Million Dollar Kids

Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported in The Million-Dollar Kid (free preview; subscription required for full article) that "The government says families in the top-third income bracket will spend $279,450 to raise a child born in 2005 through age 17 -- or about $16,000 a year. The government clearly hasn't been to some kids' birthday parties lately."

The Journal went on to recalculate the total cost of raising a child, estimating expenses ranging from about $800,000 to $1.6 million (in 2007 dollars) to feed, house, clothe, educate and entertain a child through the age of 17. For the high-end, the Journal included what some parents consider extravagances -- and others call necessities: athletic fees, tutoring, MP3 players, iTunes downloads, overseas travel, nannies, a flat screen tv, years of private school education, a cellphone, a lavish Sweet 16 or bar mitzvah celebration.

Parents always caution that kids are expensive, but who knew? What is your reality in terms of spending on your family? Do you spend too much (or not enough) on your kids? What is the best--and worst--investment you ever made in your children's future?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 9, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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first!

Posted by: first | March 9, 2007 7:06 AM

First, you got me. I'm crushed.

Posted by: Leslie | March 9, 2007 7:11 AM

I wanted to be first or 50,000th. I am crusted!

Posted by: first comment | March 9, 2007 7:36 AM

Wow, 3 posts and not one relevant to the topic. How mature.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 7:51 AM

Wow, 3 posts and not one relevant to the topic. How mature.

Duh - Yours make four!

Posted by: DC lurker | March 9, 2007 7:54 AM

I admit to going overboard at Christmas, but I also find myself saying 'no' a lot, too. My girls are 11 and 13 and we have started making them pay for their own 'extras', like iTunes, purses, jewelry, etc. They will not get a brand new car when they turn 16. It is amazing how much they can do without when they have to pay!

Still, they have a lot more than I did. Does that ever change?

Posted by: ParentPreneur | March 9, 2007 7:54 AM

Our best investments (or maybe VLIs) would be as much travel (yes, even overseas) as our budget will stretch to, books, and our boat which allows us to "camp" on the water on summer weekends. Also 529s for college savings.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 9, 2007 7:57 AM

Hey, it's Friday. My brain is burned out by all our discussions this week. Maybe we just need a slow warm-up this morning...and I, for one, would rather stick my head in the sand about how much raising my kids costs, since it is a small fortune and we're only one decade into the game.

Posted by: Leslie | March 9, 2007 7:57 AM

I read that article this week and actually felt sort of sick after reading it. It begins by describing a 5,000 dollar birthday party for a six year old. The author tried to get at WHY people make the decisions they do about how to spend money on their kids -- although lazy journalists always seem to trot out that old saw about how deep down parents today are motivated by "fear" -- you know, all that stuff about how in this ultracompetitive world, people feel like it's necessary to buy all this crap for your kids or they'll be left behind somehow. It's like this herd mentality, where no one wants to be seen as "cheap" - and where for a lot of people, spending money does seem to equate with love.

However, I think flagrant displays of spending are more likely to be motivated by stupidity and narcissism.


Here are my biggest mistakes thus far in my short parenting career:

1. Gymboree for two year olds. Complete waste of money
2. Elaborate birthday parties (got sucked into that for a while, but thankfully now we're back to cake at the pool and hot dogs too, if you're lucky)
3. expensive summer camps
4. wish I had said 'no' to more birthday invites for more kids and saved the money on the expensive birthday presents -- particularly when there's no real relationship with the family
5. We took a cruise earlier this year, motivated mostly by peer pressure and the feeling that we were missing something. Hated it and wish I could have the money back.

NEXT?

Posted by: Armchair Mom | March 9, 2007 7:58 AM

I don't spend much on them (2, 6 mos.), but am a stay-at-home mom and a cloth diaperer (as often as possible). thus, they get me 24/7 and hopefully a cleaner environment when they're older. too bad their wardrobes are mostly sweats from Wal-Mart ($3/pop) because that's the only thing to fit over their big bums. you should see the looks we get at playgroup where the rest of the kids are in designer this-and-that. oh well.

Posted by: not first | March 9, 2007 7:58 AM

The best home investment:
When each of our three children turned 18 months old we purchased them the cheapest E-Machines PC [usually $300] as 'their' computer. They have grown up learning how to use and maintain them -- and although they are all still in elementary school [5th, 4th and K] they all know the basics on how to use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint [and routinely use them to complete homework].

2nd best home investment:
We eliminated all TVs in the house -- but we have one InFocus projector that is hooked up in our basement. 'Movie night' is a big deal -- because everything they watch is on the equivalent of a 120" screen [note -- Scooby Doo is a very big do]. The Sony 400-DVD changer was a nice addition -- no more loose DVDs all over the basement.

Posted by: A Dad | March 9, 2007 7:59 AM

I pay an extra 50 bucks a month so my daughter can do music and me at school. She loves it! As far as huge birthday parties go, we don't do them. She celebrates in Ohio with her family. I buy clothes at Target, Macy's, and Old Navy.

I just don't get all the extravagance!

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 8:04 AM

The best investments have nothing to do with money. The trips to the library and the extra hugs, kisses and simple fun times today bring the big payoffs.

The close connection of parents, siblings and pets forged by a strong loving supportive family life lasts longer than a lifetime. It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 8:09 AM

I think the same people that are status-conscious for themselves are status-conscious for their children. Thus, the parents that feel the need to have the "right" clothes and "right" car etc. often get fooled into all the other nonsense for their kids.

My husband and I used to joke that our daughter's only experience in "private school" was going to be her one year at a daycare center, which probably put us back about $12k.

We have always been comfortable with money - we have what we need, and even enough for extras without special budgeting, but we are just naturally frugal people so I'm sure that's why the money is available when we want it. I don't want my child to be deprived, but I don't see the point in shopping for her at Benetton rather than Target.

I think the best investment we are making in her future is the money we regularly commit to her college fund, and more importantly, the time we spend together as a family. We've had wonderful experiences together and she's learning and growing so quickly (she's 2.5) and I think it's because of all the things we do together that don't cost a dime.

Posted by: Vienna mom | March 9, 2007 8:10 AM

My kids will never experience a Disney vacation, nor have they ever flown on a plane.

The Jones' are kicking mty ass and I feel guilty that I'm bringing down the property values in our neighborhood because I don't have a SUV parked in front of my house.

Or a hottub in the back...

However, I do have pictures, artwork, and a few cards pinned up on the divider that decorate my office. that counts for something, right?

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 8:16 AM

Best Investment so far (just for reference my children are 3 and 5 and I stay at home):

Preschool starting at 2.5 and all the arts and craft supplies that litter my breakfast nook

Worst Investments: Expensive clothes (don't do anymore, we usually just use credit card points for free Landsend and then get the rest from either Target, Walmart, or Old Navy) half of their toys (trying to curb the amount they get, we are doing MUCH better)

Posted by: Centreville Mom | March 9, 2007 8:20 AM

I grew up having very little (in both material goods and in a stable family life). I want my child to have "more" than what I had on both fronts. I see nothing wrong with that. Some on this Board seem to equate having "things" with being spoiled rotten, entitled, etc. I personally don't see having some nice things and being brought up to be a nice, well-mannered responsible person as mutually exclusive.

However, I will draw the line. My intended do's and don'ts for expenditures:

Yes to vacations, esp. oversees travel, which I feel can be very educational and mind-opening (to see beyond their little world at home). Yes to as much college education as we can afford. Yes, to the fees and such that go along with school extracurricular activities including sports, music, class trips. Yes, to a modest allowance. I will prob. also spoil a LITTLE at Christmas (i.e., one "big" present from mom and dad).

No to extravagent birthday parties, or extravagent parties of any kind. No to tv's in the room and "brand name" clothes except for "special" gifts (see above) or if they are willing to pay for it. No to a car when she turns 16 unless she is willing to help cover the cost of the car, insurance, gas, etc.

These are all I can think of now.

Posted by: JS | March 9, 2007 8:22 AM

Good investments: We got family memberships at some of the area museums, i.e. Natl Zoo, Aquarium in Baltimore, and some of the smaller, lesser-knowns like the College Park Aviation Museum. They pay for themselves pretty quickly. (i.e. parking at the Zoo is free with membership and the cost is recouped in about 3 visits.) The events bulletins we get as part of the memberships remind us to go more often. We love it. Great educational, family activities, and we go somewhere almost every weekend. (BTW, if you haven't been to the Aquarium in Baltimore with your kids, GO! It's just an amazing place.)

Posted by: Nancy Drew | March 9, 2007 8:23 AM

Played cards with 3 y.o. DD last night. So fun! Number recognition, A, K, Q, J too.... Simple time, making up games, playing a drum, strumming a guitar - five minutes can be worth more than a trip to Disneyworld - you just need to deccelerate (sp?) and recognize that these are the good 'ol days.

Anybody being tortured by Webkins games? AAARGH. Cant get DD 10y.o. off the home computer ever since she got one for Christmas.

Banning TV during the week was instrumental for regaining control of the blue light addicts, only goes on to keep younger DD from hitting defcon 6 at days end - or to keep little attention hound away from the older kids while they are sequestered for all this *^$&^$ homework they get.

Money issues? Feed them Ramen noodles and Tang!

Posted by: Fo3 | March 9, 2007 8:24 AM

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

Posted by: Something to Remember, People | March 9, 2007 8:26 AM

I'm glad many people are pointing out that time is the best investment. Hasn't this been studied - your kids just want your time? Instead of the expensive Spring Break vacation that many families I know are are taking my husband and I are taking 3 days off that week, going hiking on Sugar Loaf Mountain one day (good hike for elementary kids), going to the movies one day, and leaving the third day open for anything that pops up.

My kids are fine with watching movies together and making pancakes on the weekends. They don't ask for all the expensive stuff like Cruises. We don't rule them out in the future but it is nice to know that my kids don't feel like they are missing out.

Shopping note again - department stores have great clearance sales at the end of seasons - combine it with coupons and it is silly. Old Navy rules (again, clearance items) and good old Target.

Most expensive monthly item for us as a family - groceries.

Posted by: cmac | March 9, 2007 8:30 AM

I was joking the other day about how I almost never buy new clothes for my kids. My 13 year old is constantly getting comments on her great clothes--mostly bought at consignment shops or thrift sales (but all brand name) or hand me downs from friends. We use Freecycle a lot too. I think they benefit from seeing the ability to reuse items. We also can use the money saved for something else they may want to do: concerts, art lessons, bikes, travel, whatever.

Our worst investment was Catholic school. We moved our kids to public school last year and what a blessing (yes, blessing!) that has been.

One of our better investments has been owning a home. We have owned two homes since our children have been around that were fixers when we bought them. Our children see that you CAN afford a nice house with a little sweat equity. They have learned how to paint and patch and decorate a diamond in the rough and make it a real gem.

Another great investment has been a community pool membership. This has given our kids a summer activity that promotes exercise, team work (swim and dive teams), and being a part of the community. They also see a place for future work opportunities. First babysitting, then snack bar, then coaching. Not every one's cup of tea, but it works for us!

Posted by: Annandale Mom | March 9, 2007 8:30 AM

Re: birthday parties: when my son was in kindergarten, the parents would routinely gather in the kitchen, take turns helping the parents, and talk and laugh about life. First grade, I sent him to some spendy private school. At his first birthday party I was sort of hurt when the mom acted like she didn't want me around. She said her party consultant had told her the grownups should get out of the way. Party consultant? ¿¿Huh??

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 8:31 AM

Re: birthday parties: when my son was in kindergarten, the parents would routinely gather in the kitchen, take turns helping the parents, and talk and laugh about life. First grade, I sent him to some spendy private school. At his first birthday party I was sort of hurt when the mom acted like she didn't want me around. She said her party consultant had told her the grownups should get out of the way. Party consultant? ¿¿Huh??

Posted by: Ms. Blank | March 9, 2007 8:32 AM

My son will turn 4 this year and I'll probably spend about $200 bucks on his party between rental, balloons, and food. I've never had a birthday party for him. The most expensive thing I've purchased is his convertible carseat. I think that was between $150-$200. Good deal too because it lasted almost 3 years.

Posted by: Cheap -Broke Mama | March 9, 2007 8:35 AM

contrary to a lot of the complaints about life in DC, I feel that our decision to move back here when our oldest kids were 4 & 2 was one of the best investments we could have made in their childhoods. all the museums and the zoo are free, and the exposure to different cultures and politics are invaluable.

Posted by: Leslie | March 9, 2007 8:38 AM

funny Armchair Mom mentions the cruise-- yesterday a co-worker was telling me how wonderful Disney cruise line is and that he never heard anyone say anything negative about them and that i really MUST take my family. I almost fell for it, but I think you have brought me to me senses! My little guy seems happy as is-- why spend lots of money on a cruise?

My biggest regret is that we used hand-me-down carseats and they are OK, (not unsafe at least) but I wonder if my child would be happier if i had let him select his very own carseat. Since he is 3 now, it seems too late in the game to get an expensive new carseat, but next kid i will splurge. I may get a bugaboo stroller with the next kid too-- love the way they are so adaptable. Maybe I'll find a used one.

Posted by: Jen | March 9, 2007 8:42 AM

I'm sorry, but the Wall Street Journal figure just does not compute for me. Let's assume that all of my income has gone to "feed, house, clothe, educate and entertain" our children and to care for their health -- an obvious overestimate which does not include expenses for my wife and me, for example, nor what we have paid in taxes to feed, house, clothe, educate and entertain other people's children and to pay for vital government programs such as ballistics research and army materiel systems analysis. And let's suppose that over seventeen years for each child, this has amounted to $800,000 per child (the Journal's low estimate), for a total of $2,400,000 for all three of our children.

Divide this by the 22 years between the birth of our oldest and the time our youngest reached age 17, and you get more than $109,000 per year, on average, that we have supposedly spent on our children. The problem is that we have never taken home anywhere near that much in any year, let alone over a sustained period of 22 years.

But then, we are not readers of the Wall Street Journal. No doubt, the Journal's estimated cost of child-raising will inspire even more readers of "On Balance" to keep putting in the 200 hours per week of billable time at the law firm so that they can eventually make partner and afford to put their children all the way through high school. And while they're doing that, they should make sure and put enough aside to send the kids to Princeton, too.

Posted by: Matt in Aberdeen | March 9, 2007 8:44 AM

The best investment I SHOULD have made.

I was pregnant with my first child when we bought our house and didn't know anything about family life.

We bought a house with a kitchen so small 2 people could not cook safely at the same time. The space issue created enormous problems when I was trying to teach my kids to cook and bake. Holiday cookies had to spread out in the dining room, etc. and what should have been really fun times were quite stressful.

I managed, but I should have bought a house with a bigger kitchen.

Second floor laundry room would have been nice too.


25 years of carrying laundry baskets up and down stairs gets a little old sometimes.


The truth is I live like a Queen compared to my Grandmother, and I am very grateful for everything I do have.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 8:45 AM

I may get a bugaboo stroller with the next kid too-- love the way they are so adaptable.

That stroller is $900. Do you know how many strollers you can buy for $900?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 8:46 AM

I agree with Leslie about living in DC. My kids visit museums, the zoo, and fun new neighborhoods (and cheap international restaurants) frequently. We live in a very tiny house in a safe city neighborhood. Our house is completely unrenovated, we have one 10-year-old car, and our only family vacations are to visit the beach off-season and visit friends/family. In other words, we live very unextravagant lives. Our main luxuries are 1) having one parent work only part-time while the kids are little, and 2) sending our older child to private school, which, despite receiving a partial scholarship, is a huge expense for us. That's the only downside of living in the city: our neighborhood public school is not the best.

Posted by: DC mom of 2 | March 9, 2007 8:47 AM

Well, we did do disney, b/c I wanted to see my grandmother and take the kids, so driving was the most economical. So we stopped at disney on the way home. And it was exhausting but so much fun and I can't wait to go back (no matter what the kids think).

But we aren't too extravagant. Last year's bday party waas at the house we downloaded some activities from the computer, and they played outside. No we're not inviting the whole class-that is too many kids.

And yes we've been to jamaica twice with the kids, we needed and wanted a vacation (the second time I worked for a hotel co., tho).

We don't buy any toys, family members do that for us. We have too many toys, tho. And I *love* consignment sales.

Posted by: atlmom | March 9, 2007 8:54 AM

The stove I bought my wife for Valentine's Day was delivered in a cardboard box.

For a 4 year old, it was hours and hours of unadulterated, uninterrupted, exillerating fun.

He did cry for a minute though, when he bumped his head while riding it down the steps, but still, plenty of Kodak moments and memories that will last a lifetime.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 8:56 AM

Just a comment about the Bugaboo - I actually think it is worth every penny (though probably not the most expensive one). We use that thing everyday and are planning to continue using for kid 2. One stroller that can be used for 5+ years, in my opinion, is better than having to buy 3-4 strollers. But to each their own...

Matt in Aberdeen - nice crack about us lawyers at law firms. I think you are under some misperceptions about (1) how many hours we work, (2) our desire to make partner, and (3) our desire/ability to spend $100,000/year on our children.

Posted by: londonmom | March 9, 2007 8:56 AM

Many people confuse spending on material items and lavish events with caring for and spending time with their children. Children really want to know that their parents love them and care about them. Limiting material items (the hottest labels and things) develops a greater appreciation for those items when they are received. I have 3 children: daughter 16, and 2 sons 15 and 5. The youngest has Down Syndrome which adds a whole different dimension to the family. My daughter worked for her trip to Germany last summer (during the World Cup). Other students could not believe she had to work to pay 30% of her way. The other parents marveled at her initiative. With the new video games (PS3, Xbox, Wii), cell phones, and Ipods people buy into the constant upgrade cycle. Does a high school kid really need a Treo? What happens when these kids get out on their own, will their parents continue to support their consumption? Will the kids amass amazing levels of consumer debt to maintain the upgrade cycle? You can bet they will. A guy at work once asked me how to punish his daughter - he couldn't send her to her room because she had a computer with internet connection, TV with cable, stereo, etc. I said to take her those things away - he seemed to be the one shocked by my suggestion.

Posted by: Family guy (not that one) | March 9, 2007 8:56 AM

Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History in NYC are right up there for us, but we have enjoyed DC's spots too on trips down south. The Aerospace Museum out at Dulles is very stroller friendly btw.... even if it is a $15 umbrella stroller!

Car seats: Wall-Mart booster with reading lights and arm rests: $35

Bag of Dum-Dum pops $1.85 WAAAAy better than the 50cent ring pops!

Ice skating waaaay better than skiing!

Posted by: Fo3 | March 9, 2007 8:57 AM

I was able to take my kids overseas on a business trip with me - we made it into a family vacation. Invaluable! Not just being in other countries, but being there TOGETHER.

Posted by: ParentPreneur | March 9, 2007 8:58 AM

Yeah but for 900 dollars she could get one stroller. I wouldn't doubt that I've paid that over the years for strollers and never had the best I could get.

And when we renovated we put our laundry room upstairs. Best investment ever.

Posted by: atlmom | March 9, 2007 9:03 AM

Actually my wife and I were talking about more children (we have a 9 month old son now). I was saying that at my modest single-earner income level, with her staying at home, and at our frugal but solidly middle-class standard of living, a second child should be ok, but a third child might force us down to a lower-middle class standard of living (economically speaking).

Does anyone have any thoughts about how much more expensive additional children are?

Posted by: f00 | March 9, 2007 9:03 AM

About the Bugaboo -- my sister has one and LOVES it. It seems extremely well made and versatile.

Totally off topic, but my favorite stroller by far of the 4 we've had is the Maclaren Volo. Lightweight, and with a carrying strap. Very, very sturdy.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 9, 2007 9:03 AM

"Wow, 3 posts and not one relevant to the topic. How mature.

Duh - Yours make four!"

This is why I don't post here anymore. The "Duh" person is an idiot. Nasty nasty people.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:05 AM

Annandale Mom, where are the consignment shops that you frequent? We love Paddington Station in Vienna, but their maximum size is children's 12.

I think some people use their children as status symbols. Designer clothes, bags and a new cadillac escalade for their 16 year old. High maintainence trophy wife in training!

Posted by: experienced mom | March 9, 2007 9:07 AM

TO anon at 09:09.....
Takes one to know one!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:08 AM

Our daughter is five and in kindergarten.

Best investment: Sending her to preschool last year. It was $250/month or so. I didn't think that she needed it, but in hindsight it really helped her to be ready for kindergarten. (That is why we sent her in the first place.) She adapted to the class pretty easily, but it would have been a lot harder had she not had the preschool experience first.

So far, I can't think of a worst investment. We're very frugal and are teaching her to be the same. However, it's amazing how much these costs seem to sneak up. Money for school pictures, school supplies that we have to provide to the public school, fees for a county-rec dance class, dental treatments, etc. I can afford these and I'm very grateful for that. But I think that child rearing costs more than we ever expect.

Costs that I will never pay--lavish birthday parties, gifts for others, or a car for her. Any money that she earns will go for college savings, not a car. Teenagers do not need to own cars.

Posted by: NOVA prof | March 9, 2007 9:08 AM

I've been reading the comments and have to say that cruises are not that expensive. You can do really well if you compare them to actually going to Disney or Europe or wherever for a week where you have to buy your meals and the like.

Of course, flexibility is a key and if you have kids in school, you're limited and then it's competitive which is probably why they seem expensive.

Posted by: WDC | March 9, 2007 9:10 AM

Reading these comments reminded me of the horror show known as my sweet 16 on MTV -- when I flip by it I can't help but stop and watch the train wreck. I had a quiet lunch with some of my girlfriends to celebrate getting my permit (couldn't get license until 17 in NJ) for my sweet 16. I realized the other night that my favorite afghan was my sweet 16 present from my grandmother (she put my name and date on it)-- now that she is gone I treasure that handmade item more than some overblown party.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | March 9, 2007 9:11 AM

"My son will turn 4 this year and I'll probably spend about $200 bucks on his party between rental, balloons, and food."

$200 on party for a 4 year old? What a waste of money!!! Stick it in the college fund!

Note how most people are talking about stuff, stuff, and more stuff!! But we don't have a consumerism problem in this country?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:13 AM

The comment about 16th birthday reminded me of mine. I spent it in Puerto Rico as part of a church group. We earned the money to go through bake sales and babysitting, stayed at a church there and had a wonderful time (plus it was in Feb and I got to go home with a tan - a real plus for a yankee high schooler).

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 9:14 AM

When I was growing up my mom did not even make $16,000 a year!

Posted by: Chris | March 9, 2007 9:15 AM

Books. If you want to buy something that will truly help your child with school and life don't skimp here.Children need a good number of their own books to begin a life long love of reading. Love doesn't cost anything just love them.

Posted by: em | March 9, 2007 9:15 AM

Worst Investment: Pokemon Cards

Best Investment: Home school

I spend too much in some places and not enough in others when it comes to my daughter.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | March 9, 2007 9:16 AM

I do have to wonder what "regular" people the Wall Street Journal are considering in their estimations.

I'm sure that figure is spot on for people in DC, NY, CA, and other big cities. But I bet that for every family in the U.S. that spends $2,000 on a birthday party, there is another family that goes the Tang and hot dog route.

That being said, here are my top two best and worst investments (obviously from the kid point of view since I don't have kids):

#1 Best: Overnight camp. I understand that it was one of the more expensive, but I had a complete blast every time I went. I treasure those times to this day.
#2 Best: Parochial school. I think that I am the polite and respectful person I am today because of my experience in parochial school.

#1 Worst: Overseas travel at a young age. I loved travelling in middle school and as a teen. But my parents took me to foreign countries as a toddler. I have pictures of me in Colombia and I don't remember any of the trip. If you go for yourself, great. But if you go for your kid, wait until it is old enough to remember the experience.

