Guest Post by Frugal Scholar
Since I took issue with Funny’s** premise—that having children is intrinsically and unavoidably expensive—and since I promised to write something for her, here is a short version of what I would say to prospective parents. First of all, I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s books and articles. She is truly a voice for the American middle-class. I love her. In one of her books, The Two-Income Trap, she avers that American middle class folks are in a bind: they MUST buy houses in neighborhoods with good school districts. These houses are pricy and come with high property taxes. Hence, both parents must work. Hence if one parent loses his or her job: disaster! This book, by the way, was written before the bursting of the housing bubble, or, as Funny (or I) would put it, the Bush Economy. [uh-oh! Evan, hang onto your hat! 😉)
When I read Warren’s book, a library copy as befits a frugal type like myself, I found myself saying NO. It doesn’t have to be that way. I feel there is always a choice.
Before I moved into the pricey neighborhood, I would check out the schooling in less desirable areas. Often, the schools are better than one would think. Or there are enrichment programs. I am skeptical of school rankings, incidentally, since they seem to correlate with the wealth and education of the parents. So that is what you get in the “better” school districts.
If the schools are really unacceptable, I would consider homeschooling. Why not? The money you save by living in a cheaper house could obviate the need for one parent to work. I would hate to do this myself, but there are many passionate homeschoolers.
If you decide you MUST live in the great neighborhood, why not rent an apartment or buy a too-small house? As anyone with kids in college knows, the years fly by. A little discomfort in the service of a greater good is a fine lesson to be teaching your children.
As a person who is hardwired for frugality, I run through similar processes for almost every decision I make, from the trivial (which tomato sauce?) to the momentous (which college?). As a general rule, I run a value-test on everything: with two choices, test the cheaper one first. That is why my son did soccer locally and didn’t go for the expensive and time-consuming traveling team. Why? He wasn’t that interested or good. That is why my daughter took a very basic ballet class at the local YMCA rather than at the upscale studio. Why? Ditto. Yet when it came to the summer, we opted for an expensive sleep away camp for both. Why? Because as members of a minority religion, we felt it was important for the children to get a sense of their culture.
I hardly need to say that other families will make different decisions, owing to the different talents and interests of the kids. I also happen to believe that most children are over-scheduled these days. That belief fits into my general laziness.
My happy memories are of trips to the Children’s Museum, Aquarium, and Audubon Zoo—we were members of all and went a lot. Doing art together (I splurged on top-quality materials). Cooking together. Taking walks. Reading. Going to FREE concerts. We spent a lot on trips to faraway grandparents. And, through the years, I kept waiting for my children to get expensive.
**OOPS—just noticed that the post to which I took issue is a GUEST POST. I don’t know what Funny thinks.
(LOL! Funny thinks kids cost even more than pets. And that’s a lot!)
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