind trust to prove that he will fulfill. And he will.

4. Stop Using the Clothes Dryer 
What?  It won't, strictly speaking, pay for your kid's tuition bill, but its one piece in a very deliberate life-style puzzle.  We have always thought of ourselves as frugal, or at least non-frivolous, people.  But about 6 months ago we embarked on a journey of even more extreme frugality to try to bring some discipline to our finances and decisions.  Thanks to this blog we kicked it into overdrive.  We had previously been parading around a $300+ electric bill, but once my natural tendency toward frugality met Mr. Money Mustache's disciplined systematic frugality, it became my mission to stop spending silly amounts of money on silly conveniences (and my stated goal to cut our electric bill in half).

  While MMM is actually an "early retirement" blog, we decided the principles remain the same even if we have a different end goal for the money. We've decided to finance our kids' education instead of retire early, but to do it comfortably.  The first day I read this blog I walked around our house and unplugged at least 15 needless appliances we never use, or use for 1 minute a day, but are powering an additional 23 hours and 59 minutes per day.  I stopped lighting rooms we weren't using (and subsequently changed those lights to LED bulbs (while doing research on our energy usage problem I found our electric company was selling LED bulbs to customers for $1 each, no shipping.  No brainer.)), and decided we can all wear shorts in the summer and sweaters in the winter (shocking, right?).  The ridiculously frivolous temperature of our hot water heater went down to a normal level (which meant my frivolously long showers were cut down to a reasonable length), and I started hanging up our clothes to dry.  The first month our electric bill went down 25%.  The next five months we've been under $140.  TYVM.   An additional $150/month adds up to a good chunk of change to squirrel away for retirement or to put in that tuition savings account. Then I thought, if this works for the electric bill, what else can it work for?  If I make 10 (pretty do-able) decisions a month that save $10 each (water, electric, gas, food), I'm doing alright. But, if I can make 5 (semi-extreme, but still comfortable) decisions a month that save $50-$100 (or $150) each, I'm actually starting to control a good bit of cash. Cody started biking to work (coinciding with his move downtown for work, which we calculated saved $200/month in gas); No more eating out (we were never huge in this area, but convenience and laziness get the best of us sometimes--$50-$100); The already mentioned electric bill ($150); a tightened up grocery budget (which is still pretty high, but discipline in meal planning and cutting out extraneous trips can save us $100/month); we recommitted to cloth diapers (saves maybe $30-$40/mo); Cut our cable and home phone completely ($75/mo--and not a single person of the 6 living here has complained once about not having cable); and completely cut out any thought of ever stepping foot in Target again ($50-$100/mo, because as you know, it is physically impossible to "just run in" to Target for some plastic hangers, or a few bibs, without spending $50.  And $50 would be a good day).

With this change in philosophy and lifestyle come a few other very sensible decisions that Cody and I found are really in our nature, and we feel a huge sense of freedom by outright owning them now.  Our kids will likely never see the inside of Disney World.  That's like a year's worth of tuition, and just inculcates the consumerist attitude that we detest.  We will likely never have more than one TV in our house or host a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese.  As a rule we don't buy our kids clothes, yet they have too many to ever wear all of them.  Family activities are generally not things we pay money to do, rather we go on bike rides, hikes, have a bonfire or visit parks. Once we actually committed to all of these lifestyle choices, we articulated what we have long known, but maybe lost sight of along the way: every single one of these things, we believe, are better for our kids' development as good people than the alternative. Our goal as parents is to have our children know God and seek Him through the good, true, and beautiful.  Where do we find those things in today's culture?  Hiking through a state park with your siblings or going deaf and blind at Chuck E Cheese?  Reading a book with your dad or watching snarky pre-teens on the Disney Channel?  You get the idea. Our kids know us, they know and love our families, they know and love each other. AND, we are saving a boatload of money.