#2 Worst: Expensive colleges. This may not be on the radar screen for lots of people here, but consider the advice. Most state colleges are great schools. Your kid really doesn't need to go to private universities unless he or she is smart enough to get scholarships (or unless he or she wants to ride on the coattails of the family name). Additionally, your kid could get stellar grades at a state school as opposed to mediocre grades at a private school. A good GPA looks good to grad schools. And grad school is when you should be concerned with the status of the school.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 9:17 AM

Our worst expense was our house. We bought it "for the neighborhood," but it's turned out to be an expensive folly. After we'd lived there three months, the next door neighbors marched over and told us they don't like us (my 6-year old daughter had used the word "sexy" in a conversation w/ their kid; they fear we are sexual predators). Many of the other kids in the neighborhood stay inside the house after school (I speculate they're parents are also afraid of these nutcases).
For the record, we're just two people who go to work... we're very boring.
We spent a fortune on the house, which is actually kind of dumpy. We never would've moved into the fabu suburbs if not for our daughter.

Posted by: Charm City | March 9, 2007 9:20 AM

My kids are teens, so it has been a while, but we probably paid $60 tops for strollers. We received a decent (Graco, I think) stroller as a shower gift, and then between 2 children, bought 3 umbrella strollers. I thought the umbrella strollers were the best invention since they were extremely portable. Great for shopping since they fit between aisles and also fit in carts in grocery and Target type stores.

$900 for a stroller is mind boggling. OK if you can afford it, I guess, but really not a necessity.

Posted by: Amazing | March 9, 2007 9:25 AM

For a BLIND mAN:

THE VOICE RECOGNITION SOFTWARE DOESN'T MAKE SUCH KIND OF TYPOS ("MTY" INSTEAD OF "MY")

aRE YOU WRITING FOR "cHRISSY" TOO?

>The Jones' are kicking mty ass and I feel >guilty that I'm bringing down the >property values in our neighborhood >because I don't have a SUV parked in >front of my house.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:25 AM

I can totally see how parents can spend this much per year on kids. I just took my daughter to Disney World (on the cheap - under $500) and was amazed at seeing the crap that parents would buy their kids - no educational value, just stuff. The trip was nice though, and am glad that I did it rather than an expensive 3rd birthday party. Two hours at a gymboree type place is around $400+ - equiv to out entire disney trip (cheap flight, she was free, and had a place to crash). My problem is that I buy too many educational toys for her when I feel guilty about her not having a dad. Getting better at that though. I am going to splurge on susuki music classes, and hope that I do not have to send her to private school (praying that I win a lottery for a good charter school in DC). I'd much rather spend the money on enrichment activities

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 9:26 AM

Wow. One thing really struck me. "The government says families in the top-third income bracket will spend $279,450 to raise a child born in 2005 through age 17 -- or about $16,000 a year."

I figure as a two income family, we are in the top-third income bracket. My son was born in 2005. We spend more than $16,000 just on child care alone. Where is the govt getting these figures? Obviously the top-third income bracket will have the ability to "spoil" their kids and buy some "extras." Whoever came up with these numbers is waaaayyy out of touch.

Posted by: Emmy | March 9, 2007 9:28 AM

Also - I covet the Bugaboo, but would rather buy the $300 stoller for the city, and put the additional $600 in the 529 account. I second the Volo stroller endorcement - the best urban purchase I have made after the Bjorn. Perfect for getting around town, and when they start walking you just sling it over your shoulder and carry it - less than 10 lbs!!

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 9:29 AM

One of my most regretted purchases: snow boarding day camp this season at a resort two hours away from my home.

As I grow in awareness of climate change issues, I tend not to think in terms of money wasted, but in terms of resources spent and in particular carbon generated. Those snow board trips were really awful, from that standpoint. I can actually calculate their impact: twenty or thirty gallons of gas producing over 20 pounds of carbon each, which will stay in the atmosphere for a long time.

I sure didn't do my kid any favors....

Posted by: sophie | March 9, 2007 9:29 AM

The Maryland Prepaid College Trust for both of our kids.

Posted by: Older Dad | March 9, 2007 9:30 AM

For the record, 09:25, I don't use voice recognition software.

Eye doo not no what u r trying 2 prove.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 9:30 AM

I wouldn't pay $900--no more than $500-- as I said, I hope to find one that is used! It really isn't that much when you consider how much people pay for custom bicycles, etc, and we have the money, but it honestly would feel so weird to have something that is so much more expensive than what my neighbors have. Is it possible someone could get mugged for their stroller? anyway, a well used but still operational bugaboo would be ideal and we have plenty of time to hunt down such a critter! In the menawhile, the 80s era Emmajunga stroller that we love still works-- but damn is it getting heavy for my old bones!

Posted by: Jen | March 9, 2007 9:35 AM

Father of 4,

"My kids will never experience a Disney vacation, nor have they ever flown on a plane".

Will you be my daddy? I just love your views. I want to grow up and be boring just like you, daddy.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:35 AM

We went to Disney because my grandmother lives in Orlando. We probably would not have gone if there was no family connection. I so rarely get to see my grandmother.

Our family of four plus my mother and sister stayed in a fairly plush timeshare condo 15 minutes from Disney. It was actually cheaper than 2 adjoining rooms at a Holiday Inn. The only catch is that you must sit through one of the timeshare spiels. It was worth it to us since we wouldn't have been able to afford the trip otherwise. We also drove from Maryland since we could afford that but not airfare for 4 plus a rental car. Neither of us travel for work, so no such thing as frequent flyer miles.

We also did not take a regular vacation the year prior to the Orlando trip. We only took day trips that year.

Just wanted to put this out there for those who wonder how people do things in this area with smaller incomes.

Posted by: family on a budget | March 9, 2007 9:35 AM

Best investments: overseas trips and even better long road trips here in the U.S., summer pool membership, instilling a love of reading, teaching them to save, music lessions & investing in their college educations.

Worst: sucumbed to one or two expensive birthdays (lasertag), not enough playgroups when they were young, DH & I are introverts.

I also ship at Target, Nordstrom Rack has great clothes for small kids, Marshalls, Delia's is a great place to shop for very thin young female teens (size 0-2), look for the sales on the jeans.

Posted by: Pink Plate | March 9, 2007 9:35 AM

"snow boarding day camp this season at a resort two hours away from my home"

Sophie, please don't make your child feel guilty for any activity that's outside of walking/biking range. The environment is important, but it is both very easy and very damaging to give a child the impression that your particular cause is more important than they are. To take an example from another arena, that's why "preacher's kids" are proverbial - too often the preacher pours heart and soul into everyone (and every child) associated with the church but them. Teach them to be aware of and protect the environment, but don't make them feel guilty or take them completely out of the circle of their peers' activities - if you do it's likely to backfire and damage your relationship with them, and undermine any chance you have of passing on your values.

Posted by: Demos | March 9, 2007 9:36 AM

The BEST experience a child can have is to do without something. When they get things later they may start realizing the value of money. I hate to think what the children of today will do when the gravy train runs out...

Posted by: jj | March 9, 2007 9:38 AM

"Books. If you want to buy something that will truly help your child with school and life don't skimp here."

Look at the Great Illustrated Classic series for kids -- you can order on-line at Costco I believe. There are three series -- each has 20 hardcover books with illustrations -- and each group of 20 hardcover books runs a little under $40. 60 hardcover kids classics for $2/book -- we picked up a copy for our kids and gave a set of 60 as a gift to our elementary school.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:39 AM

single mom, I bought too many educational toys too. We had fun using them together. Now my kids are taking advanced classes, and getting into very good colleges. I think the educational toys were worth it. You can always have a yard sale or take them to a consignment store later.

On the free side, we use the public library all the time. We are able to reserve the more popular books here in VA. When my kids were young, I put them to bed early, they were free to read for awhile, now they all read because they want to. Well, sometimes I have to tell them to get off the computer, but then they read.

Posted by: experienced mom | March 9, 2007 9:39 AM

"I don't spend much on them (2, 6 mos.), but am a stay-at-home mom and a cloth diaperer (as often as possible). thus, they get me 24/7 and hopefully a cleaner environment when they're older."

Someone in your house probably drive a car that rapes the environment, so drop the martyr act.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:45 AM

"Delia's is a great place to shop for very thin young female teens (size 0-2), look for the sales on the jeans."

Good tip for a sex offender.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:48 AM

Someone in your house probably drive a car that rapes the environment, so drop the martyr act.

who is being the snarky jerk today? Can we get his/her ip address banned?

Posted by: experienced mom | March 9, 2007 9:49 AM

"Delia's is a great place to shop for very thin young female teens (size 0-2), look for the sales on the jeans."

Good tip for a sex offender."

Good Grief!

Posted by: Pink Plate | March 9, 2007 9:51 AM

"The Maryland Prepaid College Trust for both of our kids."

I agree - when a state offers an income tax deduction to accompany the capital gains relief found in the 529 plans, it's crazy not to take advantage of it.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:51 AM

I think it's the motivation behind spending the money that matters. If you're spending money to keep up with some mythical neighbor or to be someone you aren't, then you send the wrong message to your child. It's a fact of life that some of us have more than others. Those of us who do should spend time helping our kids understand the good and bad things about money. We do not necessarily have to buy second-hand clothes to make a point. I realize that I've been lucky as well as working hard, and I've tried to instill a sense of responsibility in my children. I don't think I have to force them to live as though we have no money, though. With any luck and some guidance from my husband and me, they will use their opportunities for good.

Posted by: Arlington | March 9, 2007 9:52 AM

I love reading this blog - you guys are like a free soap opera/parenting class all rolled into one.

I suppose I'll have my own stories to tell once this baby's born (only 5 months to go!), but for now I'm just loving how goofy some of you are, and how amazingly bright others are. =)

Posted by: dlm79 | March 9, 2007 9:53 AM

Can somebody tell me if the 529 plans have income thresholds? Are the tax advantages otherwise phased out depending on income? DH and I have a pretty good college fund already for DS, but have been curious about 529s...

Posted by: londonmom | March 9, 2007 9:54 AM

"The BEST experience a child can have is to do without something. When they get things later they may start realizing the value of money."

There's also the lesson of saving up to buy something - our 5th grader saved up for 8 months to but an iPod Nano. He as extremely proud to be able to go to the store with the money that he earned and saved.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:54 AM

dlm79,
"I suppose I'll have my own stories to tell once this baby's born (only 5 months to go!), but for now I'm just loving how goofy some of you are, and how amazingly bright others are. =)"

And it changes every day!

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 9:55 AM

I grew up in a big family with limited funds - my best memories are visiting the Children's farm (was free then), packing a picnic lunch for a trip to the park, going to DC and playing touch football (I think it was near Haines point), and going to the library with my dad. Very low budget fun!

Posted by: MIssicat | March 9, 2007 9:55 AM

Books, you can get 'em for free at the public library.

Stay out of Costco and you won't be tempted to waste money.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:56 AM

Best investment so far: my daughter's Montessori school. I love watching her be so excited about all the stuff she's learning. We also pay a little extra so she can do dance there -- she unfortunately inherited a very poor concept of rhythm from both of us, but she loves it, so what the hey.

Don't really have stuff that I regret, because we don't buy a lot of expensive stuff. Do parties at the park, took the stroller that came with the carseat, and get a lot of hand-me-downs from her older cousin. We had our "D'oh" moment early on: when she was a newborn, we got all these really, really cute clothes -- and then, two months later, she had outgrown them, and had only worn some of them once! So now I won't spend more than $25 on any kid clothes, except for the winter coat and shoes -- usually hit Target and Old Navy, and the periodic sales at Children's Place and Gymboree.

Wait, actually -- biggest regret is my car. Had to give up my cute little 2-door coupe, both because of the pending kid and because it stranded me twice in the snow when I was 5 and 7 mos. pregnant (lived on top of a hill in CO at the time and the little guy just couldn't make it up). First time I've not owned a car until it died. Plus I splurged on a $30K car (bare-bones BMW 325 -- needed AWD w/a stick), and that stupid thing has caused me nothing but trouble since. Shoulda bought the Subaru, but just wasn't ready for such a "mom"-mobile at the time. Ahhh, vanity. . . .

Posted by: Laura | March 9, 2007 9:56 AM

$900 for a stroller so that you never have to buy another one? Nice try. Better not have another kid, buster!

Regarding spending a lot of money on their kids out of "fear"? Again, nice try. Rich people overspend on their kids out of guilt.

But if you think about it from their perspective, it makes perfect sense. These are people who have more money than time, so when something needs to get done, they just whip out their American Express card.

Need the house cleaned? Whip out the AmEx. Dog need walking? AmEx. Home need decorating? AmEx. How do I know this? Ask my house cleaner, dog walker, decorator, etc.

Why is it such a mental stretch to get to: Kid need taking care of? AmEx. Birthday party needed? AmEx.

These are people who are accustomed to solving time problems with money. They know that they aren't doing right by their kids in terms of time, so they compensate with money. Simple concept.

My wife and I, who both work full time, made a deal with ourselves when our daughter was born: We decided to use our money to buy time with our kids. So yes, we don't clean our house, we have a dog walker and we don't do our own decorating, painting, maintenance, etc. If we did any of that stuff, our kids would never even knew they had parents.

Posted by: Bob | March 9, 2007 9:58 AM

Best investments:
private school,
prepaid college tuition,
memberships at the national zoo, national aquarium and baltimore science center,
membership at the neighborhood pool

Worst investment:
public school (it didn't cost us any money but it sure cost my daughter a lot of grief),
overnight camp when my daughter was too young.

Still out:
American girl doll. It's way too expensive a doll but my daughter researched (during the summer!) the great depression and world war II because of the dolls. Who knew a doll could spark interest in history?

My daughter (9 years old) has a very distinctive look to her clothes but we either buy at the local consignment shop, Target or I sew a few skirts and dresses. Clothes for my son (3 years old) come strictly from consignment or hand-me-downs from his older cousins.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:59 AM

OT--Advice please!
We are looking to move, and would like to stay in DC. Not yet parents but hope to be soon. Any suggestions as to neighborhoods with decent day care /kindergarten / primary school options (and possibly things like playgrounds)? Or is this a pipe dream and we must go to the 'burbs?

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 10:00 AM

"Can somebody tell me if the 529 plans have income thresholds? Are the tax advantages otherwise phased out depending on income? DH and I have a pretty good college fund already for DS, but have been curious about 529s..."

No income threshhold or investment limit.

There are a number of reasonable on-line resources that explain the differences between the pre-paid plans [which effectively work as a mutual fund tied to the average annual tuition increase for that state's colleges] and the savings plans [which are the more traditional broad-based mutual funds].

The big issue is that some states allow you to deduct contributions from your income taxes as well [up to $2500/child per year in Maryland] -- which is nice.

See sites like http://www.kiplinger.com/basics/archives/2003/02/529faqs.html
for more info.


Posted by: A Dad | March 9, 2007 10:00 AM

I've seen a lot of people say they would not buy a car for their child and while I definitely understand the sentiment from my experience I don't think it's all that bad and we will probably buy (or at least mostly buy) a good but used car when my children are older, as long as we can afford it.

My parents bought me a car because I was always involved in something during high school. Between the school paper (we put it together every other Monday night and sometimes were there until 9-9:30), traveling soccer team year round, cross country, and basketball I was a very busy girl. My parents bought me a car for their sanity so they wouldn't have to drive me around everywhere. Also they were concerned that if I bought my own car then it wouldn't be of the best quality and they didn't want me stranded somewhere because my car broke down.

I don't see anything wrong with how they managed it. After that one was totaled (not my fault) and we went to get another one together I had to fork over the $800 I had saved up from working during the summer (again needed a car to get to it, was a full time job starting at 7 in the morning and pub transportation wasn't feasible) to get the car I wanted instead of the one they were willing to buy me.

Posted by: Centreville Mom | March 9, 2007 10:01 AM

I guess Bob's kids will never know how to clean or cook or walk the dog or even figure out how to decorate - hope they earn enough money to pay for them too.

Posted by: DC lurker | March 9, 2007 10:02 AM

"We are looking to move, and would like to stay in DC. Not yet parents but hope to be soon. Any suggestions as to neighborhoods with decent day care /kindergarten / primary school options (and possibly things like playgrounds)? Or is this a pipe dream and we must go to the 'burbs?"

Go to the burbs -- recommend Columbia, MD -- extremely family-friendly planned community of 100,000.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:03 AM

One way to cut down on unnecessary kid-luxury expenses: Move to a neighborhood where paying such expenses is not the norm.

Even if you can afford a "better" neighborhood, it is still wise to live in a more mellow neighborhood where materialistic expectations are more reasonable.

That social environment will be healthier for your kids in the long run. And your savings will grow!

You don't have to be trapped in the materialistic system, even if you have the $$$ to be able to.

If Warren Buffett and his family are smart enough to stay outside the consumer culture, why not you?

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 10:03 AM

I'm glad to hear that there are normal people in the world. I live in a neighborhood right now which is upper-middle class, and it's one of the most wholesome towns I've ever been to. You don't see any of the nonsense that the WSJ article mentions. Makes me wonder, maybe I do make enough, because I wouldn't do the stupid things these people do if I had ten times the money.

Posted by: Tommo | March 9, 2007 10:04 AM

Go to the burbs -- recommend Columbia, MD -- extremely family-friendly planned community of 100,000.

Ellicott City MD is right next to Columbia and is a great place to live.


Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:05 AM

Well, good luck dlm79. It should be a wild ride.

I grew up with the kids who got brand new bmws when thet got their licenses. They were no happier at ou ten year reunion.
And meesh-you prove your point. Do you think the admissions pple at the grad schools don't know the differences between schools and don't take that into account? Well, they most certainly do. They do for good old college too- looking at how well students do at mediocre vs better schools and the most certainly take that into account with admissions.
I'm not saying there aren't good public schools-i got both my degrees there- but there are differences in those too.
We are hoping the kids get good scholarships. Though.

Posted by: atlmom | March 9, 2007 10:05 AM

Thanks for the advice re: Columbia and Ellicott City, MD. How far are those from downtown DC though? (Right now it looks likd we'll both continue to work, and I am not sure we want a 90-min commute.)

Any advice as to close-in suburbs or -- gasp! -- neighborhoods in the District proper??

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 10:10 AM

I think the most expensive B-day party I had was going putt-putt. To see how people waste money just makes me sad sometimes. I know I would probably buy a few silly things were I so filthy rich, but I would also try my best do do good and helpful things for people. I just do not see how some people become so extremely wasteful...

Posted by: Chris | March 9, 2007 10:10 AM

Best Investments: Stay at home Mom for the first five years. In hindsight (DS was diagnosed with Asperger's in first grade) the calm routine of home was the best place for him. Also Yamaha music lessons starting at age 5. They have helped him to come out of his shell and given the years of playing piano in front of a class he has no stage fright. Last, but not least, annual trips to the DC area thanks to a sister who lived there. He has done the town from one side to the other with a side trip to Williamsburg. Sadly, said sister has now moved to St Paul so if we go back it will cost us a lot more. (We're hoping she returns to the Federal System before retirement!)

Worst Money Spent: Got sucked in to one over the top birthday party and tend to go overboard on the dreaded gift bags even when we do try to keep it sane from all other aspects. Summer care at his elementary school. It was nothing but supervised playground from 9 am to 5 pm. Less expensive, but a total waste. Biggest waste - expensive bedroom furniture. Spouse thought it was cool. He outgrew it way too fast!

Posted by: Circle Pines | March 9, 2007 10:11 AM

"I agree - when a state offers an income tax deduction to accompany the capital gains relief found in the 529 plans, it's crazy not to take advantage of it."

VA offers a $2000 deduction on state income taxes, which are at about a 5% rate. So you are saving $100 on your taxes if you contribute $2000 to a 529. $100 bucks is a nice benefit, but hardly justifies a "crazy not to take advantage of it."

"Can somebody tell me if the 529 plans have income thresholds? Are the tax advantages otherwise phased out depending on income? "

No there are not any income thresholds or phaseouts with 529s, but talk to your fee-based financial planner about whether or not 529s are truly your best option.

Posted by: Bob | March 9, 2007 10:11 AM

re moving

Arlington has the subway, and the housing prices to prove it. Alexandria is an ok commute. Vienna is awesome, you can walk or take a bus to the subway, just don't try to park there after 6am, not enough spaces.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:12 AM

"how far are those from downtown DC though?"

60-90 minute commute from Columbia / Ellicott City -- though public transportation is available [niece was able to pick up the bus at the end of the street when she worked at Veterans Affairs -- was an easy commute].

good luck.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:15 AM

Just a warning on the Bugaboo - I loved it until my kid was one, and then it just wasn't comfortable for him, and we moved to the, yup, Maclaren (great deals on eBay on the 'old models'). My friends have had luck with Zoopers too. If you have the money, it's a great stroller, but most of the people I know who have one have found it's not a long-term solution. (Mine was a gift by the way, I'm not sure I would have spent the money). I walk everywhere too, and in the winter, so I value a good stroller.

Best money I ever 'spent' was keeping my low-paying, close to home academic job and my husband doing the same at a non-profit. We get to spend more time with the kids. Also, I think a nice stroller for us is well worth the money, because we use it so much. Different for everyone though, I suppose. My husband would say to spend the money on a Baby Bjorn too, we used that to death.

Posted by: Ann Arbor | March 9, 2007 10:15 AM

re moving the the suburbs - although housing is cheaper if you work in the city your commute is longer - and you spend more time away from your child. I am chosing at this point a small place, close to work and my child. Rather than 1 hour to and from work - I get an additional 2 hours a day with my child = 10 hours per week...

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 10:16 AM

to 10:12 am

and would you say that all of those--Arlington, Alexandria, Vienna--are pretty kid-friendly and have decent care and schooling options?

Any further views on what neighborhoods within those towns would be particularly easy on a two-WOHM-parent family?

Thanks!!

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 10:16 AM

single mom--
that's precisely my worry. I don't want to get home at 8!
Are you in this area? May I ask whether you have any insight as to neighborhoods within actual parenting distance from downtown?

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 10:18 AM

contrary to a lot of the complaints about life in DC, I feel that our decision to move back here when our oldest kids were 4 & 2 was one of the best investments we could have made in their childhoods. all the museums and the zoo are free, and the exposure to different cultures and politics are invaluable.

Posted by: Leslie | March 9, 2007 08:38 AM


Leslie, on this I agree with you completely! People routinely knock us DC folks for being suckers and paying so much in real estate and daycare, but the way I see it: All of the culture is included in the rent!

Instead of paying $$ at big aquariums (It's almost $30 PER PERSON in Baltimore for the aquarium- and the children's museum is a huge rip off too) and museums in other cities, we get to go for free, as much as we want! We pack our lunch and have a great free day of fun on the Mall or at the Building Museum or the Zoo.

We also don't need 2 cars, and walk everywhere so we naturally stay in shape and reinforce an active (non shopping mall) lifestyle.

So, hands down the BEST investment is the increased rent and daycare costs that we pay.

Bests:
DC rent

DC private preschool costs (she'll go to public in kinder)
SmartTrip card

Zoo membership

Smithsonian Resident Assoc Membership

Better quality clothes (I know, I'll get flamed for it, but I absolutely can't get stains out of cheap clothes and end up tossing them all- Gap and Gymboree and Ralph Lauren clothes actually wash well and last longer- they don't shrink either,. I'd rather buy a few sets that last than constatnly buy cheap stuff)

Maclaren stroller

Travel

529

Lower paying job to spend more time


Worst:

I really can't think of any- the grandparents usually do the ridiculous spoiling

I spent about $500 on my daughter's birthday and, you know what? It was totally worth it!! The kids had a great time, the parents had a few hours to socialize with each other and eat some good catered food, and we had a blast!

Posted by: SAHMbacktowork | March 9, 2007 10:19 AM

and would you say that all of those--Arlington, Alexandria, Vienna--are pretty kid-friendly and have decent care and schooling options?

yes, arlington and fairfax public schools are great.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:20 AM

Hmm, money again ... I agree that there's something over-generalized about those figures - in college, I was only making about $16,000 a year, so I couldn't possibly have been spending that much on my child. He went to an excellent co-op daycare at the university in those days - it probably wasn't the cheapest day care in the city, but was definitely worth the investment, in terms of convenience as well as community - because it was a co-op, we got to know all the families really well (some of whom were my professors - definite bonus!)
He went to a week-long overnight camp last summer (a cheap one) and I think that was definitely worth it and plan on sending him again - like other posters, I have wonderful memories from the summer camp I went to as a child.
Like Centerville Mom, I think car purchases are really dependent on your situation. My parents bought each of their 5 kids a car when we turned 16 - mostly because we lived in a rural area with no public transportation and it took a lot of strain off of THEM to not have to drive us around. They were also really cheap, beater cars (and my dad is a mechanic, so that worked for them). If I lived in this area when my son was 16, I don't think I would buy him a car, but if we move to a rural area, I think I will.

Worst investments ... I will have to think on that one. Right now I am worried/disappointed about investments that I HAVEN'T made, such as a 529.

Posted by: TakomaMom | March 9, 2007 10:21 AM

Get over yourselves. You don't need to spend a fortune to raise a kid. Buy from thrift shops for clothes. They outgrow them before they are worn out. Shelter -- do you really need to live in a $750,000 McMansion? Entertainment -- borrow books and videos for free from the library. They don't need a new car when they turn 16. I suggest you watch a movie called 'Mechanized Death' showing actual victims of actual car accidents. We had to watch it for drivers' ed and at least one kid (usually male) fainted during the showing.

FWIW, I grew up in Ellicott City and it was a slum them. About the mid-1960's before Columbia was even born, the town fathers decided to fix up and clean up. Now it's a Yuppie magnet. Again, get over yourselves. We had our own nickname for that quaint little stream that runs into the Patuxent. The old=timers still call Columbia 'Cardboard City.'

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:22 AM

to hopeful: Silver Spring just inside the beltway has some great neighborhoods and easy bus/metro access. Of course it has prices to match ;-) As I have no kids I can only speak to the commuting aspect -- I find I have far less problems with red line trains than my NoVA friends have with orange line. My friends with kids in Montgomery County schools speak highly of the afterschool care program run in the schools.

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | March 9, 2007 10:22 AM

Someone earlier asked about the cost of having a third child. We're about 2 months away from having our third and so far the only real cost seems to be the eventual day care bill and the diapers -- if you have a stay at home parent then you avoid the day care bill but have to calculate the extra time the stay at home parent stays out of the work force. We already have a boy (3)and a girl (17 months) so we don't have to buy anything additional for the baby. I'm just going to go get a package of diapers on the way to the hospital and I'm set. I'm sure we'll see an increase in our food and water bill and other incidentals, but it is definitely not a tripling of the amount it took us to get ready for the first. We already have all the baby gear, a house full of toys and more sippy cups than I can keep track of.

We have set up a third 529 plan, but our theory is that we're saving a certain amount for college -- now it will be split 3 ways rather than 2. We'll help our kids figure out how to cover the rest when we get there -- we're going to have 3 kids in college at once so short of a lucky mega millions ticket there's no way any of them are getting the college bill completely covered by us.

We figure the love and fun that the third child will bring to lives of our first two kids will far outweigh any deprivation they might suffer by not having a monkey at their birthday party.

Posted by: Almost mom of 3 | March 9, 2007 10:23 AM

"Thanks for the advice re: Columbia and Ellicott City, MD. How far are those from downtown DC though? (Right now it looks likd we'll both continue to work, and I am not sure we want a 90-min commute.)

Any advice as to close-in suburbs or -- gasp! -- neighborhoods in the District proper??
"

Try Takoma Park MD. Very mellow town, great community, lots of kids, tall trees, right next to the District.

For an easy commute to DC, it is hard to beat the straight shot from New Hampshire to North Capitol. And of course there is the Takoma station on the Red Line.

Lots of comfy and affordable houses in the eastern half of Takoma Park in particular, and that's actually the more accessible side for commutes, too.

Posted by: Takoma Park | March 9, 2007 10:23 AM

There are lots of nice, comfortable places to live in the DC Metro area that aren't ridiculously priced, although if you want to live in the supposedly "good" areas -- Bethesda, Chevy Chase, McLean, Great Falls, Vienna, parts of Fairfax county, for instance -- you will pay top dollar. And encounter loads of traffic in your daily commute (and nearly all the rest of the time, too!).

You may also want to consider some less publicized and fairly close-in communities that are still pleasant places to raise a family: Bowie, Crofton, parts of Takoma Park, Kensington, parts of Laurel, Silver Spring, Olney -- those are all in Maryland. In DC proper, there are some well-established communities in NE Washington that may be fairly reasonably priced, although I'm not familiar with the schools. You can also go to greatschools.net for more information, test scores, parent reviews and the like.
Good luck!!!

Posted by: Chausti | March 9, 2007 10:23 AM

"No there are not any income thresholds or phaseouts with 529s, but talk to your fee-based financial planner about whether or not 529s are truly your best option."

Good points -- in MD with an effective income tax rate of 8% and a $2500/child limit, the annual $600 I get for doing something I had planned to do anyways [with the capital gain protection] made it a clear winner.

Posted by: A Dad | March 9, 2007 10:23 AM

My Dad normally sends cash for my son's birthday, which means I wind up going out and blowing it on something physical that he can play with.

I have to admit I spent too much on a Tricycle recently. I was blown away by the engineering and technology of the thing. It's German. :-)

The boy spends no more time with his VLI tricycle than he does playing with cardboard boxes. Silly dad.

Posted by: Proud Papa | March 9, 2007 10:25 AM

Thank you so much guys--I am taking notes! Keep it coming please!

(Of course, since we are not even expecting yet, kindergarten is at least 5 years away, but we figure since we are going to move we may as well move some place where we can actually plan to be for a while...)

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 10:29 AM

Please stop shopping at Target. I know it's cheap but please think about where your money goes. Target allows its pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning after pill. If providing women with reproductive choices is something that is important to you, please think twice about supporting a company that seeks to limit those choices. Not a big deal for people who live in big cities but in some places in this country that translates into no access.

Posted by: boycott Target | March 9, 2007 10:29 AM

Warning - anal-retentive engineer alert!
You've been warned!

I actually know exactly how much I've spent on my kids since the first was born in early 1989 - I keep track of all the receipts. It's far, far less than even the $249K cited by the Government, on things just for them.

Okay, we have a much bigger house with 4 kids than we'd have if we were DINKs, but it's certainly not a McMansion. If you did want to calculate the different cost of housing and assign it to each of the kids, you could probably get me over the $249K, but not by that much (and to be honest, if we didn't have kids I don't know that we'd have a cheaper house - a smaller one, certainly, but we moved to Howard County for the schools and we might live someplace more adult-friendly and expensive if it was just us).

Clothing: nobody seems to have mentioned Kohl's. My wife loves the place, especially end-of-season sales. She was bragging last night about getting 5 new pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts for the kids and getting out of the store for less than $100. Conversely, she hates the clothes at Target - says they don't last a season, and prefers not to buy clothes there at all.

Best investments so far, in no particular order:
1 - trip to Europe to attend a former Au Pair's wedding in Galway, Ireland. The plane tickets were free - frequent flyer miles from the job where I kept having to go to Hong Kong, etc. We stayed in London for 4 days and Ireland for 5. Loved every minute of it; the kids can remember almost everything that happened. Having grown up an Army Brat and lived all over the world (born in Germany, even) travel is important to me and I wanted the kids to have the experience of seeing other countries. I think the total cost of the trip came in at about $6K, and it was worth that and more.
2 - private high school for my son. Ho Co schools are great but overcrowded, and he's the type of kid who needs a small class and individual attention. He got an academic scholarship that covers part of the tuition; we pay the rest. Benefit? Middle school GPA: 2.2 (he got the scholarship by scoring spectacularly well on the entrance exam the Baltimore Catholic high schools give); high school GPA so far: 3.8. PSAT score high enough to have made him a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist if he was a junior (he's only a soph). And he's much, much happier now.
3 - the house in Howard County. We lived in PG County before kids. I'm gonna get roasted for saying this, but we'd never let our kids go to PG public schools, at least back then. Look, folks, I went to some lousy public schools and know you can get a decent education if you really want to, but it's easier with better schools and we moved to HoCo for that reason. The girls are all in the HoCo public schools (the overcrowding doesn't bother them at all), and it's been worth it.
4 - college funds; various types. Oldest daughter should hear in the next two weeks about some of the colleges to which she's applied; aaaahh - I'm gonna go bankrupt!
5 - a third car. I got the new Corolla. The oldest daughter drives the 1991 Escort with 254,000 miles on it. It runs beautifully; it gets her to school and work and she can drive her younger siblings. It motivated her to learn to drive a stick (a fact which the boys in school are impressed with; and if anybody takes that joke any farther I'm gonna break out the baseball bat!) and to take care of the car.

Worst investment: don't really know; there haven't been any really bad ones (okay, tech stocks in late 2000, but in my defense I worked for the company!) I'm hoping college won't break that streak.

Posted by: Army Brat | March 9, 2007 10:30 AM

I concur, for what you claim to be you do not seem to be up to sniff on the software side.
In our Courthouse the voice recognition software is tuned so that
"Eye doo not no what u r trying 2 prove" is hardly possible. You would be amazed how it does even without training, and you certainly could have trained it, spending so much time on this blog.

Seems like that person was trying to say that he/she thinks you are a lousy impersonator. I can give you the benefit of the doubt that you do blind typing, but it's a stretch to assume. Besides, then you would have more typos. Maybe a statistician (FoamGnome?) here can do comparative analysis of the frequency of your typos versus average.

Posted by: Bar Rat | March 9, 2007 10:32 AM

re moving the the suburbs - although housing is cheaper if you work in the city your commute is longer - and you spend more time away from your child. I am chosing at this point a small place, close to work and my child. Rather than 1 hour to and from work - I get an additional 2 hours a day with my child = 10 hours per week...

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 10:16 AM

I agree with you single mom. What's more important for a child? A yard or more time? The average work day is about 9 hrs, tack 2 hrs of commute and there is your whole day! I get those 2 hours with the little one! Much more precious than real estate IMO.

For the poster asking what neighborhoods were good in the city:

If you want public schools:
Woodley Park
Glover Park
Georgetown
Tenleytown/ AU Park
Chevy Chase
Foxhall/Palisades


I have to say, though, that Upper NW (past Cleveland Park) takes longer to get downtown than living in N Arlington.
I'd stick to Glover Park or Woodley Park or Gtown for commute purposes

N Arlingotn (Clarendon area) is super close and nice as well.

Posted by: SAHMbacktowork | March 9, 2007 10:32 AM

I see Bob's point (but not crazy about how it was stated). I'm one of those people who have a house cleaner. Why? Because I hate cleaning toilets, floors, etc., have limited time that I'd much rather spend with family, and really like having a clean house. Don't have a dog though, so no dog walker and never had my home decorated. But there is some truth to what he says. I work FT and don't want to spend my weekends cleaning or doing errands. I want to spend it with my family at the zoo or somewhere else fun for us all.

BUT I do NOT buy things for my DS because of guilt. I actually think we are pretty frugal with him. For his first birthday, we didn't even have a party (no faimly around so why bother?). Gifts were less than $25 and we made the cake ourselves. We buy him things that we think are cool periodically and of course clothes b/c he is growing like a weed, but no extravagent stuff.

And I don't care how much money you have, Target is the best store ever and I would shop there exclusively if I could.

Posted by: londonmom | March 9, 2007 10:32 AM

BABY PAGEANTS.

Everyone remember that last scene in "Little Miss Sunshine"? It made me sick. I watched it again last night and said "never, never, never." My mom was with me and said "never say never." I asked her, "would you have let me compete in a beauty contest?" She was silent.

Never. Ever. EVER.

My daughter wants to cheer? Fine. She wants to be a ballerina? Wonderful. She wants to go to Disney and do the 'Princess' thing? ::sigh:: okay, I guess so. But push-up bras and sequins and fake tans and Aqua Net for seven-year-olds? Waste of money, waste of time, dearth of self-esteem. There is just no way. I plan on giving my kids a relatively high amount of freedom, provided they stay out of trouble and keep their grades up, but there are two things I will insist on: no pageants and they will take kung fu or muay thai.

Posted by: Mona | March 9, 2007 10:33 AM

... for affordability, I forgot to say, also check out the "not really Takoma Park" neighborhoods just over the PG county line (for example the Carole Highlands neighborhood, or the section between E-W Hwy and Sligo Creek Park).

Those neighborhoods have the Takoma Park feel, the tall trees, the quiet streets, the solidly built homes and the young families, but the houses are a LOT cheaper. It's a popular neighborhood with couples in exactly your position -- just getting a new family started.

There was an even more affordable neighborhood featured in the WaPo real estate page recently, to the southeast of the ones I mentioned above. I don't know that as well, but the Washington Post seemed to think it was a good deal.

So exactly what is right for you depends on your budget, but the overall message is, there are a lot of choices in MD very close to DC.

Good luck!

Posted by: Takoma Park | March 9, 2007 10:33 AM

Overspending on kids is a pet peeve of mine. We have some wealthy relatives who go nutso on their kids -- the 6-year-old spends most of his time on a handheld playstation or yells and runs around. He goes through toys like water. Their house (which is huge) is filled to the brim with toys everywhere. Their children wear designer clothes.

They are actually wonderfully nice people (true!) but their values on materialism are increasingly repulsive to me. It's a weird paradox for me to deal with, because I am also envious of their money. Let's admit it!

Posted by: Anon for this one | March 9, 2007 10:33 AM

Sorry, that was supposed to be addressed to Father of 4.

Posted by: Bar Rat | March 9, 2007 10:33 AM

Sorry, that was supposed to be addressed to Father of 4.

Posted by: Bar Rat | March 9, 2007 10:33 AM

Ya'll have probably heard this from me before. But the best money we spent was buying a home in our cohousing neighborhood. They just talked about one (in Vienna, VA) on MSNBC this week: http://preview.tinyurl.com/29scod

This one choice has taken care of so many of our quality-of-life issues: social time for the kids and for us, healthy eating, exercise, low-cost entertainment, a community of folks who care about us and our kids.

Posted by: Neighbor | March 9, 2007 10:34 AM

Private lessons. They have become a huge expense. My son is in high school and has been taking music lessons since he was about 9. I don't think I expected it to cost so much. But once you get in with a good instructor you have to keep up the lessons or they'll drop you for someone else. Besides, we developed a relationship with the instructor. I feel a bit locked in but what's the payoff? As a kid in high school he's happy, has a group of friends and an identity as a bando. Not a cool identity, but he doesn't care. When I look at the kids who seem so sad and lost I feel that those lessons were worth it. He has a skill and hobby that will last a life time.

My youngest is a natural athlete. She's taken up a sport that requires regular training. Her instructor is awesome and highly sought after. Now that we're on the list I want to stay there. They payoff I'm looking for is getting her through high school without turning to the dark side.

As I spend $$ on these lessons I think that someday she could be a coach or trainer and that being exposed to excellent trainers will prepare her to do the same some day. Or maybe she'll just be able to train my grandkids. That'd be cool in itself.

Posted by: soccermom | March 9, 2007 10:35 AM

OT for Mona: You can always buy a future daughter one of these

http://www.emotionalarmor.com/womens.shtml

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | March 9, 2007 10:35 AM

Another best investment: a new refrigerator. Our kids played with the box almost exclusively for MONTHS. It really brought out their creative side, too -- one day it was a boat, the next a house, the next a camper, etc. And the best thing is, you don't have to buy a new fridge to get the box if you know where to go!!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 9, 2007 10:35 AM

Best investments -
My home. It is tiny and we are snug, but I love the neighborhood and the school.
Daycare after my son turned 2. He loved it, and made a few good buddies there with whom he still plays.
Family vacations - they vary, we go to the beach, we once went to a farm, have explored a few cities. It is just nice to be together in new places.
The Thomas the Tank Engine (and other assorted) Wooden Rail toys. - My son spent countless hours playing with that, from the time he was about 1 until he was 6ish. Sadly, he now things they are for babies.

Worst Investments - Expensive B-day parties - did it twice. I think we are done with that.

Posted by: Emily | March 9, 2007 10:37 AM

Demos,

I am sorry, but a lot the excess consumption we face comes from this notion that we cannot deprive our children. It's not about deprivation. It's about more sustainable choices. We'll never make the changes we need to make if we keep holding out our kids as entitled to excess and waste. And then of course we raise a generation that considers itself entitled, and they won't be able to make the right choices either.

Of course I don't rant and rave about the environment when I am driving to the ski resort. This was my choice, not his, and there is certainly no need to make our drives "guilt trips".

Posted by: sophie | March 9, 2007 10:40 AM

I don't want to start a war here, but I have to ask something.

I spent the majority of my childhood and teen years in Rockville. I always said that I would never raise a kid in that area because of all the consumerism. I would go to Montgomery Mall and see 14-year-olds in Seven jeans with Coach purses. Most of my friends wore clothes from Abercrombie and Anthropology and almost all got cars for their 16th birthdays. I'm talking about public school kids too.

Most of you seem opposed to conspicuous consumption. How are you going to prevent your kids from going that route?

My parents were (are) complete hippies. We ate organic but simple food and didn't drink soda or have cable. I still ended up wanting the new car and clothes. I've mostly grown out of that phase, but lots of my friends haven't. The ones who still live in that area are sporting Tiffany jewelry and running up $300 bar tabs in DC. I think it's just a way of life and that if I hadn't moved, I would be the same way.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 10:41 AM

My son is 10 but extrapolating, I'm well over the Govt
estimate but going to come in well below the Journal. (And
yes I'm clearly in the top 1/3 bracket).

The big hit was in-home nanny care for the first 4 years.
That ran about $40K per year including (modest) benefits
and employer taxes. But it meant my son spent his early
years at home. Further, both parents had home offices and
made a point of working from home a lot so he saw a lot of
us, without interfering very much with our jobs.

Also did private, education oriented pre-school and
kindergarten which made a big difference for him
academically.

But now (admittedly pre-teen), he's surprisingly inexpensive.
Books come from the library, bicycles and sports gear don't
cost much, and four or five outfits will get him through a week
(and a season) if I buy good stuff that is sturdy. I haven't
totalled the numbers but $5K per year plus one big trip
per year (say $2K more?).

Looking forward to teenage years, there is the issue of cars
and car insurance.

Posted by: ex-telco Sr VP | March 9, 2007 10:41 AM

best investments (in no particular order):
music lessons for all
swim team, travel and competitions(for the swimmer)
tennis lessons, travel and competitions (for the tennis player)
house in good public school district
cuddle time for all
dog and cat
church almost-tithing
travel, travel, travel

worst investment:
can't think of one now, as even their birthday parties are memorable...usually for something silly happening.

Posted by: dotted | March 9, 2007 10:42 AM

Best investment: Books, and the time spent reading them. Libraries are great, but get the kids hardcover copies of some of their favourites and those books will become treasured friends and heirlooms.

Worst: Expensive lessons on anything a kid doesn't like. I really can't figure this one out. My parents, who were actually quite poor, put my brothers & me through years of piano, swimming, flute, violin, singing, acting, soccer, skating, dance etc. The rule was that we had to have at least one sport and one musical instrument at any given time. We tried hard and practiced but we really, really, really didn't like much of it. I don't recall EVER looking forward to one of these lessons or competitions. I dropped all of those pursuits as soon as my parents let me. So did my brothers. All those lessons added up to a big fat nothing as far as long-term accomplishments or lifetime habits.

I don't think it's a bad thing to encourage kids to take lessons or join teams. But I do think parents should listen when their kids honestly dislike an activity, and even more, I think kids NEED unstructured time badly. Parents too, really. It drives me nuts to watch my friend shuttling her toddler all over town for this & that, dropping with exhaustion, constantly harried, and she complains the kid "doesn't appreciate" what she does for him.

Posted by: worker bee | March 9, 2007 10:42 AM

For DC parents with little ones, instead of Disney, you can take your kids to a place in PA/Lancaster County called Dutch Wonderland. It's a small theme park with rides scaled for kids from 2-6. They even have their own princess (looked like she was the local prom queen) and other characters walking around, live acts, etc. You can do it in a day trip from here and admission is only about $25 for kids, parking is free, etc. We did it with our three year old last summer--we had also gone on a big family reunion trip to Disney and to a 3-year-old the Dutch Wonderland trip was, to him, just as much fun. (We combined that with a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine at the Strasburg Railroad--also only $10-20 a ticket and our son was like a rock star at preschool the next week when he showed his pictures to his friends.) We made a special weekend out of it and, combined with a night at a Howard Johnson's (with pool--also very exciting) and meals at Pizza Hut, gave him some great memories for about $200.

Posted by: Arlmom | March 9, 2007 10:43 AM

$5000 for a BIRTHDAY PARTY!?!?!

Are they serving gold plated cake?

Um, I spent about $7000 for my wedding and it was very nice thank you. And yes, I thought that was an awful lot of money to spend on a wedding.

Our birthday parties have never been more than $150 including steak dinner for 13.

Most expense has been childcare for the kiddos. There a boxes of toys that have been wildly loved for a week and then discarded. Oh well. I am constantly reminded that a big cardboard box is the best toy ever.

Posted by: LM in WI | March 9, 2007 10:43 AM

Best bets: Costco membership over the years for formula and diapers. Consignment store clothes, toys, and used bookstore books. 529 plan my parents contribute too in lieu of extravagant gifts. 3 Day a week preschool for my 4 year old at a local Presbyterian Church.


Posted by: Robin | March 9, 2007 10:43 AM

Demos --

Perhaps I should clarify. We drove 300 miles every weekend for the last two months to attend snow boarding day camp, not one day.

Now do you see why I call that excessive?

Posted by: sophie | March 9, 2007 10:45 AM

My 4-year old son has been "discovered" by modeling agencies several times while we were doing things like shopping at the mall or playing on the playground. I've been told since he was about a year that he's stunning, gorgeous, extremely photogenic, you name it. Kind of weird to me because my husband and I are probably of average good looks. Anyway, even though the money they've offered is pretty startling, we have said NO firmly every time. I do not want my child to grow up thinking that looks are so important. It's hard enough on him as it is, because I swear he gets special treatment from teachers and strangers because of his looks.

I think that parents who encourage modeling and pageants are trying to live vicariously through their child(ren) or cash in at great cost to kid(s). Just my $.02.

Posted by: Anonymous Now | March 9, 2007 10:45 AM

To hopeful, we left capitol hill and moved up to chevy chase dc before our son was born. it's a great solution to the long commute problem and you get the benefits of a more suburban/community feel. that said real estate is pricy, but there are fixer uppers occassionally if you want to go that route. we'll send our son to Lafayette when the time comes; i understand that Janney is also good. I'm not a fan of the junior high (Deal) or Wilson, but we're years away from that yet. We love it up here -- we can get to work downtown in 20-25 minutes in the morning and evening commutes are similar or just a touch longer.

Posted by: Amy | March 9, 2007 10:46 AM

For DC parents with little ones, instead of Disney, you can take your kids to a place in PA/Lancaster County called Dutch Wonderland. It's a small theme park with rides scaled for kids from 2-6. They even have their own princess (looked like she was the local prom queen) and other characters walking around, live acts, etc. You can do it in a day trip from here and admission is only about $25 for kids, parking is free, etc. We did it with our three year old last summer--we had also gone on a big family reunion trip to Disney and to a 3-year-old the Dutch Wonderland trip was, to him, just as much fun. (We combined that with a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine at the Strasburg Railroad--also only $10-20 a ticket and our son was like a rock star at preschool the next week when he showed his pictures to his friends.) We made a special weekend out of it and, combined with a night at a Howard Johnson's (with pool--also very exciting) and meals at Pizza Hut, gave him some great memories for about $200.