So, with two law degrees and four kids, we have knowingly and willingly put ourselves at the bottom of the totem pole of family finances by choosing one income and private school. But, when done deliberately, this situation can bring immense amounts of freedom.  We pay tuition, we live in a small house-- every one shares a room-- but we don't feel stressed about our financial decisions.  We are not a slave to the consumer culture anymore.  We feel FREE to choose our kids' education and free to do what we want with our money (which is not to give it to the electric company, Disney World, or the cable company).  We feel free to have one of us at home dedicated to being a full time parent. And, most of all, we are happy.  Our kids are awesome people and we love hanging out with them.  We have found that spending less money means more time to hang out, read, talk, cook, and just know each other.  So, kids, if you are reading this, sorry we never went to Disney, but you're welcome for the quality education we chose for you.

* In the interest of full disclosure, we still spend a lot of money in a few optional areas--most notably babysitters and food.  We shop mostly at Costco, so we do make good and deliberate purchases, but like Target, you can't run into Costco for a gallon of milk and come out less than $100 poorer (nor can you get a babysitter to come over to the house for less than $40).  We also buy our veggies from a CSA, which I don't think is saving us any money, but I think we're getting a few more meals out of them.  And hopefully saving on future medical bills.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tea for two

I love the age when my kids start growing out of a nap and start having afternoon tea with me on a cold winter afternoon instead.  They've all done it at about 3 1/2 and it's so precious.  I love having just one awake and home with me at these times to just sit and chat and do nothing but drink tea together.  I hope they'll always want to do this with me.  Today as she was drinking her raspberry tea, Sissy said to me "my tea is very wet." Also, she got a lunchbox (like the boys) and is very proud of it. Also, also, she wears this hat 24/7.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why, Hello There.

It seems we have taken a 2 year hiatus from our blog.  Oops!  Since I last posted back in November, 2103, here are a few family highlights to catch you up:

-We had a baby.  Finbar Patrick, born December 6, 2014.  He was 10 lbs. 6 oz and 23 1/2 inches.  He is now 1 and remains huge. Fin finds it difficult to learn how to walk because he has so much body mass to move around.  He does like to try to talk, and, not surprisingly, he likes to eat.

-Sean went back to school, at our parish (Catholic) school.  He skipped a grade, and after the kindergarten debacle, everyone is much happier. Sean is "transitioning" out of glasses which is bizarre after seeing him in glasses for almost his whole life.  He has lost a few teeth, reads like crazy, has learned how to swim and play baseball, made his First Communion, and wears boxer shorts (his addition to his list of accomplishments/milestones).  He loves Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Greek Mythology, spelling and word puzzles, but does not like to talk about anything to do with boy-girl relationships.

-Jamesie talks as much and whenever he likes and has started Kindergarten.  He is working on learning to read, he has lost two teeth, and is in love with his baby brother and his fluffy cheeks. He is betrothed to a girl in his class whom we carpool with, Caroline--because she told him he was.  He loves to ride his scooter, run, dance, and jump on the trampoline, but does not like to swim, ride his bike, or participate in any organized sports.

-Sissy is 3 1/2 and darling. Her passion is ballet, which she does once a week in lieu of going to preschool this year.  She also loves "characters," and depending on her mood she will tell you that her name is any of the following: Elsa, Fern, Clara, Ruby, or my favorite, Baby Jesus.  I walked into the boys' school with her last semester and a group of middle school girls saw her and waved and said "Hi Elsa!"  Sissy can (nearly) swim, but loves jumping in the pool by herself (with or without warning an adult first), loves dancing, flipping, running, baking with me, and has mastered her scooter.

-Cody now works for the Feds. After two years working in Monck's Corner (an hour away), he is back downtown, about a mile from school, and we all are benefiting from having him nearby.  He is benefiting from the more academic/cerebral nature of the work in federal court and the slower pace compared to chaos of managing 200 clients in state court.  He's still a public defender and has a passion for helping poor clients and giving them dignity through his work, but the work is much different in federal court.  More lawyering, less social work, which is a nice change.