Posted by: Arlmom | March 9, 2007 10:43 AM

Dutch Wonderland is wonderful! I grew up going there as well and it's great. You can also go to Amish farms during the trip which is a blast. I love Lancaster area- A day out with Thomas is wonderful and the hotels are super cheap.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:48 AM

I didn't realize DC had so many comfortable, affordable neighborhoods (note sarcasm). We have been desperately looking to get out of DC, which I loved when single, but don't want to raise my family here. Unfortuantely, its hard to get a job in other cities. I'd much rather have a house with a yard where my kids can play then spend the day with thousands of tourists on the mall. And be able to park in a driveway, instead of driving around for a parking spot and lugging my groceries. The cost of living here also requires both parents to work, which is not something we want. There are tradeoffs to every decision.

Posted by: TP | March 9, 2007 10:50 AM

"Our worst investment was Catholic school."

Annandale Mom, my wife and I discussing ourselves into knots over the question of Catholic school versus public school. What was it about the Catholic school that made it not worth it? Was it just the tuition or something more?

Posted by: RockvilleDad | March 9, 2007 10:50 AM

To Hopeful,

You don't have to choose between the way-far-out 'burbs and the city. We live in the streetcar suburb of Hyattsville (the municipality NOT the amorphous unincorporated part of Prince George's County). We're two metro stops from DC and five minutes by car. A lot of people who work on the Hill live here for the short commute, as do a lot of employees of the Dept. of Interior (perhaps because we're a Nat'l Historic District?). The community has really strong elementary and middle schools (we were shocked to discover this!) as well as Catholic, Luthern and Montessori options. A lot of young families are moving to the area because of its proximity to DC and the affordable housing stock (hubbie and I used to rent in Takoma Park because we loved the housing stock and sense of community - we found the same for a much more afforadable price in Hyattsville!). My husband and I don't yet have kids, but are already tuned into the whole clothing/toy/food sharing that occurs among families here. The City offers lots of activities for families - they are definitely valued here!

If you're doing a drive-through of different communities, the historic part of Hyattsville is west of Route 1 and East of Queens Chapel Road, just south of University Park and East-West Highway. University Park is also great, but it's more expensive than Hyattsville - a lot of UMD faculty live both there and in Hyattsville.

Sorry if this sounds like an info-mercial, but I completely love my community!

Posted by: Anne B. | March 9, 2007 10:50 AM

My favorite is $20 for 8 week swim lessons through the DC parks and rec dept... sure beats the $150 for YMCA!

I am addicted to children's books and need to use the library and free readings more often...

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 10:52 AM

It is correct that some states offer tax deductions (which vary by state) for contributions to 529 plans (which are after tax at the federal level). There are no income limits on participation in 529s.

The real benefit of 529 savings plans, is that the $ builds up tax free within the account and is not taxed when you take it out, provided that it is used for qualified educational expenses.

I would point out that a 529 savings plan is different from a 529 pre-paid tuition plan. Prepaids allow you to purchase future education for your child at today's prices - which, at the rate tuitions are rising, is a great deal also.

Bob is right, though, talk to your fee based financial planner about which plan is best for you and your kids...

Good web resource: www.savingforcollege.com

Posted by: D in DC | March 9, 2007 10:57 AM

I can't usually relate to these sorts of articles. I tried to figure out quickly how much we spend on our children and including everything except housing and grocery costs, I came up with about $2000/child/year. Far cry from $16,000!

Best investment: making the choice to live in a mid-sized university town with many, many inexpensive or free options for families. We might not have the free museums and the exposure to culture and politics that the DC area does, but the relaxed, slow-down-and-smell-the-roses lifestyle is more than enough compensation for us.

Worst investment: The only thing I can really think of here is preschool for my two older kids, just because I have changed my thinking so much on the necessity of preK schooling. But since I was working then, they would have just been in daycare for longer each day had they not gone to preschool, so I guess that's not really applicable!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 10:58 AM

We happen to have family all over the East coast, including Florida, Williamsburg, and Pennsylvania. So instead of a Disney vacation, we realized it would be cheaper to buy a 2-year pass that gives us admission to all 9 of the Busch Gardens theme parks. While we were visiting family, we went to both Busch Gardens (Tampa and Williamsburg), Sea World, and Sesame Place many times. Since we don't buy any other junk while we're there, it's been a great deal for us. And it's really nice to have a pass and just go for a few hours a day, rather than feeling like you have to spend a long exhausting day there to get our money's worth.

Posted by: Neighbor | March 9, 2007 11:01 AM

The first year for the first-born is BY FAR the most expensive. First, they get you with the safety scare, and given the option between a $99 IKEA crib and a $399 fancy-shmancy super-safe crib you're guilt-trapped into buying the more expensive. Same thing for car seats, strollers, etc.
The best money spent so far is 529 contributions, both ours and our families'. Another big hit is the nanny. We are both working parents, and have a great woman watching our son, but at $16/hr for 40 hours a week... you do the math. It's half of my wife's nest salary. Then again, what other choices do we have? My own parents live in another country, and my in-laws are on the east coast.
But you know what? I'd rather spend money to raise a healthy and honest gentleman than buy myself a stupid SUV, bigger house, fancy clothes, gizmo toys and the rest. There's only one investment that will outlive us and love us, and they don't sell it at Best Buy!

Posted by: dad_in_SF | March 9, 2007 11:02 AM

"Spring Break vacation that many families I know are are taking my husband and I are taking 3 days off that week, going hiking on Sugar Loaf Mountain one day (good hike for elementary kids), going to the movies one day, and leaving the third day open for anything that pops up."

CMAC --

This sounds ldyllic. Fun plans but also time for spontaneity.

Your kids will probably remember that "holiday" much longer than kids who go on a cruise!

Posted by: pittypat | March 9, 2007 11:02 AM

That was me at 10:58, not an anonymous!

Posted by: momof4 | March 9, 2007 11:02 AM

Oops. That should be "idyllic"!

Posted by: pittypat | March 9, 2007 11:04 AM

Best investment: the Fisher Price portable booster seat, it's a great portable high chair to take to restaurants, picnics, etc.

I built a website to list out other products we love:

http://www.squidoo.com/babygearthatworks

Not too many bad investments, but if we had to do over again, would have selected one of the lighter strollers instead of a big bulky one.

Posted by: Mac | March 9, 2007 11:05 AM

I'm trying to think of costs that I regret... we're generally pretty frugal. I think we went overboard with our first baby, buying a bunch of new stuff that she only used for a few months. I wish I had known about Once Upon a Child or other consignment stores when I was spending $80 on a new Exersaucer, when I could get half the price on a slightly used one...

Posted by: Neighbor | March 9, 2007 11:06 AM

As far as museums in this area go, I will say that the Maryland Science Center is a great investment. We take our son there once a year, and each time, he loves it more. In fact, this morning he was begging to go tomororow (which we probably won't).

Posted by: Emily | March 9, 2007 11:11 AM

I have a question for those of you who don't like the idea of overspending on their kids. How do you feel about certain lessons, like dance, music, or languages? What kind of clubs and extracurricular activities are you okay with when they're in school, especially high school? I only ask because it seems these days the most sought-after candidates for college are the ones who are involved in sports, student government, speech and debate, martial arts, cello, ad nauseum. I always wanted to do that stuff in high school and couldn't because I had to work to contribute to the household. BF did everything under the sun and it seems like those things gave him a great sense of responsibility, organizational skills, social skills, and maturity, things I do not have. The only time I was able to do anything was in middle school, and it had to be free stuff like drama or choir--no sports or student government. Do you think such organizations are important for college-bound students, and do you think the expense is worth the upper hand? I only ask for future reference. Thank you for any opinions or information you could give! :-)

And sorry about my beauty pageant rant. I can't stand them. They're fine for consenting adults, but for young kids, they just seem like a pedophile's paradise.

Oh, and thank you for the link, Product of a Working Mother. I actually like those shirts a lot! I may order a few for myself!

Posted by: Mona | March 9, 2007 11:11 AM

Anne B.--
I don't mean to be obtuse, but I am looking at a map and trying to figure this out. Would the metro stop be West Hyattsville, just South of the East-West Hway?

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 11:13 AM

Pittypat, biking on Sugarloaf mountin? Now that's impressive. I went hiking there last year and was lucky I didn't break my leg. You gotta be nuts to ride a bicycle there.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, you are nuts! :-)

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 11:22 AM

"Anne B.--
I don't mean to be obtuse, but I am looking at a map and trying to figure this out. Would the metro stop be West Hyattsville, just South of the East-West Hway?"

Anne B is talking about PG Plaza station. "Two stops away from DC" means that it is PG Plaza, then West Hyattsville, then at Fort Totten you have crossed the DC border.

Personally, I'd recommend attaching yourself to the Red Line instead of the Green Line due to frequency of trains and general service issues, but then I'm biased :)

Posted by: Takoma Park | March 9, 2007 11:23 AM

Mona: I can't really speak for colleges, being Canadian, and I'm sure there is variance between them anyway, but: my university shied away from awarding scholarships to candidates with a traditional extracurricular resume because it's so easy for parents to direct that stuff without the kid really having that much drive. My full scholarship was awarded to 10 entrants per year across all disciplines and it was based mainly on a personal essay and letters of reference, not a resume, and the people who won it had all done something outside of the usual extracurriculars & high marks (my own winning point, according to the entrance committee, was being the first & only female wrestler at my school. Go ahead, laugh...)
Longwinded, sorry, but my point is that I think kids are best off doing something they really love & believe in, even if it's idiosyncratic, than doing a checklist of things to fill out a resume.
My guess is your BF managed to do all of those things because he was already pretty mature and responsible. Some kids really need to focus on their studies at that age. And also, I think kids like yourself who need to work to assist the family are gaining invaluable education about the real world... I know who I'd hire!

Posted by: worker bee | March 9, 2007 11:24 AM

Meesh: Most of you seem opposed to conspicuous consumption. How are you going to prevent your kids from going that route?
_____________

Hopefully, by showing them that not everybody lives that way and it's not needed. We make sure they're involved with a lot of the charitable work at church. Our (Catholic) parish has relationships with a parish/school in a parish in Baltimore, one in Latin America and since Katrina, one in New Orleans. As appropriate for their age, they're involved in things like Our Daily Bread, So Others Might Eat, the school supplies collection, the Christmas clothing/toy collection, etc. You can see it in their eyes the first time they realize that they're asking for a specific model of iPod, brand of clothing, etc. and somebody else is going to be thrilled with a flannel shirt from Kohl's, a nice stuffed animal and a good meal. Makes 'em think.

Other than that, it's by the rest of our actions. Okay, I'm guilty - I grew up poor (Army NCO's aren't paid worth crap, and schoolteachers - particularly in places like LA and MS - about the same). I made a conscious choice to have more money so I could have luxuries - that was six years of college to get three degrees; plus working 60 hours a week my first few years in the work force to move up. Darn it, I LIKE the suits I had hand-made in Hong Kong (for about $200 each, I might add!), I LIKE the fact that we have a nice house in HoCo, I LIKE the fact that we can take vacations, travel, etc. I LIKE the fact that when my mother wanted to go to London I could pay for it. But we try to show them that having nice things is only a small part of it, and the bigger part is being able to do nice things for others. That Coach purse won't be meaningful to you for long, but the person who's happy because you fed him a hot, nutritious meal will be meaningful for a long long time.

Posted by: Army Brat | March 9, 2007 11:24 AM

I have 3 boys 17, 4, and 16 months, and for the first I was a single mom from age 1. I have to say that being frugal, by necessity, didn't harm him in the least. If he wanted a toy, I usually said that it wasn't in our budget, which he grew to understand. We read lots of library books and took advantage of the many free or cheap activities that abound in this area. We had a 13 inch tv that got very little use - no cable or satellite dish to bring in all those addictive programs. We went to parks and he played outside alot. For vacations, we usually visited our out of state family. Today he is an avid reader, doing well in school, and starting to look at colleges. He is very close to his cousins and communicates with them often over the web.

With my younger two boys, I definitely try to give them the things that I couldn't afford for the first - and as a consequence, I think they have too much of everything. It was very hard to curb my 4 year old's addiction to new toys, but now he has to "earn" them. As an older mom, I definitely have less energy for them than I did for the first - but I try!

Posted by: Herndon Mom | March 9, 2007 11:25 AM

I second the Baltimore Aquarium idea. It's great, and the fish and turtles swim right up to you to check you out (or at least they do when you have active kids like mine). The dolphin show was a bit of a bust -- it was too short, and I don't think it's cute to be splashed by dolphins.
I may have to get a membership for that and the zoo. The National Wildlife Research Center in the Laurel/Bowie area is a cute little place with nature paths, places to view wildlife and nice exhibits (free).

The aquarium, circus, etc. are the more extravagant costs for my kids. Outside of daycare. I want to try Disney World, since I went to Disneyland as a child, but I'd like to save up for that and not charge it.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 9, 2007 11:26 AM

I think music/sports/arts/whatever classes are worth the money IF the activity is one in which the child geniunely enjoys. It takes a while for your child to know what they like, so there will be some wasted money on say piano lessons before you realize your child prefers the guitar, but I think they are never really a total waste (as it helps your child figure out the things they really do want to do and appreciate them more). At the same time, parents can go overboard on these activities. You have to draw the line somewhere and each child is different in this respect.

Posted by: londonmom | March 9, 2007 11:28 AM

If you live in the DC area, taking a group of kids to the Air and Space museum for a birthday party is a great idea. It's free, huge, and has lots of wide open areas where the kiddies can run around and after about 2 hours, you can completely rag them out.

Plus there are some decent and interesting displays.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 11:31 AM

Mona, in response to your question: I like the idea of lessons and such, in moderation -- ie, according to the child's interests and abilities, and the parents' ability to pay and willingness to deal with the schedule. I've written before that I grew up poor; my mom did her best to let me do things I enjoyed, but there were things that were just out of the question. Example: found out at @ 30 yrs old that I have a really nice golf swing and can hit the ball really far. But when I was growing up, golf was for the rich kids -- we played free sports, not ones that you had to pay for. Now I love the game (not that I get to play much anymore), but I'm always going to have this little voice wondering how good I might have been if I'd had a chance to start at 8 or 10 or 12.

One of the nicest benefits of having more money now is that I can open the world up to my kids in a way it wasn't for me. I don't want/expect them to do everything under the sun (back to that parental tolerance thing) -- we only do about one thing at a time. But I want to expose them to a variety of interesting things, and then if they find something that they really love, we have the means to allow them to pursue it.

So yes, I am far more willing to pay for experiences than for material things. But it's not because it will look good on a college application. It's because I want them to find their true passion in life, the person they are meant to be. And I hope that exposing them to all sorts of different things -- from math to music to arts to sports to charity to travel -- gives them a better chance to find that life-long love.

Posted by: Laura | March 9, 2007 11:31 AM

I don't have kids but as a former child I can say that the best money my parents spent was anything we could read. From the time I was 5 (sister and brother too) we read anything and everything we could get out hands on. The house was full of books and magazines and newspapers.
We are all voracious readers even now.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 11:32 AM

Hi, Hopeful -

There are two metro stations - my husband and I usually use the stop at Prince George's Plaza (at the corner of Belcrest Road and East West Highway). It's a 15 min. walk through the neighborhood from where we live. West Hyattsville is also a good option.

The municipality of Hyattsville is roughly divided by Queens Chapel Road. It just depends on what kind of housing stock you like - the houses west of QCR tend to be ranchers or smaller cape cods. The area east of QCR is the Historic District, with small bungalows, huge victorians, colonials, etc. I live on the east side and like that I can walk to the post office, the local brewery, City Hall, our brand new yarn shop(!), etc. Yes, the metros would be closer if we lived on the west side, but I don't mind a 15 min. walk and I have an unhealthy obsession with older houses!

If you just want to walk around and check out the community and housing stock, the Hyattsville Preservation Association has a walking tour on their website: www.preservehyattsville.org.

Hope this helps! Goodness, I could probably think of a quick driving tour too if I put my mind to it :)

Posted by: Anne B. | March 9, 2007 11:33 AM

I think Capitol hill is the best DC neighborhood for families who are looking for a diverse, walkable, livable comunity with lots of parks and good schools. The area around Eastern Market is great- there are lots of parent-run co-op "playgroups" plus hill PReschool and there is a montessouri preschool I hear raves about. The neighborhood public elementary schools are excellent (especially, PEabody withits Reggio Emilia focus, although watkins (Montessouri focus), Brent (museum magnet), Maury and Tyler (spanish emersion) and there are good charter schools-- the KIPP school on Captiol hill has the highest scores of ANY middle school in DC-- and great private schools like Capitol hill Day School. Seems like there is such a wonderful variety of schools all in walking distance, which is really great because you just don't know what situation type of school will owrk best for your child until they become of age-- and meanwhile, it's great to have so many parks to visit (Lincoln, Marion, etc.) AND to have the NAtional Mall in our own "backyard". right now our 3 year old loves his neighborhood and his school and that works great for us as we only have a 15 minute communte. At some point we may move out to the burbs, but at this point we are quite happy.

PS the up-and-coming area of Capitol Hill is around the Potomac Metro Stop where the new Harris Teeter is going up. that's is where I would buy if I were a young family. The schools in that area are in transition as the familiies that lived in the housing projects are moving out. (Just reality that schools that take in kids growing up in such projects have many more problems than those schools that aren't having to deal with that population-- not saying it is righ or wrong or that it is the fault of the kids-- just fact that it is something to consider before you sign on the dotted line for the 30 year mortgage-- if they are moving out, it makes sense to be more comfortable with that signature.) Anyway, the houses are much less expensive than around Eastern Market metro and if you get involved early in boosting your neighborhood in-boundry elementary school (they tend to be small anyway), YOU may be successful in causing a turn-around for the school! Which will benefit not just your kid and your property values, but will also make a difference in all the other kid's lives and in the all thse that come into contact with those kids. I think the Freakonomics book said something along the lines that parent activity at local school can have a tremendous effect on the "outcome" of the students. We started attending PTA meetins when our oldest was only one and I think it really helped the school that I did so, along with many of our neighbors.

I've also heard good things about Brookland and SW waterfront. Takoma PArk seemed really nice, but just too far away for our taste.

Posted by: Jen | March 9, 2007 11:34 AM

I get so tired of these self serving posts opposing "conspicous consumption". There is nothing good about being poor. That is why everyone on earth does their best to avoid it. I think that jealousy comes into play big time around here sometimes. The american dream is to do well and live well. The problem is when money corrupts you and turns you into a crappy person. Being well off is something to be proud of.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 9, 2007 11:34 AM

"How do you feel about certain lessons, like dance, music, or languages? What kind of clubs and extracurricular activities are you okay with when they're in school, especially high school? "

I probably come at this from a slightly different pov (see my above "smell the roses" post :o) ). But what we've tried to do for our children is give them a balanced childhood with plenty of exposure to sports, music, etc. The difference, I think, between overspending and not overspending is which organization you choose. For example - my kids play AYSO soccer which costs $50 for two 7 week (fall & spring) seasons. They practice twice a week and play local games on Saturdays. Other kids play club soccer which not only costs a lot more in playing fees but involves travel expenses, tournament fees, and a time commitment by the entire family to spend their weekends driving to and sitting at tournaments. We've done the same thing with other sports - they play Parks and Rec baseball and basketball instead of Little Leauge and it's basketball counterpart, my girls are on the swim team but we don't go to every meet and might choose to swim just one day of a weekend-long meet instead of three, etc. We do choose to spend money on private piano lessons, but once they get to 6th grade and start playing a band instrument, they have the option to quit piano. We've chosen to not pay for language lessons and feel confident that high school language will be fine - and if they want to pursue it in college great.

I only have one in high school and he's just a freshman, but I don't see that you have to spend money to give your high schooler a well rounded, complete college application. My son is probably the least involved in activities of all my kids, but he plays in the band (concert, pep, marching), is in an Italian club at school, participates in a book club at the library, does a lot of volunteer work, plays basketball with parks and rec, and belongs to a youth group at his church. He takes German in school. He won't make it into Harvard of course, but that wouldn't be in the cards for him even if we spent every dollar we had on giving him an enriched life.

Posted by: momof4 | March 9, 2007 11:35 AM

Hey Jen:

You said: "...but I wonder if my child would be happier if i had let him select his very own carseat."

Are you kidding me? A 3 y.o. is not informed nor responsible enough to choose a car seat. That's what "parents" are for.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 11:38 AM

Again, many many thanks to all those who are weighing in on our little "where to start a family within parenting distance from our DC jobs" dilemma.
I am saving all your suggestions and will be roaming the town and 'burbs armed with them soon.
Do keep them coming!

Posted by: hopeful | March 9, 2007 11:40 AM

The red line is, hands down, the way to go. My coworker lives in Vienna (blue/orange) and he is either late coming in everyday or he tells us the nightmare commute home from the previous night. No thanks!

The red line is really the way to go! Silver Spring is on the red line adn I've heard great things about the area for families, but I'd stick to Woodley/Cleveland Park or Tenleytown, or if you don't care about Metro, Glover Park or Foxhall

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 11:40 AM

Hmmm - I used to ride the red line when I lived in Takoma Park and I've frankly found the green line to have fewer service issues (perhaps because it's newer than the red line? not sure). It's also less crowded at the north end, because the only stops before Prince George's Plaza are College Park and Greenbelt (Old Greenbelt, incidentally, is also a very nice neighborhood - one of only 3 federally planned communities in the U.S.). I always get a seat on the green line in the morning. This definitely wasn't the case when I lived on the red line. But, I fully agree with the Takoma Park poster that Takoma Park is GREAT! I don't think you could go wrong in any of the old streetcar suburb communities.

Posted by: Anne B. | March 9, 2007 11:40 AM

Re lessons - I volunteer for college nights for my alma mater, a top 25 university. I asked the admissions rep on the most important factors for acceptance. She said that the top 10% and bottom 10% are no-brainers, but the middle 80% would all be sucessful. She said that it's pretty clear which kids are involved in activities they enjoy, and tend to hold leadership positions in these organizations, and that helps a lot. She said they can spot helicopter parenting right away, and the kids who do a jillion activities because they want to get into college. Quality, not quantity.

Just her two cents, but I gathered from that to let your kids guide you on what they enjoy, and put your time and resources there.

Posted by: Ann Arbor | March 9, 2007 11:41 AM

pATRICK -
I think I was one of those posters against conspicuous consumption. But I have nothing against people making lots of money... just sgainst spending it on dumb things that don't make anyone really happy in the long run. To me, "consumption" doesn't mean a paycheck, it means a credit card bill.

By all means... stack up the cash! In this world, money is freedom, or at least it can be if you hang onto it.

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 11:46 AM

Army Brat - i live in HoCo also, but my family is keeping down the median income :). Your family obviously is doing well - au pair, overseas trips, etc. While you are showing your children other things and other ways that people live to appreciate what they have, that doesn't always work for all children.

We do the same for our children, and the youngest gets it, but not the oldest. She compares our circumstances to her "rich" Howard County friends and feels deprived. I try to tell her all the time that we live better than most of the people in this country, but it doesn't seem to help.

We consciously chose to live here for the schools, knowing that we would be on the lower end of the county's socioeconomic scale. That was our biggest money mistake. I think she would have done just as well in another school system with our oversight, and would have a better grasp on how most of the country really lives. I think we also would have more of a peaceful home life. It's much harder to fight teenage materialism when the friends have $200 sunglasses, their own cars at 16, and never have to buy their own gas and/or pay for car insurance.

We don't cave, we fight it, but it sure would be easier if we were in an area more compatible with our budget. We won't move now because i don't think it's fair to put them in different schools once they hit middle school or later.

Posted by: family on a budget | March 9, 2007 11:46 AM

I have a 5 and 7 year old. I'm a single mother who has a salary of six figures. I am constantly amazed at how children even as young as mine are completely over endulged and want for nothing.

I make my kids birthday cakes. We've never rented a moon-bounce, rented out a bowling alley, ice house, swimming pool. We've had exactly 1 birthday party to which kids were invited and it was at the house and we played pin the tail on the donkey. My kids don't have a playstation, don't own 1 computer game ,and don't have any hand held games (I don't even know what they are called) We eat out once a week on pizza night.
We don't attend most of the other kids parties because of the extravgance and number of people who usually turn into a circus. My kids are happy, well adjusted and know that we will not buy a new toy until they give one away and that we aren't going to Atlantis 2 times a year for vacation.
While I love the diversity in this part of the country and the access to such wonderful free cultural experiences, I am VERY concerned about the pressure the my kids will face as they get older and realize that they don't have all the "stuff that their friends have.

Posted by: ashburn | March 9, 2007 11:46 AM

Worst: Wasting money. Years of buying Pampers brand diapers instead of Target brand which are about half the price and almost as good, although we still use Pampers at night. Just think if all the money we could have saved had gone into the college funds. For that matter, Target has a lot of good generics for baby/child-related stuff that are fairly equivalent-wipes, Dreft, Aveeno

Best: saving money. Lots of hand-me-down clothes and baby equipment from cousins and friends. Many thrift store buys as well.

Best: buying a house before having children. Not the nicest or least nice house in the neighborhood but in a good location and bought before real estate prices skyrocketed.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | March 9, 2007 11:48 AM

The city of Bowie and just outside the city are actually nice places to live. Quiet, not much in the way of crime, good resources and growing amenities. The public schools in the city of Bowie tend to have higher test scores than a lot of the schools outside the city. There are lots of private schools in the area too.

I admit to a love/hate relationship with Prince George's County. I am tempted to move, but I'll stay, at least for the next few years. Maybe I'll just move to another part. There are some good spots besides the ones I've mentioned. I also like Greenbelt, I've seen nice houses in College Park and Hyattsville, and I've seen some pretty houses in Cheverly, which has a lot of architectural charm.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 9, 2007 11:49 AM

hopeful,

Arlington is great for kids. Parks and playgrounds everywhere, good schools, low crime, lots of different activities provided through the county parks and recreation.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 11:49 AM

Part of the reason I don't mind occassionally indulging my kids is the clock on the wall. Everyday it ticks away closer to the time that they will leave and this time will be over. One day my son will never ever hold my hand for the rest of his life. My daughter will not butterfly kiss me ever again. They will be grown with friends and dad will be lame. So if he gets a nintendo and it makes him happy and I can afford it what the hell.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 9, 2007 11:51 AM

Hopeful, I'd look at Fairlington in South Arlington. It's a bit cheaper than North Arlington (although still expensive), but more doable I find.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 11:51 AM

"Pittypat, biking on Sugarloaf mountin? Now that's impressive. I went hiking there last year and was lucky I didn't break my leg. You gotta be nuts to ride a bicycle there.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, you are nuts! :-)"

No, no, Dad of 4. It's cmac going on the Sugarloaf Mountain biking excursion. I was just commenting on how cool it sounded (as if I'd be able to do such a thing!).

Yes, I am nuts. Probably certifiably. Which is why I enjoy associating with the likes of you! :>)

Posted by: pittypat | March 9, 2007 11:52 AM

Londonmom writes:

"Matt in Aberdeen - nice crack about us lawyers at law firms. I think you are under some misperceptions about (1) how many hours we work, (2) our desire to make partner, and (3) our desire/ability to spend $100,000/year on our children."

So many of the posters to "On Balance" seem to write about law firms, I couldn't resist. I don't really believe that even the most diligent associates work 200 hours a week. If America adopted the old French Revolutionary calendar -- the one with Thermidor and Brumaire -- there would be ten days in a week, so that if an associate worked twenty hours a day, the firm could bill 200 hours a week. With the existing seven-day calendar, not even Scrooge could get 200 hours out of Bob Cratchit in a week.

My father was a sole practitioner. My wife's father was a sole practitioner. If our law student son ever gets to practice, I would hate to see him ground up in the machine. If you have your own practice, you are the partner right away and you get to keep any profits.

Posted by: Matt in Aberdeen | March 9, 2007 11:53 AM

I forgot to mention that a lot of people end up buying little vacation homes or boats, etc. as kids get older and the "walls" start to feel like they are closing in with these narrow row houses. that way you still get the easy commute during the work week, but get the wide open space of West VA, Cheasapeak, PA, etc. on weekends. We aren't there, but it may be an alternative to consider at some point to just leaving Captiol Hill entirely for the burbs. On MOTH, the neighborhood parenting listserve, a mother mentioned that she was considering leaving because her older child seemed to really be craving the Bridge to Terabithia ideal of going out into nature for hours at a time without needing adult supervision. so that is something that has been on my mind as a possbile drawback to Captiol Hill living, that may require consideration in a few years. MOTH is a great resource for such eye-opening information.

Posted by: Jen | March 9, 2007 11:53 AM

"We consciously chose to live here for the schools, knowing that we would be on the lower end of the county's socioeconomic scale. That was our biggest money mistake. I think she would have done just as well in another school system with our oversight"

YES!!! I am so glad to finally hear this common-sense observation!

Too many people rely on "the system" instead of outdoing the system.

Clawing your way into a "good" school system is one approach. But being in a mellower, happier, down-to-earth place leads to happier parents, less stress from financial obligation, more family closeness, and thus better parenting.

With better parenting, the kids can learn just as much, do just as well and be closer as a family than the stressed-out parallel families in HoCo (or MoCo).

This is so important! I am amazed that more people are not aware of it with all the stress on "family" in our culture. And yet it is so common-sense and obvious.

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 11:56 AM

Daughter is only 1 so list is kind of limited.

Best investment: Me taking full 12 weeks of leave, and DH taking month of leave when she was first born. Oh, that and lots and lots of books (she is a huge "reader" already..)

Worst investment: Can't think of any so far, but we're naturally very careful people. I've bought a few items of clothing for her which didn't fit her properly or were not appropriate for her size and the seasons, but we buy few good quality clothing items at a time and wash the living daylights out of them.

Found it highly amusing when parents/teachers at DD's daycare were surprised we weren't having a 1st birthday for her. For heavens sake, at 1!!!

Posted by: DopeyTart | March 9, 2007 11:56 AM

Been there and starting over: I have grown kids and now a little grandchild! (How'd that happen? I am still young, darn it!)

Our best money choices we made when we were raising kids:

Location, location, location! Buy/rent a home in an attractive, convenient, good, safe neighborhood with very good schools and good people. Skimp on all other luxuries to achieve this. This is the one choice that is most important to your family and your best financial investment, too!

Educate wisely. No skimping here. We spent scarce dollars on Montessori pre-school and kindergarden and never regretted that decision. We then used EXCELLENT (see house choices above) public schools for grades 1-12. One kid, with medical issues, might have been better off at a private school. Hindsight. College was expensive and private for the kid who wanted/earned that. That college was worth it. Only regret is that we did not give that kid an allowance in college. We should have but money was tight. Another kid prefers to work, use local colleges, and live at home. That works because it is his own choice.

(College choice major hint: Look at the 4 & 5 year graduation percentages for the colleges. How many years can you afford? Successful colleges have high graduation percentages. MANY, MANY others do not. Some are laughable - you wonder if anyone EVER graduates from those.)

Everything else: Provide your kid with things she needs and some things she wants but not ALL. Give her an allowance but not too much. Teach her to enjoy and appreciate and care for what she has. Our kids hated camps so we didn't bother with that much. Don't run up your credit cards for anything less than a real emergency. Do take yearly family vacations that you can easily afford - the kids will remember the togetherness and the novelty no matter how cheap it is! Say "no" to extravagant gift exchanges, grand gestures, and budget-busting activities. Live your own life - not the neighbors.

So far, I have been a very conservative grandparent. I've learned what's really important in raising kids. I have 20-20 hindsight! Too late for me. Enjoy.


Posted by: boomerette | March 9, 2007 11:57 AM

Almost mom of 3 writes:

"We figure the love and fun that the third child will bring to lives of our first two kids will far outweigh any deprivation they might suffer by not having a monkey at their birthday party."

That's exactly how my wife and I feel every time we see the three of them together. Talk about "the best investment you could make"!

Posted by: Matt in Aberdeen | March 9, 2007 11:59 AM

Best investments: section 529 college funds, day care and extra activities (exercise and music classes) there

Also best: (GASP) better quality clothes--(think colorful, comfortable knits that are easy for a nearly 3 year old to put on herself)--sorry, but I wanted a daughter for a very long time and now that I have her, not about to miss out on fun with her clothes! She likes picking her outfits and says "I look BEA-YOO-ti-ful"! Yes they are outgrown quickly, but so are the cheaper things--am baffled by the earnestness of some posts on the pros of cheap/second hand clothes when as adults we know it counts to look your best--No Thanks, she should look as nice as her parents do!
Another best: LOTS of photos, formal and home snapshots--so many smiles and tears and memories every time I look through them, moments I would have forgotten otherwise --

Savings: Reliable but old cars, lots of hand me down toys (for some reason I don't mind those and neither does she), lots of public library trips, lots of free (zoo, local park) and low key (cleaning the yard, walking the dog thru the neighborhood) things when we are together--when we are at home, at least one of us (my husband or me) is totally engaged with her, most cleaning done during naps and meals these days are pretty quick-prep ...

I TOTALLY agree with previous commenters that time is the best thing to save--my family-friendly job is too good a deal for me to give up, so we make the most of our time outside of the regular workday ... also, folks, most of all, hugs and kisses and praise are free!

Posted by: Kat's Mom | March 9, 2007 11:59 AM

"We do the same for our children, and the youngest gets it, but not the oldest. She compares our circumstances to her "rich" Howard County friends and feels deprived. I try to tell her all the time that we live better than most of the people in this country, but it doesn't seem to help."

I dealt with this somewhat as a teenager. I now look back at those people I thought were cool with disdain as parasites. I would suggest working through your church or place of worship and have her do some volunteer work to "see the other side" of life. Perhaps that will open her eyes.

Posted by: pATRICK | March 9, 2007 12:00 PM

as adults we know it counts to look your best

Actually, "we" don't all know that. Some of us recognize that "your best" doesn't have to mean expensive and new, and some of us recognize that appearances matter very little compared to character.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 12:05 PM

I just did an estimate based on a rose-colored-glasses assumption that my child will have no extraordinary health or development problems. I came up with about $150,000 for 18 years counting in money for childcare and other expenses. We will, in addition, put aside about $100,000 into college savings over the 18 years barring unforeseen adverse events. One of my best friends has 4 daughters, so mine will wear hand-me-downs until she is old enough to buy her own clothes.

We do plan to add on to our house (to go from 800 square feet to about 1200 -2BR,1Ba to 3BR, 2Ba), but we were planning to do that regardless and we see it as an investment since we live on very valuable land near a metro station.

Posted by: MaryB | March 9, 2007 12:06 PM

Best decisions:
• Craigslist, buying in moms-to-moms sales and garage sales
• Montessori school (we're excited, DS starts this fall at 2yrs old)
• Having large "1st birthday" party for family and friends, but asking them not to buy DS any gifts
• Library! Love the library. DVDs are free for a week here, plus you can go online and place holds on whatever you'd like, from any county library. They send you an email when it arrives, then you go pick it up.

Worst:
• Can't really think of one yet. We are pretty frugal by necessity! Right now we are paying down about a $16,000 debt (DH started a new business and we moved to a different state in the past year. We needed got some financial help from my dad and from a 0% interest credit card loan).

Posted by: Rebecca | March 9, 2007 12:08 PM

One of the best things my parents, who were wealthier than most in our area, taught me was to buy good quality things, take care of them, and make them last. I still follow this practice and I can afford more expensive items because I take such good care of what I buy. So many of my friends go the cheap and trendy route, but buy way too much or end up buying four "cheap" answering machines in four years while I kept the same, very reliable, one for almost 20!

As for that trip to Disney World, why not? If your kids would enjoy it and you can afford to do it, teach them to plan and save for vacations by sharing the process.

I guess the best thing my parents did for me was to always interact, be good role models, and explain many of their financial decisions rather than just saying "no".

Posted by: Valerie | March 9, 2007 12:10 PM

oh, yes, Rebecca - the Library!!! That is one of my big faves too. I used to buy books all the time and then I realized that it was taking a lot of energy to keep up with the collection. My new criteria for buying is a)does the library have it and b)is this a very special book we'd like to have. Same with movies. Our library system has a huge DVD collection, so we watch for free and have 1 week to return the discs. I put them on hold online and wait my turn. I considered subscribing to netflix, but so far haven't needed to.

Posted by: MaryB | March 9, 2007 12:12 PM

"Please stop shopping at Target. I know it's cheap but please think about where your money goes. Target allows its pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning after pill. If providing women with reproductive choices is something that is important to you, please think twice about supporting a company that seeks to limit those choices. Not a big deal for people who live in big cities but in some places in this country that translates into no access."

There's always BC, condoms, a "sample" from the doctor, and an ER (hospitals have pharmacies).

Do you shop at Wal-Mart? They do far worse things!!!

Posted by: Get over yourself | March 9, 2007 12:15 PM

"am baffled by the earnestness of some posts on the pros of cheap/second hand clothes when as adults we know it counts to look your best--No Thanks, she should look as nice as her parents do!"

That's right. She needs the right clothes for the big playdate interview. The other little tykes might not accept her if she isn't wearing the right gymboree color coordinated outfit of the season.

Seriously, I get the desire to dress a little girl in fun clothes. I have a little boy and I also like to see him look spiffy on occasion. And I agree that good quality clothes last longer. But you can certainly get attractive, good quality clothing second hand. And you can get it at very good discount prices if you are a good shopper. I see no reason to spend an astronomical amount of money on kids clothing, when you can spend a moderate amount of money on stuff that looks just as nice. No one will know how much you paid except yourself. But if you do insist on paying high prices for nice clothes that your child will barely wear for a few months, then by all means do so if it makes you happy and you can afford to. Just remember to sell it at a consignment store so that other kids can look as nice as your daughter without having to pay as much.

Posted by: Emily | March 9, 2007 12:19 PM

3 of my kids grew up when it was a bit cheaper. I did however spend over $100,000 to spend my #1 dau to private college. The best thing that I have done for #4 is to open a 529 account. I already have more money in there than what I spent on my college degree! And it is not enough!

The worst investment was the 3 cars that my kids totaled!

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2007 12:19 PM

Go to the burbs -- recommend Columbia, MD -- extremely family-friendly planned community of 100,000.

Ellicott City MD is right next to Columbia and is a great place to live.


Just remember the 12,000 jobs coming to that area thanks to BRAC.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | March 9, 2007 12:23 PM

"There's always BC, condoms, a "sample" from the doctor, and an ER (hospitals have pharmacies)."

Please. This is a parents' board. No one knows better that BIRTH CONTROL FAILS.

Posted by: Mona | March 9, 2007 12:28 PM

We must have done something right about the emotional investment in our son. He told me last night that he would do some work at "Habitat for Humanity" after this school year. I did not prompt him about this or even mention it. He does follow the news and is otherwise engaged in current events even though he acts indifferent to them!

Posted by: Fred (and Frieda) | March 9, 2007 12:29 PM

Hey, Fo4, did you ever think that you unleashing a bunch of kids to "run around" the Air and Space Museum might be disruptive to other patrons? Museums are great to take kids to, but only if they behave appropriately. I wonder how many nice trips to Air and Space have been disrupted by people bringing in huge groups of kids they can't control and letting them run wild.

Posted by: museum | March 9, 2007 12:34 PM

Fred,
You guys have obviously done something right. Have there been many homes rebuilt there by Habitat? Maybe that is where he got the idea?

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 12:34 PM

I don't have kids yet but fondly remember my childhood. My parents didn't have any money to spare, but my dad owned a sailboat. All of our family vacations were, and still are, either camping or sailing together. It taught us to entertain ourselves, enjoy each other's company, and appreciate nature. I have so many fond memories of playing with my brother and sisters in the woods, building forts, and making up games. We didn't have many toys or special equipment, but those would have been thrown out long ago anyway. Instead I have great memories and a true appreciation for what I think vacations are supposed to be about-- relaxing and being grateful for what you DO have.

Posted by: Regan | March 9, 2007 12:41 PM

"I feel that our decision to move back here when our oldest kids were 4 & 2 was one of the best investments we could have made in their childhoods. all the museums and the zoo are free, and the exposure to different cultures and politics are invaluable."

I have a question about this. I have to admit I don't "get" the draw of living in the DC area, but I understand that if your life is there (family, friends, career), that it can trump all other things including a high cost of living.

My question is an accounting one about free museums and zoos. How often do you really take your kids to those places? Once a month? Twice a month? For a family of 4 to go to a museum/zoo/aquarium it might cost between $35 & 45 (I looked at the websites of those places in my state). Let's say $80/month to visit twice a month (and if you visited twice a month, you would likely have an annual membership, so that's probably overstating by quite a ways.) That's about $17,000 for the family over a childhood (I doubt you'll continue to take your kid to the zoo until they're 18, but let's just say you will.) Now I can't say for sure, but I would guess that a home in the DC area is going to cost more than $17,000 more than a comparable home in most other cities/areas. And when you factor in the cost of daycare, private schools, etc.....

So while I understand living in a high cost area for other reasons, the accountant in me says that free museums and zoos really don't add that much to the argument!

Posted by: momof4 | March 9, 2007 12:47 PM

I grew up on Capitol Hill and LOVED it. I used to have soccer practice on the Mall and ride my bike to and from. Riding back up Capitol Hill on tired legs after practice was always brutal, but there is something special about looking up and seeing the Capitol dome. Plus we used to stop for a water break (or a water fight) at that little Japanese water garden on the NW side of the grounds.

I was pretty old before I figured out there was a difference between local, national and international news, since it all took place within ten blocks of my house! My friends and I went to all those good schools, Brent, Watkins, Peabody, Capitol Hill Day, St. Peters. It's a real neighborhood, within the city, and I felt the coziness of it growing up, while also learning about kids and people from many different backgrounds, including folks living in the projects. To this day, I feel cheated when I have to pay for a museum. :)

I can't say what it's like to raise a family there now, but my parents still live there and my brother and his fiance have moved back to an appt that's five blocks away. I've got a shot at returning, too. (I live in Boston now.) And I think it's exactly the place I imagine raising kids.

The big trade-off I see is space. You won't have as much room in the city, either floor space or yard space. But your kids will be able to walk, bike or take the metro everywhere, to parks, playgrounds, museums and friend's houses. And they will learn to do this safely. When the time came for me to drive, I hated it! It was scary driving in the city and it was a much bigger hassle than just walking or taking the metro. My parents made me learn so that they wouldn't have to drive the Saturday morning carpool up to DC Youth Orchestra practices at Coolidge High in Tacoma Park. But it was only in college (a small NE college town) that I learned to appreciate a car. :)

As for the floor space, it's nice to have a lot of room, but it's also nice to not have a long commute, so it's a trade-off. Our house was a 1500 square-foot three bedroom, for a family of five. It worked great until we were 11-13 and my parents moved us to a bigger place nearby.

Just wanted to put in my two cents about raising city kids. I hope to have my own kids someday soon, and I don't know where I'll end up, suburbs or city, but I'll for sure be biased towards the city.

Posted by: capitol hill kid | March 9, 2007 12:52 PM

Our reality? SAHM and Quaker school for our two kids. Best money we'll ever spend. Lawyer husband with corporate job=home for dinner every night. Do-it-yourselfers with old cars, ebay clothes and cheap vacations. Always buy the museum/zoo membership. Saving for retirement/college means no home renovation or gym membership. (Wow, I sound way more crunchy than I thought I was!)

Worst money spent=Disney with grandparents for first child. Now second wants to go (and I kinda want to take her!)

Posted by: maria | March 9, 2007 12:53 PM

To momof4:
I can't speak for Leslie, but I think that while the museums and zoos are a great aspect of life in DC, the exposure to different cultures is far more important and might be more what she was trying to emphasize. I grew up in Alexandria and went to (public) high school with kids from more than 80 different countries. When I got to college, I had friends who could count on one hand the number of non-white kids in their entire class. Granted, that same thing might be true for many private schools in this area. Still, kids get such a fabulous exposure to other types of people in this area and it really makes a difference in their outlook.

Posted by: Charlottesville | March 9, 2007 12:56 PM

I'm from the DC area, so living near family is a benefit I enjoy, but I think the quality of the schools is also a factor in the financial equation. My brother-in-law's family lives in a less expensive city, but there are problems with violence in the public schools (even at the elementary level apparently) so the kids go to Catholic school.

I'm extremely fortunate to have bought a house 11 years ago in an inner suburb. At the time, we were the only ones interested in our tiny odd-ball house, so we got it for a song. Turns out that it was one of the first houses built by a world-famous architect! It's been the best (accidental) investment I'll probably ever make. Things would definitely be harder now if we hadn't bought then.

Posted by: MaryB | March 9, 2007 12:57 PM

Accidentally posted this first in the Parenting blog (can you tell it's a slow day at work?)

It's obvious that a lot of posters here are upper middle class and don't have to really worry about money (I'd say we used to be upper middle and now we are middle).

I would love to hear from some truly poor parents (who no doubt are working at WalMart or working in our local restaurants, etc. and don't have time or knowledge about blogging to comment).

How come Leslie doesn't really ever seek out people from other classes? Social researchers LOVE to look at the white upper middle class. Which is fine, but then we all think that's the reality for everyone, instead of a small percentage. Are they afraid to look at the poor? (I can only think of Barbara Erlich).

I know of a gentleman who works in my husband's restaurant, a mature, responsible person, who has 6 children. He only this year has been able to afford a phone. He had his first child when he was 17 and doesn't own a car (he takes 2 buses across town to get to work). He is religious, but no, I don't know why he had so many children. (that's probably a whole other debate).

He is in his 30s, and has a sister who is 13 and had a baby last year. The baby died as it was premature (she didn't get any prenatal care).

The invisible poor.

Posted by: Rebecca | March 9, 2007 1:08 PM

Emily,
By "cheap" I mean poor quality, not low price, and secondhand from friends is usually incomplete/out of season/worn out. Some of the stuff I buy is full price and expensive, and yes we can afford it, no apologies there, but most I get at discounts because I don't like to pay high prices--her aunt whose children are grown but are not yet parents (i.e., she is not a grandparent yet) picks up really gorgeous, practical stuff at an outlet near her home (in NC) and I find things myself online at discount. I generally find shopping malls a waste of time unless the weather is bad, but since you mention Gymboree will tell you that there is a nice selection at deep discount at their outlet in Potomac Mills--if you live in the DC area like to shop in malls it's worth the trip, also they have discounted things online although many of their styles are too impractical for me. What I was really trying to get at in the comment you quoted is that it seems like a mixed message for parents to have a different standard for presenting themselves to the world than for their kids, i.e., it's important for Mom and Dad to feel good about their appearance but then discourage it in our children--the reality is, appearances do count and I'm not going to try to shelter her from that. I buy good quality stuff overall, dress her up for picture days and holidays, and then if she's in the mood for it let her decide what she wants to wear the rest of the time. Sometimes I can get her to wear a perfectly coordinated outfit and sometimes she'll come up with a really surprising combination that she loves--the intended messages are that looking nice is fun and no big deal, and being yourself is the essential thing. I have kept all of her things because it's fun to go back through them and bring up all those memories (like photos in that way) but unless I have another daughter will probably give them away to someone who wants their daughter to look nice but can't spend the time and/or money shopping.