-I was pregnant, then I had a baby, and that has taken up much of my last 2 years.

*Sean has recently found our blog, and has been reading the printed version at night for a week or so now.  He is laughing out loud reading about our early days as a family and begging me to start writing again.  I have so many thoughts and ideas in my head that I thought I'd take another stab at it, to document the history of our family.  My passion is my husband and kids and home.  Hopefully I can reflect that here so we can all remember what it was really like.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The view from where I sit... pretty darn good. And cute.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What are we up to these days?

Sis has re-discovered her baby doll (having spent a long spell under the couch) and is treating her to breakfast;

Jamesie is dominating his letter (and loving play-dough), having told me the name and sound of each of these-- with his favorite right in front of him;

And Sean embarked on a very long journey....
(He read the first chapter but has opted for Boxcar Children since then).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The littlest

Looking back on the last few posts I realize I haven't updated with many pictures of the baby lately.  She has changed so much in the last few months-- her hair is long enough for a teeny ponytail or itty bitty pigtails, and full of curls in the back. She signs a lot and is trying new words all the time.  Her favorite thing in the world is picking out her shoes in the morning, which she definitely has an opinion about.  If presented with an unworthy pair she will shake her head and push them away until she finds a pair she likes. Today for the first time she picked out her outfit, going to her closet and pointing until I got down a certain pink frilly (summer) dress.  She loves stuffed animals and babies, pretends to rock and kiss her teddy bears, but still prefers to turn anything into an airplane, just like her big brothers.  The boys adore her and spoil her. She is such a sweet breath of prettiness and softness and girliness in our home!

Saturday, November 9, 2013


It's a big weekend here in Charleston-- our first ever babysitter/nanny, Valerie, is getting married.  I feel like I'm in a time warp-- she was JUST over here watching baby Sean and finishing up college, and now I'm getting three kids ready to go to her wedding...when did that happen?  Sean has a very special role in her wedding, with a *very* special friend---here's a preview, with more wedding pictures tomorrow or later in the week:

Sean had this weird Bachelor-type smile he would do for pictures, I guess to go with his fluorescent tank top, which he picked out specifically for Greta's visit. 

There's our real Seannie! (And photo-bomber baby sister in the background!). 

Nope, back to Bachelor-Seannie. 

After this followed a long discussion about how each one was really good at doing silly faces.  

Then, I overheard the following, more serious, conversation: 
Sean: Greta, do you know who you want to marry yet? 
Greta: Um, no. 
Sean: Maybe me? 
Greta: Um, OK. 
Sean: Because I know that I definitely want to marry you. 
Greta: OK, I want to marry you too!  

Does that count as a betrothal?  Later, Sean informed her "Greta, I am going to be a farmer when I grow up," you know, just so she knows what she's getting into.  

Domestic happiness.  
When Cody came home Sean told him that Greta's hair looked just like Ramona Quimby's (he just finished all the Ramona books), but like, not her face.  

There are even two little brothers!  When the Reetz clan arrived, Sean ran inside and shouted "Xavi looks like Jamesie!"

Creative happiness.  Together. 

Throughout our visit yesterday Sean would occasionally walk by and just cuddle Greta.  It was like he just couldn't get enough of the fact that she was really truly in his own house again.  During the rehearsal I saw him reach over and just rub her back or shoulder several times, just so naturally and grown-up!

Babies! Last week I overheard Sean tell Annalisa, "Sissy, when Greta comes, there will be a baby for you." 

Serious practice time.  These two are going to nail their roles today. 

5 years after it all began-- Sweet Valerie taking time to just listen and love on our "babies," even in the midst of her own rehearsal dinner.  She is perfect for the vocation she is about to enter into, and we are so happy and excited for her, and feel blessed to have had her in our lives this long.