You mention having a son, and I think your situation is different in that I've noticed lots of the less expensive stores have perfectly practical things for boys, but on the other side of the store they have clothes for girls that are impractical and inappropriate for her age. My husband and I were tempted to buy her some boys' things from those places out of frustration for not being able to find appropriate things there for her, but decided against it because it would be too obvious that, for instance, a green or blue polo shirt did not come from any line of clothing for girls--I think it's perfectly acceptable for a girl to wear a green polo shirt but I've never seen a girl's line include one. So it's back to trolling the sales for expensive girl's lines which are the only ones I have found that let her dress like a child, not a miniature teenager. Thanks for reading.

Posted by: Kat's Mom | March 9, 2007 1:11 PM

My 4 children are pretty much grown (youngest turns 20 shortly). Here's my take:

Best investments (not necessarily in order of importance):
- read books, do projects and sing together
- take them to explore the world around them, the museums, parks, whatever your town has to offer and is age appropriate
- the library, which introduces them to books and to the idea of sharing and to the concept of themselves as part of a larger picture
- time spent outdoors exploring nature
- let them see you reading books, discussing ideas, listening to or playing music, creating - your example is the best road to their good education.

Worst investments:
- Doing things for your children that you think are great (a good adult party is nothing like a good child's party)
- organizing their time completely - please, leave them time to be bored so they can figure out what to do with themselves
- taking them places before they're ready for them (no, they will not remember the trip overseas - where you're controlling the experience, by the way - when they are 8 or 9; no, they probably won't enjoy the opera at age 11; and, no, they probably won't remember much about the cruise they take at 6 or 7)
- letting them watch alot of television - letting them have alot of expensive toys.

I just like to remember that whatever we think, children come at things differently. Hand them a box of spoons and see how they play with them (or the box).

And for the record, 2 of my children went to private school, 2 went to public, because those schools were the best for the children; three of my children went to public universities, one to a private liberal arts college.

Posted by: Pam | March 9, 2007 1:12 PM

"Hey, Fo4, did you ever think that you unleashing a bunch of kids to "run around" the Air and Space Museum might be disruptive to other patrons?"

Never gave it a thought. This is DC, you know, the adults are more rude than the children.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 1:15 PM

And meesh-you prove your point. Do you think the admissions pple at the grad schools don't know the differences between schools and don't take that into account? Well, they most certainly do. They do for good old college too- looking at how well students do at mediocre vs better schools and the most certainly take that into account with admissions.
I'm not saying there aren't good public schools-i got both my degrees there- but there are differences in those too.

----
I partially disagree with this. True, grad schools know that an A from StateStateCOllege is not the same as an A from Harvard, but I think it's easier to be a star student at StateStateColl and its always a plus to be a star. This garners you more attention from professors, than you would get if you were just one of many smart students that prof sees every day. I think the extra attention alone is worth it in terms of your educational experience. In addition, doing well, even at a statestate school, has to be more exhilarating than doing average at Harvard, and good grades build your confidence more than average grades do, regardless of the name brand of the school.

Posted by: m | March 9, 2007 1:15 PM

Forgot to mention the CAR issue in my grown kids post earlier. Fred's post about the totalled cars reminded me!

We have two cars. Never bought cars for our kids. They were allowed to drive ours, when convenient. One kid had one accident on a surprise snowy day due to inexperience mostly. It did not total the car. We take care of our cars and use them FOREVER. They have been in accidents, been repaired, and no one was ever hurt. They are not rusty, dented, or eyesores - just older and NOT SUV's.

You make your choices. Cars are not status symbols to our family - just transportation. Maybe they are differently important to you. But...

Do the math - even our super-conservative approach to cars costs us about $3000 a year per car, averaged over the time we have had them, including all possible expenses (which are: initial cost, financing, gas, maintenace, repairs, carwash, insurance, parking, tolls, etc. We have few parking expenses or tolls ourselves.)

Newer, fancier cars can cost upwards of $10,000 a year per car. I read somewhere the average cost is $6-7,000 a year per car.

I figure we have saved about $150,000 so far on cars, and that's just based on our 2 cars, not counting additional costs that would have been incurred had we bought cars for our kids! This is money that went to things we consider more important: savings, owning a home in a good area, allowing our kids the best educaton they could use.

Posted by: boomerette | March 9, 2007 1:19 PM

Someone asked about growing up in this area and not getting caught up in the consumerism.... I've lived here since HS and never really got on the bandwagon. I've always been pretty frugal - not to say I don't enjoy some things.

For example, I love kids birthday parties. Most years are at the house, but we've also gone to other places, rented a moon bounce. I can't bake cakes to save my life, so I buy them! The most I've ever spent was about $250 - and I did cringe at that one! Most only cost about $100.

I love that we can take family vacations. The uninterrupted family time is great. No computers, errands, etc. Just to get away from it all and do things as a family is great. We have been to Disney and loved it! We did see all the over spending, but just didn't partake. And, the kids didn't complain about it. We brought snacks and water into the parks, and just enjoyed the rides and characters - I don't think we spent more than $30 a day on extras while we were there. Mostly, we are beach bums and spend our days with the sand and surf.

Clothing - LOVE Kohls! Target is hit or miss, but I always come away with something great from Kohl's. and there is always a sale! I'm not much of a consignment shopper - I used to be, and I would trade my old clothes for new ones -but it was too much work to constantly go and search for the good items.

Toys - We had lots of toddertoys, but now that they are older, the amount of toys is decreasing. My kids LOVE going to the library! And the zoo. And Sugarloaf. There are lots of things to do for free.

I love where we live - upper Montgomery County - we have a house with a great yard (built in the 70's - not a mc mansion).

I guess you could say i'm frugal in some ways, so i can spluge in others!

Posted by: JerseyGirl | March 9, 2007 1:21 PM

Hopeful, I'd also recommend the Belle View neighborhood south of Old Town, on the parkway. I live in the Belle View condos but there are lots of single family homes in the area too if that's what you prefer. It only takes about 20-30 mins for me to shoot up the parkway through Old Town up to my job in Dupont Circle, unless I go during the absolute height of rush hour. Lots of schools, libraries, shops nearby (I can walk to the local school, the library and a Safeway from my condo).

And I agree with the other poster on Fairlington; those communities are nice too (lived there for a couple of years, but returned to Belle View because I liked it so much). Good luck!

Posted by: alexandria girl | March 9, 2007 1:26 PM

I live and work in PG county, and second the comment about a love/hate relationship.

Love: relatively insexpensive real estate
diversity in race, culture, income, age, etc.
generally more laid back/ healthy attitudes towards material consumption and work (much less "keeping up with the Joneses")
many areas close to DC and/or easily Metro-accessable
some good inexpensive restauraunts near where I live, including several ethnic cuisine types

Hate: traffic (bad everywhere near DC, of course)
crime (not so bad in some areas, worse in others)
current corrupt county gov't
PG Hospital is decent, but on the brink of bankruptcy (a symptom of the more general problem of health care access and costs in the US)
fewer higher-end retail stores (I'm not a shopaholic, but would rather buy fewer things of better quality)

From what I hear, schools are a mixed bag. Some very good, many mediocre. Some of the schools' problems are due to upheavals in the school board and conflicts between the board and superintendents, and some of the problems are because some schools have a disproportionate number of "at-risk" kids from not-so-good family and economic circumstances.

The parts of PG I like are more in the northern, central, and outlying portions of the county. The roughest parts are the areas closest to SE DC.

Posted by: SheGeek | March 9, 2007 1:26 PM

Worst & best expense - letting my daughter take ice skating lessons. She fell in love with what is one of the most expensive sports around. My checkbook hates it, but it has given her a passion for something - this is a teenager who willing gets up before 5:00 am to make practices.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 1:28 PM

I told my daughter that ice skating lessons and horseback riding are for rich folks with a single child.

She gets to play soccer.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 1:36 PM

"For example, I love kids birthday parties. Most years are at the house, but we've also gone to other places, rented a moon bounce. I can't bake cakes to save my life, so I buy them! The most I've ever spent was about $250 - and I did cringe at that one! Most only cost about $100."

Is this for real? $250.00 for a kid's cake?
What sap would pay that price?

Is somebody pulling my leg?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 1:36 PM

Best financial and quality of life move: leaving NoVa and moving to Arizona. I sold my house in a working class neighborhood in NoVa for more than I paid for my house in an upscale neighborhood in Phoenix. Changed our standard of living overnight.

Worst: I really need to employ the services of a finanical planner...I have various retirement accounts, etc. that I need to consolidate.

BTW: This has been a great blog today. Thanks for the creative ideas for saving money for low-cost entertainment, birthday parties, etc. Here's my contribution: I had a college student teach my daughter guitar, and he charged me $20/hour. He's no longer in college, but he still teaches her. She's done well, and now I am applying for her to get into a performing arts school that has a rigorous college-prep academic program. As a charter school, it's a public school and it's free.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 1:38 PM

Capitol Hill Kid, thank you so much for sharing your experience of actually growing up on Capitol hill-- since the area is so transient, we don't know anyone who actually grew up here-- everyone we know grew up elsewhere! Certainly hope our child has a similar expereince to yours! (too bad the Hill isn't available anymore for sledding, post 9-11. That must have ben picturesque!)

Regardng the earlier comment directed to me about my child selecting a car seat, what I meant is that I wish I had allowed my child to "try on" a wide variety of car seats and tell us which oe was most comfortable/attractive to him rahter than just using the hand-me-down. Of course we would only have purchased one that is safe, but I wonder if we had given him more control over the selection we wouldn't have such a difficult time getting him to get in the carseat. Even at this age, I still sometimes have to wrestle him into it. but since we only use the car once a week right now, and he is so close to sizing out anyway, it seems wasteful to spend hundreds of dollars on a new, more comfortable carseat.

Hope I've cleared up the confusion!

Posted by: Jen | March 9, 2007 1:39 PM

Best Investment: Trampoline, good for everybody, including myself, as long as nobody accidentally breaks their neck.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 1:41 PM

Thanks, m, for refining my point. That is what I meant, not that admissions people are too stupid to factor in the competitiveness of the college but that students fare differently in different environments. For me, personally, I preferred being the star student at the state school as opposed to the struggling student at a private university (I did both). I essentially wanted to say that sending your kid to a stellar school might not necessarily make them better students.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 1:42 PM

Oh yeah, here's a rather funny opportunity for cheap entertainment: Chandler, Ariz. is hosting an Ostrich Festival this weekend, featuring ostrich races, carnival rides...and for those of you who grew up in the '80s: entertainment by Rick Springfield!

Take a look at those big birds racing: http://www.azcentral.com/community/chandler/articles/0309cr-ostrich0309Z6.html#

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 1:43 PM

To boycott Target:

Many of us support target for exactly the reason you cite - they're allowing their employees freedom of conscience on a moral question that deals with the life of a child.

As an aside, how do you feel about PETA and the animal rights movement?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 1:47 PM

I have an NT (Neurotypical) 8yr old daughter and an eleven year old son with Aspergers. No amount of money in the world can 'cure' him. But the time and effort I spend with him helps him learn to navigate the world and work with others.
We don't have fancy vacations, an enormous house, brand new cars every 2 years. We made the conscious(sp?) effort to get jobs where we would work regular hours as much as possible. Since we often called to his school, flexibility is key as well.
So my best investment is the time and effort spent on my children.
My worst investment was the designer clothes and activities. Now I go to resellit shops for the clothes and parks/museums for the activities. Remember: just like cats, kids often like the box the toy came in more than the toy itself.

Posted by: MJ | March 9, 2007 1:49 PM

Go to the burbs -- recommend Columbia, MD -- extremely family-friendly planned community of 100,000.

Ellicott City MD is right next to Columbia and is a great place to live.


Just remember the 12,000 jobs coming to that area thanks to BRAC.

My kids should be done with high school by the time BRAC is complete. I'm counting on BRAC keeping our home values high and I will happily move on. Catonsville, maybe. Nice neighborhoods close enough that the kids will still be able to visit their friends when they come home on college breaks.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 1:50 PM

MJ,
There is a special place in heaven for mothers like you.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 1:51 PM

I also just whipped out the calculator to figure out what we'll be spending up to age 18:

$308,000 on total education costs (private preschool now, after school care for pre-k through 6th grade public school, private school tuition for 7th-12th grade, and 4 years at a private college) Wow!

$25,000 on clothing (about $400 per season for the next 15 years)

$5,000 books/music

$7,500 on lessons or sports

$75,000 on family vacations

She won't be getting a car when she's 16

That's almost $500,000

Wow! And as with any budget or projection, I expect to exceed expectations!

Posted by: SAHMbacktowork | March 9, 2007 1:52 PM

Best investment for Father of 4.

A couple of AA meetings for him &
A Lot of Al-ANon meetings for his poor kids and his enabler wife.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 1:59 PM

Not $250 for a CAKE! Yeeks - the whole kit-and-kaboodle party! The 250 was spent at one of those party places where you can laser-tag, rock-climb, go-cart. Usually, the $100 includes cake, balloons, pizza, party games/prizes to be enjoyed in the back yard or at the pool.

$250 for a cake.... now that's funny!

Posted by: JerseyGirl | March 9, 2007 2:00 PM

Best investments: 1) Arranging our work lives so that one of us can be with our 11 year old son right after school. For us, it's an important time. If we wait until 6 pm, we'd just miss too much of the "what went on today" stuff that is so important.

2) Supporting our local public library. It is a welcoming place; the staff are fabulous, and my son has learned how to request books by certain authors or subjects by himself.

3) Travel -- 4 continents so far.

4) Netflix -- we can rent great movies -- new and old -- that we can't get anywhere else.

5) Swimming lessons

Worst investments:
1) Cheap toys made in China. He gets bored really easily.

Posted by: anon xx | March 9, 2007 2:02 PM

Worst investment - All the money spent on beer and partying when I was in my 20's and thought I wasn't going to have children. What a waste that was.

Posted by: anon | March 9, 2007 2:03 PM

I can't stand trampolines! At our house they are referred to as the 'toy of death!' a friend of ours, an ER doc, says most head injuries in kids that come to the ER are from trampolines. even the ones with the sides. the sides just offer false safety, as they don't really hold up.

Posted by: to Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 2:05 PM

As long as Target ensures that there is a pharmacist on duty that will dispense a legal medication during regular business hours, then access is not denied. I don't know the policy. But one person's personal decisions should not deny legal access to health care for others. Could you imagine someone like Tom Cruise working in a pharmacy? No anti-depression medication for bipolar patients. Yikes.

Parents have gone to prison for denying medical care to their children because it was against their religion/moral beliefs. The law is pretty clear on this issue. Company policy that is counter to this is not good business.

And yeah, I am anti-Wal Mart and have not shopped there in nearly 15 years. I have been a lacto-ova vegetarian since 1992, and I buy cage-free eggs. As consumers, our power is our money and our spending decisions.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 2:06 PM

To 1:47 poster re: "To boycott Target:

Many of us support target for exactly the reason you cite - they're allowing their employees freedom of conscience on a moral question that deals with the life of a child."

Would you also be ok with a pharmacist turning down an openly gay customer his AZT if they didn't "morally agree" with his lifestyle and thought God gave him AIDS?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:07 PM

lacto-ova vegetarian

What the heck is that?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:08 PM

lacto-Ovo veggie is one that eats eggs and consuems dairy- jsut doesn't eat flesh

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:11 PM

lacto-ova vegetarian: I consume milk (lacto) and egss (ova). hahaha, eggs, the unborn meat : )

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 2:11 PM

single western mom -

are you a healthy vegetarian or an ethical vegetarian?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:13 PM

single western mom -

are you a healthy vegetarian or an ethical vegetarian?

Posted by: | March 9, 2007 02:13 PM

kinda weird how that happened...one day in 1992, I was making hamburgers, and I looked down at my hands and had an epiphany: I had the bloody flesh of a dead animal all over my hands. I was 26 at the time.

So, meat just grosses me out. But I do recognize that the people lining up for angioplasty and bypass are probably not vegetarians.

My daughter wants to be a vegetarian, but I think she is too young to be completely meat-free, so we compromised. Until she is 16, she eats poultry.

So, I am not a militant vegetarian, and I don't tell others that they are evil for eating meat or anything. It's a personal choice.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 2:18 PM

I'm not single western mom, but I'm a veggie and have been my whole life. Most are surprised that I couldn't care less what another person eats, I just think it's disgusting to eat meat and feel it's much healthier for me and my family. I am NOT starting a debate- it's just my choice for me and my family.

Posted by: SAHMbacktowork | March 9, 2007 2:19 PM

I would love to get a trampoline! Would definitely consider that a good investment for fun and fitness (maybe for me more than him) :) But I am talking about the 6-inch high round ones that fit in your living room - which is possibly not the one the ER doctor is talking about ...

Posted by: TakomaMom | March 9, 2007 2:20 PM

"Best investment for Father of 4.

A couple of AA meetings for him &
A Lot of Al-ANon meetings for his poor kids and his enabler wife."

Best investment for the idiot who posted this:
A couple of beers to take the edge off. Actually, make it a sixpack.

Posted by: Emily | March 9, 2007 2:20 PM

Emily, Never waste beer on someone whose personality is unlikely to improve with its consumption.

I recommend that 1:59 consider a TV and computer-free lifestyle.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:25 PM

To KLB SS MD - Thanks for the kind words but when you are in the middle of it, you don't think of it as special or extra. It is simply your child. It's when you meet with other parents and their kids that you cannot help but compare. And then you listen to their issues with their kids which normally pertain to: too many activities, too much stuff, backtalk and the sort. It is hard sometimes and I envy those with all NT kids but then I tell myself that I am helping him and his school and the school district deal with Aspergers and it's all worth it. As I described him once "It's like living with Spock. And somedays, Spock on speed."

Posted by: MJ | March 9, 2007 2:25 PM

Okay, in lieu of beer, I would then recommend a lobotomy.

Posted by: Emily | March 9, 2007 2:26 PM

Father of 4

"I told my daughter that ice skating lessons and horseback riding are for rich folks with a single child."

You could barter your skills for the lessons and stop having anymore kids

before you start sucking the soul out of your daughter.

Get off of your lazy ass and do something man! That goes for your wife, too.

You probably have a ton of crap in your house that could be sold on ebay.

Show your daughter how to earn money; don't shatter all her dreams while she is so young! Your situation isn't even close yo hopeless, don't raise hopeless kids!.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:27 PM

"I can't stand trampolines!"

02:05, I can completely understand your point of view. Risk is part of life, and your talking to a person that crosses busy, downtown DC streets essentially with his eyes closed.

I've been lucky so far, dozens of close calls though.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 2:28 PM

Re: kids and commercialism- the Center for a new American Dream has a program on this. They're an anit-overconsumption group based in Takoma Park, MD., and they have info. about it on their Web site. And no, I don't work for them :)

Posted by: SheGeek | March 9, 2007 2:30 PM

before you start sucking the soul out of your daughter...

Since when is teaching your child to live within the family's means considered to be 'soul sucking'?

It seems that learning to enjoy your life within boundaries is much more important than skating lessons or horseback riding.

Posted by: anon | March 9, 2007 2:30 PM

"It seems that learning to enjoy your life within boundaries is much more important than skating lessons or horseback riding."

It seems that when a child wants to learn a skill, the child should receive some sort of encouragement and hope for the future. It's hard to enjoy life with a negative parent constantly bring you down.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:34 PM

"Not a big deal for people who live in big cities but in some places in this country that translates into no access."

Honestly, if you have a target in your area, I bet it's safe to say you have other stores/pharmacies as well. I've been all over the country and if anything is the only thing in town it is a Wal Mart or a mom and pop pharmacy. I have never seen a Target sitting out in the middle of America by itself supporting a small town.

Has anyone else? Really, it has me wondering.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 2:35 PM

I am really enjoying the birthday party discussion spinoffs from today's topic!! Leslie, could we please have a discussion about birthday parties and what makes one successful and what are age appropriate activities?

Posted by: Kat's Mom | March 9, 2007 2:38 PM

Go to the burbs -- recommend Columbia, MD -- extremely family-friendly planned community of 100,000.

Ellicott City MD is right next to Columbia and is a great place to live.

__________________

Money Magazine named Columbia/Ellicot City as the 4th best place to live in the US, for what that's worth. (They combined the two into one, which is somewhat reasonable given that it's just a function of which side of Rte 108 you live on.)

The big difference is that since Columbia is a planned community, there are lots of covenants and you need approval to do almost anything to your house. Want to repaint a different color? Need the local architecture committee's approval. Want to add a deck? Need the architecture committee's approval. (And this is in addition to the standard county building code/safety approval.)

Mostly, they're sane and reasonable, but I got scared off Columbia by a friend's adventure. They bought a 25-year old house with a small redwood deck. They wanted to expand it. No, they were told: the new redwood wouldn't match the existing part of the deck because it hadn't aged yet. Okay, how about knocking down the existing deck and building a new one? No, because removing the existing deck just couldn't be permitted - would change the look of the house. Bottom line: you're stuck with that deck with no modifications.

And of course the next-door neighbor, who had no deck, got approval to build a big new one.

I decided that that was it: I wasn't living anywhere that required approval of a homeowner's group/architecture committee/whatever when I put a screened porch on my house.

(Another good investment: screened porch, and put a hammock on it. In the summer, the whole family fights over who gets in it - you'd be surprised how well that keeps three teenagers together.)

Posted by: Army Brat | March 9, 2007 2:38 PM

"$308,000 on total education costs (private preschool now, after school care for pre-k through 6th grade public school, private school tuition for 7th-12th grade, and 4 years at a private college) Wow!
$25,000 on clothing (about $400 per season for the next 15 years)
$5,000 books/music
$7,500 on lessons or sports
$75,000 on family vacations"

No wonder you needed to go back to work. $1600/year on clothes for a CHILD? $4000+ family vacations for three people EVERY YEAR??? $5000 on BOOKS??? (have you ever heard of the library? consignment shops? camping?)


Posted by: amazing | March 9, 2007 2:39 PM

pATRICK - "have her do some volunteer work to "see the other side" of life. Perhaps that will open her eyes."

She has done some volunteer work. And we always contribute to food and clothing drives. We point out that we have a duty to help provide for others less fortunate. Unfortunately, it's sort of like the glass that is seen as half-empty or half-full. Instead of seeing her family life as half-full (look how bad it could be, aren't we lucky), she sees it as half-empty (why can't I have all the things my friends have?).

I really, really hope that her materialism is a maturity issue that she will outgrow rather than a personality trait that will stay with her.

Thanks for the suggestion pATRICK.

Posted by: family on a budget | March 9, 2007 2:40 PM

I agree with scarry about Target. Wal-Mart is known for putting its stores in small towns - Target is more of a suburban area type store.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:42 PM

"decided that that was it: I wasn't living anywhere that required approval of a homeowner's group/architecture committee/whatever when I put a screened porch on my house."

Good point. It's difficult for some people to submit to authority. Would never work for me. I would have told the homeowner's group to shove it on my way out. They're usually a bunch of dumb ass pompous jerks, anyway. You made the right decision.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:43 PM

Re: riding lessons.

IF there is a local riding club, or 4H, or riding stable--investigate the "sweat equity" possibilities for riding lessons.

You would be surprised at how far that may get her.

Not to mention if there are any equine rescue/rehab facilities around, they always need volunteers. Ditto for therapeutic riding centers (they often give lessons to their volunteers). Two good things for the price of hard work.

Best things I got/did for the kids:
music lessons, rec league sports, used clothes and/or clothes from overstock or deeply, deeply discounted (I love Kohls), insisting that they DO things rather than watch the tv, Strathmore is inexpensive, day trips to nearby stuff, board games, and when they were given a GameCube--I made it a POINT to check out the games VERY CLOSELY. I like Pikmin, myself. When I do fork over dough for sports the rule is you GO TO PRACTICES and quitting is NOT AN OPTION. So far we've done soccer, wrestling, basketball, baseball and softball. Rec league is NOT like the travel leagues and costs LE$$!

Worst?

Umm, nothing leaps out at me. I say no to a lot of stuff when it involves MY money. Oh, I guess my stupidest gift was going ahead and buying a Pokemon card pack for one kid. But since then the younger one has had fun with it, so it wasn't $20 completely down the tubes. I'm not particularly impulsive when it comes to many things. Particularly for the young whose minds change with the winds anyway.

Now that they both get an allowance they are demonstrated an admirable restraint for spending their own money. Avarice isn't ENTIRELY bad.

Posted by: MdMother | March 9, 2007 2:48 PM

" True, grad schools know that an A from StateStateCOllege is not the same as an A from Harvard, but I think it's easier to be a star student at StateStateColl and its always a plus to be a star."

Where do you get this? Harvard is infamous for their grade inflation with, what, about 90% of their class graduating with honors? It's probably harder to get an A at a public college than at Harvard.

The public university that I attended was much more rigorous, and it was much harder to get an A (Median GPA there was 2.4) than at either of the elite, top in their field universities that I also attended. The public university also had smaller classes, better facilities, and better designed courses than the private universities did.

Posted by: kep | March 9, 2007 2:49 PM

BTW: horseback riding was the leading cause of sports-related TBI in Oklahoma...

TBI = Tramatic Brain Injury

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/00040635.htm

We all know what happened to Superman...

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 2:49 PM

Best savings:

no cable TV, making our own cakes for birthdays (and only inviting family or close family friends) driving a 13-year-old car, not moving to the burbs so we don't need 2 cars.

splurges: too many groceries from Whole Foods, probably our biggest expense next to child care.

Posted by: Mid-City Mom | March 9, 2007 2:49 PM

I will give up at least $1.5 to 2 million in lost earnings by the time my last baby goes off to college. (Less if I reenter the workforce when they're in middle school or high school.) The extra money I spend on clothing, classes, and vacations is chump change compare to that. We can afford to dress our kids is cute outfits and we enjoy music lessons, so I don't stress what I spend on the kids.

Posted by: Liz | March 9, 2007 2:51 PM

Liz, do you have a point or are you just bragging?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:53 PM

I think the most expensive toy our daughter has is her $80 play kitchen from Target, which she loves. She has lots of books, puzzles & art supplies, but I'm not regretting a dime I spent on those. Her grandmother (my husband's mom) buys a lot of her clothes, so I just get her the basics at the beginning of every fall/spring (t-shirts and shorts for spring, turtlenecks and jeans for winter) along with new shoes and socks. Grandma buys her the frilly dresses and princess clothes!

Posted by: PLS | March 9, 2007 2:54 PM

Frugality is good yes. But I do think there are some instances of money well spent. Sometimes it is worthwhile to spend more. Disney can be a magical place, full of good memories. Birthday parties can be wonderful times when all ones family and friends gather to celebrate your child. A well designed stroller can save on backache, go over rough terrain easier, and help shlep packages easier. My point is that what matters depends on the individual family, perhaps in some families reining in spending is the most important thing. But when there is some spending leeway, its not always bad to spend a little extra on what matters to you. As a petite woman who had a C-section and a big baby, I bought the lightest, easiest to fold stroller I could fine, price be damned. For me it was a good decision!

Posted by: Sometimes splurge | March 9, 2007 2:59 PM

Liz, do you have a point or are you just bragging?

Posted by: | March 9, 2007 02:53 PM

She's responding to questions posed by Leslie. Did you designate yourself blog flame-thrower today?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:00 PM

Best money spent on my kids?

I'm proud of those straight teeth that I spent a bunch of money and time on

A soccer or basketball keeps everybody busy

Swim lessons and the subsequent fun beach and family vacations they got used on were well worth it.

The $280 a month we put away from day one for college has gone a long way. We worry more about kids choosing the right courses and passing them than we do about how we'll pay for it all.

Posted by: RoseG | March 9, 2007 3:02 PM

amazing wrote: "No wonder you needed to go back to work. $1600/year on clothes for a CHILD? $4000+ family vacations for three people EVERY YEAR??? $5000 on BOOKS??? (have you ever heard of the library? consignment shops? camping?)"

Amazing - I suspect this will really blow your mind: we spend $8-10K per year for vacation for our family of 4. And I'm sure we spend more that the ~$300 per year SAHMbacktowork spends on books and music for her daughter. We will also spend about $190K per child on private schools from pre-K through high school. These things are important to us, so we make them a financial priority. We have and continue to work hard - DH out of the home, me now as a as a SAHM - but still manage to spend the quality time with our children everyone on this board gets so holier-than-thou about. Yes, we're affluent, but it took years of planning, hard work and dedication to get here. So please stop snarking at others because they may have taken a different path or made different choices.

Posted by: to amazing | March 9, 2007 3:05 PM

I took the $400 per season to mean 2 seasons per year: spring/summer and fall/winter. $333 on books/music is more than I spend but doesn't seem crazy.

Some of the best money I've spent has been on music lessons. I wasted some money on baby equipment early on.

I love all of the plugs for the library
:-).

For birthday party guidance, I highly recommend the Louise Bates Ames--Your ???-Year-Old series of books (e.g., Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy). Each book has a chapter for an age-appropriate birthday party, complete with timetable. Their advice is given with developmental stage in mind.

Posted by: Another Librarianmom | March 9, 2007 3:07 PM

Best $$ investment: money spent on art and music lessons, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, and church activities which allowed my children to nuture their talents and passions. I've spent $2500 each of the last two summers sending my very introverted "bookworm" teenaged daughter to an academic summer progam at a local university. Its been worth every penny because, in addition to the academic enrichment, she got to meet and befriend other kids who don't feel that being academically oriented is "lame" or "uncool." She and her friends affectionately refer to the program as "Nerd Camp" and can't wait to sign up again this summer.

Worst $$ investment: Spending almost $1500 on an 8th-grade graduation party for my son. During 7th grade my son was invited to at least a dozen bar/bat mitzvahs. In Chicagoland these events tend to be as elaborate as weddings. We are not Jewish, but that didn't stop my son from feeling cheated because he didn't get a big party. In a moment of weakness, we agreed he could have a graduation party at a local sports-themed restaurant that had a game room and other fun things for teens to do. In addition to my son's friends, we also invited grandparents, godparents, aunts & uncles, and a few close friends of our own, for a total of 60 people. Between appetizers, dinner and drinks the final tab was about $25/person. While the party was nice and we all had fun, that money would be doing my son far more good sitting in a college account.

We live in an affluent suburb of Chicago where the high school parking lots are full of SUVs and luxury cars and most kids have all the latest in fashion and technology. My husband and I are both federal employees, so we fall on the lower end of the community income scale. Either we've done something right or are just extremely lucky because our teenagers are content to buy clothing at Kohls and Target and have not badgered us to buy them cars or other pricey toys. They each have a basic computer (e-Machine), MP3 player and a cell phone, so they are hardly deprived, but they are content with what they have and are not continually demanding more, bigger or better.

The best investment we made in our family overall, however, was choosing to work for the federal government. We are both professionals who could make more in the private sector. What we have given up in income we more than gain back in time -- time to attend our kids' track meets, gymnastics classes, art shows; time to help kids with homework; time to take a day off to stay home with a sick child; just the time to enjoy life!

Posted by: MP | March 9, 2007 3:07 PM

Amen on the straight teeth, RoseG. I always wonder about the parents who paid for private schools and expensive colleges but didn't spring for braces. I knew a couple of kids like that.

Posted by: Charlottesville | March 9, 2007 3:07 PM

RoseG: I hope the teeth stay straight. I think my parents are a bit miffed about the money they spent on mine--twenty years later I'm snaggle toothed again. Not as bad as before, but still. Now I have to choose whether to have braces again as a grownup, or just forget about it.

Posted by: worker bee | March 9, 2007 3:07 PM

To the poster with the daughter who skates: that was me 20 years ago! I can't get up at 6:30 now, but I was on the ice by 5:30 am several mornings a week. It's not cheap: the skates and blades can be expensive (you buy them separately at a certain point, but at least you don't have to buy 2 different pairs nowdays), the dresses, ice time, pro time...but I learned about winning and losing, how to get up off the ice after a fall and still smile, and the feeling of learning something new. We probably did it cheaper than many--my mom sewed sequins/beads on my plain dresses in hotel rooms.

Anyway, my point is, this was a huge part of my life and the experience gave me confidence, focus, and resilience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Posted by: Ice skating | March 9, 2007 3:09 PM

to amazing said:

"Yes, we're affluent, but it took years of planning, hard work and dedication to get here"

arlington said:

"I realize that I've been lucky as well as working hard"

It's refreshing that some do realize that hard work and dedication aren't always enough. Luck and opportunities play a part.


Posted by: anon | March 9, 2007 3:09 PM

Cultural Tidbit of the Day
(a poem that I can recite by heart)

I 'M nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there 's a pair of us--don't tell!
They 'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

by Emily Dickenson

Next week, literature, more poetry and maybe opera.

Posted by: Fred | March 9, 2007 3:10 PM

"It's refreshing that some do realize that hard work and dedication aren't always enough. Luck and opportunities play a part."

Amen.

I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is.


Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:12 PM

Mid-City Mom, our grocery costs are astronomical. Compared with DC, NC is cheaper in every aspeect except groceries. I actually think groceries are more expensive here. We've had a hard time staying in the budget while buying fresh, healthy food. I can only imagine if I had kids. No wonder so many children are obese! The cheapest foods are processed and unhealthy.

Off topic! For pet lovers:
My dog required surgery ($3,000) at 1 year old for pulmonary stenosis and needs a cardiogram ($250) every year. I'd like to see the same type of study done for raising animals. I wonder how much pets cost during their lifetimes. I also wonder about if those data were advertised (like PSAs) if more people would think twice before buying a pet. I think that some people underestimate how much pets cost.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:13 PM

"BTW: horseback riding was the leading cause of sports-related TBI in Oklahoma..."

Yes, but were the injured parties wearing an ASTM-SEI approved helmet? They are NOT expensive--try Jeffers, PetSmart, any local tack store.

Everything carries risks, but that is relatively easily minimized. I see almost everyone wears a helmet while bike-riding, skate boarding or roller-blading these days.

Do NOT substitute a bicycle helmet for a riding helmet--riding helmets protect the back of the head better.

You can even find western style hats with helmets if you feel you must blend in with your peers. But they are more expensive than the ones you can get that are "English" styled.

Posted by: MdMother | March 9, 2007 3:13 PM

I grew up on the low-income side of a high-income suburb, and it worked out well for me. I went to a great public high school, and I shared my parents' values about money: that it didn't matter what you spent, just that you were a good person. My two teenagers are in a similar situation today. We live in a pretty area with a lousy high school, so I send them to an expensive private school with incredible classes and opportunities but also kids who drive fifty-thousand dollar cars. They have noted that we have the smallest house of all their friends--but they have also pointed out that in our house, we all LIKE each other, respect each other, read and talk and don't do stupid things like drugs. Obviously we spend money to send them to this fancy school, but it has not ruined their priorities because they were already well-grounded.

Posted by: nora | March 9, 2007 3:13 PM

Worst money spent - music lessons. My kids hated it and I don't see at all how it was valuable for them.

Best money spent - anything that was outdoor activity - sports, camping, hiking. The kids loved it and it was something they could do individually, with friends, or with family.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:14 PM

re: "I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is." Isn't it all about WHEN you work hard? Maybe "to amazing" didn't blow off high school and college and worked hard from his/her early teens so she wouldn't HAVE to work two jobs in his/her 30s to support basics for her kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:17 PM

From Jeffers online site:

$25.95
(Troxel) The original lightweight, ventilated equestrian safety helmet that redefined comfort and head protection. The Sport is still one of the lightest and most trusted helmets available. Features 7 cooling vents and a removable washable headliner. ASTM/SEI certified.
Helmet Sizes: small (6 3/4-6 7/8), medium (7-7 1/8), or large (7 1/4 & up).

Head Measurements
Small= 21 1/4" - 21 5/8"
Medium= 22" - 22 3/8"
Large= 23 1/8" & up

Weight 13 oz
Seven Cooling Vents
Removable/Washable Headliner

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:18 PM

As someone who is not that far away from the college and teenage years, I think there are a few flaws with the thinking that $ kids make has to go towards college and it never makes sense to give a teenager a car, or at the least use of one.

1) Depending on your income level, your kid is going to have to take out massive student loans anyway and their savings are just going to be taken by the school instead of possibly getting financial need grants. Let your older kid, if they have a summer job, learn some budgeting lessons by having them pay for anything they want beyond basic necessities (schooling, food, shelter, transport). They'll learn to prioritize and manage money and have more incentive to work -- and learn how to work in the real world -- if all their money isn't hijacked into the black hole of college funds.

2) The reason so many teenagers have cars is because it saves their parents having to drive them everywhere! Just put restrictions on driving like not allowing friends in the car for the first year, or not allowing them on a highway for a few months, not driving at night etc.

Posted by: Chicago mom | March 9, 2007 3:20 PM

Great idea: (courtesy of my sister with 5 kids)

She explained to her kids that baby Jesus got 3 presents for christmas, which is why each of them gets 3 (and ONLY) 3 presents for christmas. It instantly made sense to the kids and works for everyone.

Posted by: nokidsyet | March 9, 2007 3:21 PM

"Maybe "to amazing" didn't blow off high school and college and worked hard from his/her early teens so she wouldn't HAVE to work two jobs in his/her 30s to support basics for her kids."

Yes, and likely "to amazing" didn't have to get a job during or right after high school to pay her rent and own living expenses because her single mother needed her to start supporting herself and/or she needed to escape the stepfather who had been sexually abusing her since she was 8 and/or she had gotten pregant by her high school boyfriend because she didn't have access to birth control or knowledge of how to protect herself and couldn't afford an abortion.

No question that a person can overcome a difficult childhood and be moderately financial successful through hard work. But true affluency - someone who can and will pay almost $200K for their child's education and take $10K vacations every year - is achieved by very, very, very! few people who weren't raised with all of the advantages. There aren't very many Oprah's out there.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:23 PM

Cheerleading was also a great activity for my daughter.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 3:23 PM

"I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is."

I don't think this is a fair comment. I busted my butt to go to college and not have to work in a factory. Granted, I spend no where near as much as "amazing" does, but if her and her husband worked for it, then they have the right to spend it.

When I go home, I know that people look at me and think I have it easy compared to them, and I do now, but when they were out having fun after work, I was studying. When they were having kids in their early 20s, I was planning and saving. It doesn't make me better, it just means I went down a differnt road then they did.

Not all people with money are a-holes.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 3:23 PM

FWIW, I rode at Wheaton Park Stables as a kid and loved every minute of it. But I had to give up all my other activities (piano, swimming, other sports) to ride. That was the only way my parents could afford it. It was worth it to me for about 5 years until I got into jumping. Then the competitiveness got to be ridiculous and I decided to try other sports.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:23 PM

"I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is."

Dunno how to measure.The couple qualifies for a boatload of aid and could probably go to college for free. That's a better use of their time than the minimum wage jobs.

That's why it isn't always luck; sometimes it's choices.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:24 PM

My mother bought our first horse from Wheaton Park Stables.

Dan still teaches there, I think Don may have retired. It's really, really weird to see Dan's red hair is now all grey.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:26 PM

"Granted, I spend no where near as much as "amazing" does, but if her and her husband worked for it, then they have the right to spend it......Not all people with money are a-holes."

I didn't say that they don't have the right to spend it, nor did I say they were a-holes. I said that hard work isn't the only indicator, or even the biggest indicator, of affluency. Millions and millions of people work hard and are dedicated yet only a small percentage are wealthy. I was agreeing with the poster that "luck" has a lot to do with the wealth of most people.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:26 PM

Another great investment: DSL

For all the money me and the kids saved on pirating illegal software and music, we could put at least one of them through college.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:27 PM

I always wonder about the parents who paid for private schools and expensive colleges but didn't spring for braces. I knew a couple of kids like that.

Posted by: Charlottesville | March 9, 2007 03:07 PM

I don't know any parents like the ones Charlottesville descirbes, but I know several parents living in houses valued at greater than $500K, driving brand new cars every three years, and eating out several times per week for routine meals who tell me how incredibly important education is to them and how they wish they could afford to send their one or two children to the private school at which both of our children are thriving. Our kids' school is not tony or exclusive (35% of the kids get financial aid). Tuition is approximately $7500 per child per year (in Michigan). It is the best school for our two kids because of the small class size, classical curriculum, and because it is a neighborhood school. If they wanted to send their kids to the same school, they could do it by cutting out one car payment, or moving to a less expensive house, or some other combination of budget shifting. Not that that's what they should do, but it's an option.

My point is not that private school is better than public, and it is not right for every family or every child. If our friends were honest with themselves, they'd accept that they value having new cars and a great kitchen more than the education they say they wish their kids could have. Whether it's education or vacations or sports, your actual spending should be consistent with what you say are the most important things to your family to save for, invest in, donate to and spend $$ on.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:27 PM

re: "I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is." Isn't it all about WHEN you work hard? Maybe "to amazing" didn't blow off high school and college and worked hard from his/her early teens so she wouldn't HAVE to work two jobs in his/her 30s to support basics for her kids.

Posted by: | March 9, 2007 03:17 PM

Here we go again. Do you really believe that the only reason people have minimum-wage or low-paying jobs is because they blew off school? After all the remarks about how awful the public school system is, do you really think that all the children who graduate from every school will actually be accepted by a college? Do you think they know how to navigate the financial aid system to receive any aid - do they go on their home computers to fill out FAFSA? Opportunity knocks much more loudly on some doors than others.

Rant over.

Posted by: a question | March 9, 2007 3:28 PM

"The couple qualifies for a boatload of aid and could probably go to college for free. That's a better use of their time than the minimum wage jobs."

I'm not sure what planet you're from, but just because a person qualifies for college aid doesn't mean they can go to college without also working to pay for their living expenses.

And even if we excluded the low income and disadvantaged portion of the population from this - I mean, really, how many of you went to college and worked very hard starting as a young teen and were dedicated to their studies and their jobs and are "just" middle class? If hard work is the only thing that it takes to become affluent, why aren't we all rich as sin?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:30 PM

Best investments:
Various shifts of PF/FT/at home work
Average house in great family neighborhood, bought before the market went nuts
Good preschool
Life insurance for parents
Books, books, books
Travel (we specialized in cheap trips to cool places)
Family dinners every night, regardless of work/activity schedules
Seeking the best public education possible

Both Bar Mitzvah parties were at home; we cooked. The kids played computer games, touch football, frisbee, watched movies, ate like locusts. Oriental Trading is great for cheap tschokes.

No TVs or computers in the kids' rooms. Clothes from Target/Kohl's. We do "matching funds" for expensive items (i.e., if the kid wants it that badly, we pay X and they pay the balance. Funny how many times that purchase DOESN'T get made!)

Cars are not part of the Expected Family Contribution for college. We will spend what is necessary to make the college of my kids' choice a reality. Education is an important value in our family, and I feel it would be hypocritical for the kids to work so hard, only to have us put the kibosh on their dreams.

Posted by: Derwood Mom | March 9, 2007 3:31 PM

No, the "only" reason why people work minimum wage jobs is not that they blew off school, but education is free in this country. It is free to EVERYONE and it is the single-biggest opportunity to change your cirumstance (which is why the GI Bill was the single-most successful governmental policy to change the economic status of people in the 20th Century). Even if your school is a "bad" school - if you do well, you can go to college. Top schools are dying to recruit lower socio-economic kids to burnish their "diversity" credentials. Not all people who are successful did so on their own, but the possibility exists for most (not all) people because of the free educational system we have in this country. And, I personally believe that schools are "bad" because the parents in those communities don't value education the same way people in other communities do - they aren't inherently bad on their own, they have to deal with kids who don't do homework, have higher crime rates, etc. which isn't necessarily the kids' fault - it is the PARENTS' fault for the creation and facilitation of a bad student body.

Posted by: amf | March 9, 2007 3:34 PM

Don instructed me. He was tough but fair. Thanks for the update!

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:35 PM

For those who believe the birthday parties are getting terribly expensive, has anyone thought of doing crafts with the party guests and having it remain a relatively smallish affair (like maybe 10-12 kids, tops)?

This was what I did growing up and I have several nice memories of it -- and while I wasn't aware of the expenses at the time with my grownup eyes I can see that they were far less expensive (cutting out paper fish from oaktag to decorate with glitter and such is far less expensive than going to the local arcade for the afternoon, for instance, and they can be set up with themes -- everything from colors -- like making everything red or blue or purple -- to a broader theme like underwater or a beach theme or horses or football, etc....I remember we set up a basketball hoop in the driveway and played a shorter game of Horse for the horse one -- yes it was a stretch, but it worked -- we had when I turned 8...).

Obviously this works better with younger kids than older (when the party model becomes dancing and music, not that these couldn't be worked cutely into a theme at a younger age -- like ballet, or tap, or somesuch for those who take lessons or something), but some of my friends still remember those parties fondly and it's a good 15, 20 years later. They also tended to get us active and such if they were planned with active games and such, as a bonus, and they turned out really really well. :)

Posted by: FWIW | March 9, 2007 3:36 PM

"Yes, but were the injured parties wearing an ASTM-SEI approved helmet? They are NOT expensive"

I disagree a little. A cheap styrofoam with nylon strap helmut cost me over $20 and broke when I dropped it on the tile floor. Good thing I hadn't made it to the checkout counter yet, or the helmut would have cost more than the bicycle.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 9, 2007 3:36 PM

I would bet my bottom dollar that the couple working split shifts for minimum wage to provide the basics for their children are working far harder than "to amazing" is."

I guess I took you post the wrong way. I didn't say you called anyone an a-hole either. I was just making a blanket statement because there is sometimes a back lash on this board towards people who have money.

As far as going to college goes, if I can do it anyone can. You have to want to do it.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 3:36 PM

3:27 is suggesting that people decide on their priorities and then set and follow a budget that reflects their priorities... whatever those priorities might be.

This makes too much sense! Can it be, this answer sets the whole discussion to rest???

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 3:36 PM

Meesh, I hear you re: dog ownership. We just spent $1200 on our dog who we ended up having to have put down (at the age of 14, seizures w/ brain damage). Over the course of his life we've probably spent well over $10K at the vets b/c of problems with seizures & he's been on daily seizure meds for the last 4 years. It was an easy choice to make (to spend the $ on the meds, etc., because it gave us an extra 4 years with him).

Posted by: PLS | March 9, 2007 3:38 PM

2) The reason so many teenagers have cars is because it saves their parents having to drive them everywhere!

In my opinion, too many young people have been injured and killed in car accidents. I am more concerned about the safety of my children than the inconvenience of having to drive them everywhere. My children were not allowed to drive alone until after quite a bit of time driving with at least one parent in the car. Then they were allowed to drive one of our cars with permission. They did not have a used car of their own until we were completely comfortable with their driving skills and level of experience.

I'm still shocked at the number of sixteen year olds who are allowed to drive to the beach 150 miles away with friends in the car. Especially since speed limits are ignored. I cringed when they learned to drive on the highways. speed limit 55, but everyone around them going 75. Am I the only one who is scared at the thought of a 16-year-old driving on a highway for the first time?

Posted by: just my opinion | March 9, 2007 3:42 PM

Have to agree with Meesh on the overnight camp. It's expensive but if you can afford it, do it! I loved every minute of overnight camp, and I worked there as an older teen. Too hard to describe what is so great about it. Also, it could theoretically be less expensive than babysitters/whatever during the summer for single parents or two-working parent households.

Posted by: Cate | March 9, 2007 3:43 PM

PLS, I totally understand. I'm sure those 4 years were worth it.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:43 PM

"I guess Bob's kids will never know how to clean or cook or walk the dog or even figure out how to decorate - hope they earn enough money to pay for them too."

I suppose it's a bit of a gamble, but I'm comfortable rolling the dice on this one: I believe that going out and doing things as a family, as opposed to toilet-scrubbing instruction (or sacking out in front of the TV while mommy or daddy scrubs said toilet), is a more valuable use of the scarcest resource of all: time.

I'm pretty sure most of those skills, with the exception of decorating (and believe me, I have no decorating skills to teach), can be learned in an afternoon. Indeed, I never cooked or cleaned anything growing up, but I was able to pick up those skills quite rapidly when I went off to college.

The bottom line is, I think I'll have done my job as a parent much better if my kids look at their first toilet of their very own and think, "Gee whiz, I wonder how to clean this thing," instead of, "Gee whiz, I wonder who my father was."

Posted by: Bob | March 9, 2007 3:44 PM

I don't have time to read all this. I will try to another day.
Best investment
Medella pump-if your planning to breast feed and pump, buy name brand. It makes all the difference
529 plan for college
quality day care
Worst investment
big stroller
gymboree-$175 for my kid to slide on the little tykes slide
leap pad-kid uses it like a regular book

Posted by: foamgnome | March 9, 2007 3:45 PM

'"Yes, but were the injured parties wearing an ASTM-SEI approved helmet? They are NOT expensive"

I disagree a little. A cheap styrofoam with nylon strap helmut cost me over $20 and broke when I dropped it on the tile floor. Good thing I hadn't made it to the checkout counter yet, or the helmut would have cost more than the bicycle.'

That doesn't sound like an ASTM/SEI helmet then (which is what equestrians have to find if you want to compete or even ride at many boarding facilities). I don't know how bicycle helmets are tested, or rated, or by whom. Believe me, Troxels (which are one of the least expensive brand names) are not that delicate. I should know, I took a tumble once and whacked my head/helmet on a tree. I was fine. I replaced the helmet, of course.

For $26, plus s/h, you could have gotten the Troxel. Which actually may provide more protection than a bicycle helmet, but I don't know that for certain. It does cover more of the head though.

Having said that, it's best to take the kid to a tack shop to try the helmets on. Some are more oval, others a little more round; same for people's heads.

Anyway, if the kid wants to ride and if she can find a way to make it happen that doesn't set you back big buck$, spring for a decent helmet. I've been riding for over 30 years, feel free to ask me questions.

I'm really big on the therapeutic riding places. She'll learn a lot of hands-on horse care, help others and hopefully get some good basic riding lessons.

Posted by: MdMother | March 9, 2007 3:45 PM

3 - the house in Howard County. We lived in PG County before kids. I'm gonna get roasted for saying this, but we'd never let our kids go to PG public schools, at least back then. Look, folks, I went to some lousy public schools and know you can get a decent education if you really want to, but it's easier with better schools and we moved to HoCo for that reason.

No, I won't roast you. I'm going through the same dilemma, and I'm considering the same move you have made. On the other hand, I also like PG and see a lot of positives. But for my son attending a private school paid for by the public school system, I'd probably be gone. If he didn't have special needs, I would have put him in a private school (in fact, he was on his way to one before we decided to try public in case he needed services).I'm seriously considering private school for my daughter. I believe in pushing to make the public schools better, but my son's experience in his first school was bad on several levels.

And 3:27, downsizing to make my children's education a higher priority is just another thing I'm considering (I'm just full of dilemmas these days). The people that you know may be so used to the house, the cars, the goodies, that scaling back may be unthinkable to them. Or they don't know how to do it without embarassment or shame. For me, I'm looking around at what I have and saying, "Yeah, and..."

I agree with pATRICK that nothing is wrong with attaining wealth. And I like nice things. But there's more to life than just things.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | March 9, 2007 3:46 PM

Fof4: Re: Superman's riding accident -- Poor people don't get injured in skiiing or boating accidents, either. At least they have something to be thankful for.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:46 PM

Best investments: travel expenses to visit our families out-of-state, and anything we did with our kids and their friends, from visiting
museums or the planetarium to exploring frogs and bugs at the creek, fishing at a nearby pond and, yes, birthday parties.

about birthday parties. some of us just aren't craft goddesses or super-party planners and hostesses. Crepe paper and balloons are not my friends. We've never lived in a house big enough to host 10 or more kids. I didn't have a Martha Stewart-type mom and that's not my gift. I love to see kids having fun doing an activity, though, so for each of our kids' 5th - 8th birthdays, we did (and still do) a soccer, or roller-skating, or gymnastics party at a local place and invited every child in their respective classes. No one was left out. Our children learned that birthdays aren't about the gifts, they're not ways to make certain kids feel less popular than other kids. Birthdays are a time to get your friends together and have fun. The parties were, "no gifts, please", because the point was not for our kids to be spoiled, and they later got an age-appropriate, less than $20 birthday present from us. Each party cost between $100 and $200 total, including the $14 cake from Wal-Mart.

Worst investment: educational toys like v-tech and leappad.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:47 PM

My sister lost her virginity at summer camp when she was a teenager.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:48 PM

Worst investment: educational toys like v-tech and leappad.


Yes, my kid never even plays with hers. I am not buying a realy video game until she begs me for one.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 3:48 PM

"For those who believe the birthday parties are getting terribly expensive, has anyone thought of doing crafts with the party guests and having it remain a relatively smallish affair (like maybe 10-12 kids, tops)?"

FWIW, that's a great idea. Not a "crafty" person myself, so wouldn't think of that. But we've always done the "family only" party -- for her school friends, we just send in cupcakes on the designated day.

I tend to do the "party that throws itself" kind of thing. For the last couple of years, we've gone to the tire park that's a mile away -- it's like $2/car to get in, the kids run around and go crazy playing and entertaining themselves, and the grownups snag one of the picnic tables and charcoal grills and throw on some burgers and dogs (we just do family, so there are like 6 kids and 8-10 adults).

I also make the cake, because I just hate how storebought cake tastes. Last year was tough, though, because my daughter desperately wanted a "Little Mermaid" cake. So I went to Target, found a small "Little Mermaid" doll, bought it, and stuck it on top of the cake -- she was thrilled. Plus she got the rest of the Little Mermaid "dress-up" set as one of her presents -- double bonus!

This year I may cave and do something bigger -- it's her last party before most of her friends go off to different schools, so I may do something stupid like rent one of the pavilions there and let her invite her class. We'll see.


Posted by: Laura | March 9, 2007 3:49 PM

Here you can have a party at the zoo for like 150 dollars cake included and you can invite 12 kids plus parents.

I m thinking about doing that for next year.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 3:51 PM

I had Dan, and that old guy--the ex-Army fellow. That was the first time I ever saw a flying lead change, he made it look so EASY. The only jumping I do anymore is on trail rides. I'm more into dressage and competitive trail. Have you joined TROT? Let's keep the bridle trails available for everyone (riders, bikers, hikers...)!
=========================================
My firstborn loved going for a week at orchestra camp. Favourite cousin went too, they roomed together.

$440 for a week of individual instruction, ensembles, full orchestra rehearsals, a performance, meals, use of the college pool.

Admittedly, my kids love making music. I'm sending firstborn back for another shot at it. The program is only one week a year, so while it's a splurge, it didn't go unappreciated or underutilized.

Posted by: to Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:53 PM

best investment:
-law school (and taking gov't attorney job instead of law firm)
-quality daycare
-529 plan
-small quirky house in good neighborhood close-in to DC
-life insurance for my spouse and me
-summer pool membership
-year round gym membership

worst investment:
-expensive party for 1st born's 1 year old party (I won't do it with #2 who is 10 months old)

I get most of their toys from my older sisters who have older kids now. Clothes are Target and Carter store (which has great sales).

Posted by: no.arl.mom | March 9, 2007 3:55 PM

"For those who believe the birthday parties are getting terribly expensive, has anyone thought of doing crafts with the party guests and having it remain a relatively smallish affair (like maybe 10-12 kids, tops)?"

Even if you're not crafty and cringe at the idea of coming up with those sorts of ideas, Oriental Trading has a ton of craft "kits" you can buy for very little money. They usually come in sets of 12 so you can have a smallish party, each child can make something, and you have killed two birds with one stone - activities and party favors.

www.orientaltrading.com No I don't work for them.

What we've done in the past when we wanted to have a party with no gifts is ask that each child bring a new, wrapped book to the party - we play a game and each child ends up with a new book to take home. I say "in lieu of gifts for the birthday child and goodie bags, we will be having a book exchange." and then explain what I said above.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 3:55 PM

'As far as going to college goes, if I can do it anyone can. You have to want to do it.'

Not to say you didn't work hard, but didn't you have the support of anyone? Your family, husband, friend, counselor? Not necessarily financial support, but emotional support and encouragement?

Kids who grow up in families where school is not a priority generally don't make it a priority for themselves. There are always stories of people who overcome all sorts of obstacles, but generally, I don't think most people overcome without some support system in place.

How else would you explain the cycle of poverty, school drop-outs, etc? I actually met someone who worked in a drugstore and was extremely proud of that because no one in her family had ever had a job before. In her mind, going to college was so far from her reality, it wasn't even a dream.

Posted by: to scarry | March 9, 2007 3:59 PM

I've never posted a comment to this blog before but decided to today. What bothers me about most of the comments is that the equation seems to be that if you work hard, have nice things, splurge or spend money, or if you, god forbid, take your family on a nice vacation (that costs a lot of money) that somehow you don't love your kids as much as the people who scrimp and save, go to museums, make their own diapers, draw pictures together and all of the other "warm fuzzies" I've been reading here. What gives?

I admit -- I go overboard at Christmas, I spend way too much money on birthday parties (and, BTW, it isn't unheard of for me to spend more than $150 on a birthday cake), we take at least two "good" vacations a year and I have an instructor come to my home three evenings a week during the summer to give my kids private swimming lessons at home even though it costs a lot more.

At the same time, I would never spend $900 on a stroller, I bought my kids cribs at IKEA for next to nothing and will not let me kids have a TV in their room, a cell phone in their hand or a car in the driveway until THEY can pay for it. With money THEY have earned.

I guess what I'm saying is -- it doesn't matter if you scrimp or if you splurge. We can all raise good kids or bad kids. The amount of money we spend on them isn't what makes them spoiled.

Posted by: JGO | March 9, 2007 3:59 PM

"to Meesh,"

Was Roy the ex-Army guy? I think I remember him.

I've actually stopped riding. I'd love to trailride now, but I'm doing too much other stuff. I did work at a barn for a couple years. I actually think I had more fun doing that (feeding, dragging hay around, and grooming) than I did actually riding. Like I mentioned, I'm not really competitive.

Posted by: Meesh | March 9, 2007 3:59 PM

"We lived in PG County before kids. I'm gonna get roasted for saying this, but we'd never let our kids go to PG public schools, at least back then."

Just pointing out, as AnneB said earlier, it depends on the specific school.

Not every school in a whole county is the same as any other school in a whole county. You can't even always tell by socioeconomics. Individual schools each have their own "personality."

So if you rule out entire counties at one fell swoop you are missing out.

You don't want a really bad school, granted.

But close parenting plus a reasonably decent school is a good combo, and IMO is better than distant parenting plus "excellent" school.

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 4:00 PM

We aren't very extravagant people and we don't really spend much money on ourselves. We have found that that has carried through to have we treat our daughter. However, we have "spent" some serious money for our little one. I went part-time at work. It isn't spending money, but it is forgoing some serious income over the next 18 years or so that I plan on staying part time. We still have to pay full day care, but it is so worth. Also, we bought a big(ger) house (we live in Arlington, so very few houses are actually big in today's terms). It has ample room - with a large basement where she can play when she gets older and a nice sized play room beside the kitchen where she can play now (21 months). It also has four bedrooms so we room for a bedroom for the next one (hopefully!) and a dedicated guest room so my parents have space for themselves when they stay over, which is fairly frequently. There is fabulous yard, it is only blocks from the elementary and middle schools and the house cuts all of our commutes about 10-15 minutes. My in-laws live around the corner and some cousins live up the street (one of whom will be in the same grade as my daughter). Although the mortgage is bigger than I ever though I would have and it stretches our budget (and we are never going to have an up-to-date kitchen), we are so happy here. Of course, we are also putting money away for her 529 plan.

Posted by: jf | March 9, 2007 4:02 PM

And if the reasonably decent school is in a friendly, happy neighborhood, good parenting plus reasonably decent school could be ever BETTER than good parenting plus "excellent" school!

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 4:02 PM

The bottom line is, I think I'll have done my job as a parent much better if my kids look at their first toilet of their very own and think, "Gee whiz, I wonder how to clean this thing," instead of, "Gee whiz, I wonder who my father was."

Posted by: Bob | March 9, 2007 03:44 PM

what he said

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:05 PM

The bottom line is, I think I'll have done my job as a parent much better if my kids look at their first toilet of their very own and think, "Gee whiz, I wonder how to clean this thing," instead of, "Gee whiz, I wonder who my father was."

Posted by: Bob | March 9, 2007 03:44 PM

Don't you think your kids will learn something about you while you are showing them how to clean the toilet?

Even better - show them how to FIX the toilet! Why not? Toilets can be very bonding.

I don't agree with the notion that kids who learn from their parents how to do basic household tasks are somehow less connected with their parents than kids who don't know how to do these things (and whose parents don't know either).

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 4:11 PM

Golgi: in my opinion and those of my then-neighbors, the local schools didn't qualify as "reasonably decent".

I agree with the points made that you can get a good education in a bad school system; I've always believed that the family influence is the single biggest factor in educational quality. (I didn't say "only", I said "biggest"; and my basis for saying that is my own personal experience in schools all over the world, plus inputs from my mother the teacher; my sister the teacher; my niece the soon-to-be teacher, and observation.)

But I also believe that good parenting (I hope we do that; if others want to judge let 'em) plus close work (never had a commute to work longer than 20 minutes in the 24 years I've lived/been employed here) plus excellent schools means a better chance of success. Not a guarantee of success, but a better chance. And to us that better chance was worth the move, and we've never regretted it.

(Off-topic rant: I've often said that we moved out of PG County to get away from Glendenning, who was County Exec at the time. He's the one politician in MD I've despised the most. Of course, little did I know that I would have needed to leave the state to get away from him!)

Posted by: Army Brat | March 9, 2007 4:12 PM

"The amount of money we spend on them isn't what makes them spoiled."

Yes, because we all know tons of spoiled children wearing clothes from thrift stores, going to public schools in bad neighborhoods, and living in shelters.

I'm sorry, but this is a senstive subject with me right now. I just got off the phone with my daughter's school. Her best friend is on the verge of homelessness because her mother is being evicted from their tiny, run down rental house that they shared with several other adults. Her mom lost her minimum wage job cleaning rooms at a hotel because it closed down a couple of months ago. My daughter is upset because this is her best friend and it's completely out of her frame of reference to think about being homeless. I debated whether or not to share what I knew with the school because I didn't want to violate their privacy yet I know the school can put them in touch with services. After consulting with a counselor friend who told me that it would be best if I did tell the school, I called them and they will call the homeless advocate for our county to make sure the family gets help.

I'm sure some of you will say "oh, that's fine and dandy but if her mom had just gone to college and worked hard they wouldn't be in this situation." Well, that's pretty easy to say when you actually have a support system and have been given advantages in life that many people don't have.


Posted by: disgusted | March 9, 2007 4:12 PM

"No question that a person can overcome a difficult childhood and be moderately financial successful through hard work. But true affluency - someone who can and will pay almost $200K for their child's education and take $10K vacations every year - is achieved by very, very, very! few people who weren't raised with all of the advantages. There aren't very many Oprah's out there."

Posted by: | March 9, 2007 03:23 PM

3:23 poster:

Your bet would be right on the money according to a series on class mobility that ran last year in the NY Times. It noted that 23 percent of the top tier was born into that socio-economic class.

Hard work is moving from the bottom of the socio-economic realm to the upper tier, not having everything handed to you until you are 25 years old.

My single mother worked very hard after her marriages failed, she was over 40 and she was stuck raising three kids on her own. She worked six days a week and we still lived in poverty. It wasn't that she wasn't a hard worker, she simply made poor choices (i.e., being a stay-at-home mom with no marketable job skills). And for what its worth, while she was married, she lived an affluent lifestyle in WDC, her clothes were tailor-made, and she learned to drive when her husband bought her a Cadillac. Her's was a riches-to-rags story. Ironically, she was well-off when she wasn't working (a pampered wife), but when she was working, she was impoverished.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 4:15 PM

Bob,
I see what you're saying about making family time more important than teaching your kids to do everything themselves. However, as someone who grew up in a house with a cleaning service, there is something to growing up seeing the routines necessary to keep a clean house. Most of us can't afford a cleaning service when we start out in life, and need to have some idea of how often to clean the bathroom, and what it means to "clean a bathroom" (i.e. you need to do more than swish the toilet and wipe off the sink). These things aren't necessarily obvious to people who haven't had to do them, even if they can be learned in a fairly short amount of time, once you know that you don't know.

I was way too old when I found out I was supposed to be dusting. I am not a details person, LOL!

Posted by: YetAnotherSAHM | March 9, 2007 4:19 PM

Hello Army Brat. I think we probably basically agree.

"Golgi: in my opinion and those of my then-neighbors, the local schools didn't qualify as "reasonably decent"."

A very good reason to move!!

"I agree with the points made that you can get a good education in a bad school system; I've always believed that the family influence is the single biggest factor in educational quality. (I didn't say "only", I said "biggest"; and my basis for saying that is my own personal experience in schools all over the world, plus inputs from my mother the teacher; my sister the teacher; my niece the soon-to-be teacher, and observation.)
But I also believe that good parenting (I hope we do that; if others want to judge let 'em) plus close work (never had a commute to work longer than 20 minutes in the 24 years I've lived/been employed here) plus excellent schools means a better chance of success. Not a guarantee of success, but a better chance. And to us that better chance was worth the move, and we've never regretted it."

Absolutely, this kind of choice depends on your personality and your individual gut feeling about what to do. Variety is the spice of life, not everyone is the same and not everyone will make the same choices!

The track you laid out works. No question. I was just putting an alternative out there because some other folks might assume that yours is the only track. Good talking with you!

Posted by: Golgi | March 9, 2007 4:20 PM

"Even better - show them how to FIX the toilet! Why not? Toilets can be very bonding."

One of the most important lessons my father ever taught me: never begin a plumbing project on a Sunday afternoon -- if things go bad -- and they will -- you are pretty much screwed.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:22 PM

Fo3,

It's late in the day --- today was my biannual big shop at the kids' consignment sale (sponsored by my youngest's former preschool; $200 and more expensively, 6 hours later, they now both have more than half their wardrobe set for the next 6 months, hurray, and the preschool keeps 1/3 of the proceeds). But responding on your webkinz query, yes, my girls are wild about webkinz. It's made birthday party shopping easy around here lately, at least, since all they ever want to give are webkinz. In fact, my oldest recently gave me a webkinz for *my* birthday! Then they added me to their friends' list, my oldest showed me how to build my house, and my youngest had a blast challenging me to one tournament game after another, so I got to see all her favorites. It's a lot like the old neopets site, but maintained, and the fun they have building their pets' houses, etc, is a lot more kid-appropriate than Sims, an earlier favorite. But yes, they could play forever, so it's only for weekends and after homework, piano practice, or wake up and dress uber-quickly in the morning for computer time . . .

Posted by: KB | March 9, 2007 4:23 PM

"Your bet would be right on the money according to a series on class mobility that ran last year in the NY Times. It noted that 23 percent of the top tier was born into that socio-economic class."

If that stat is correct, it would mean 77% of people in the top tier weren't born into it and got their via hard work. It kind of undermines your point.

Posted by: to singlewesternmom | March 9, 2007 4:28 PM

For places to live? How'd we get on that topic?

Well, I'll throw my .02 in and say that if you can afford it, Old Town Alexandria really has it all. Problem is that buying is rather expensive. I rent and it's only through the most bizarre stroke of good luck that I got the deal that I did...

And as a poster previously mentioned, Belle View (as well as several communities down the GW Parkway from Old Town) is just great--and they're much more affordable than Old Town is. Old Town itself is only about 20 mins or so from Capitol Hill and many downtown areas. Everything is walkable--I never use my car around town. There's a real sense of community--I can't leave my apartment without seeing someone I know. It's beautiful, loads of activities, parks, community gardens, it's right on the river, etc. Just an idyllic little spot. I love it here.

Posted by: Old Towner | March 9, 2007 4:29 PM

If that stat is correct, it would mean 77% of people in the top tier weren't born into it and got their via hard work. It kind of undermines your point.

Posted by: to singlewesternmom | March 9, 2007 04:28 PM

100% of the people in the top tier know the difference between their and there.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:30 PM

My God....i just found out my wife is pregnant with our first(and last) child. I broke out in a sweat after reading this atricle.

Posted by: Jamal | March 9, 2007 4:31 PM

Bob,
IMHO your children should at least know the basics of house cleaning - you aren't doing them any favors when the are ready to fly the coop (or their roomates/spouses as we have read about other days) if they don't have a clue about how to do laundry, make a bed or do dishes. It really doesn't take all that long if you all do it together.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 4:31 PM

"I'm sure some of you will say "oh, that's fine and dandy but if her mom had just gone to college ....."

No most people won't say that, they will feel really bad for the mother and their daughter.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 4:31 PM

Congratulations, Jamal! Consider the WSJ article a close relative of lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:34 PM

"Not to say you didn't work hard, but didn't you have the support of anyone? Your family, husband, friend, counselor? Not necessarily financial support, but emotional support and encouragement?"

So adults need a support system to get a job and go part time to a state or community college? Please, I had to drive to school (no bus or metro) I was the first one in my family to graduate and I worked my ass off for it.

Like I said, if you want it you can do it. And, yes, I have a lovely family. A lovely family, who had no idea how to apply for student loans, do algebra or understand why I wasn't happy on the line. Now, I have a family who is proud and I am one less kid my mom has to worry about. Going to college was beyond "their" realm of the world. However, it wasn't beyond mine because I wanted it. Now, it is no big deal and I have one nephew in college and the other joining him in the fall. Someone has to break the cycle.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 4:41 PM

Meesh and all other pet owners,
I highly recommend pet insurance. I didn't have it with my first dog and he had two ACL (knee ligament) reconstructions at almost $900 a pop. Then he had seizures and I spent another $500 trying to get them under control before I had to put him down.
The next dog I got from the shelter and he came with one month free. I continued it - about $120/year if you get it when they are young. When he tore his leg on a bottle someone had thrown in the woods it cost almost $500 for the surgery to fix it - my cost - the $75 deductible.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 4:44 PM

'Please, I had to drive to school'

Where did you get the car? That's part of what I mean about support. what if someone has no way to get to the school?

congratulations, you overcame the odds. Not everyone can.

Posted by: to scarry | March 9, 2007 4:45 PM

Wasn't "Clean up your own mess" one of the kindergarten skills according to Robert Fulghum?

One reason I choose not to have cleaning help is that I think the principle of cleaning up one's own mess does teach a valuable life lesson that goes beyond housekeeping. The other reasons are explained very well in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. In this book she goes to work for a Molly Maid-type company. It's pretty eye-opening. Also, to paraphrase Ehrenreich: I just never wanted to have that kind of relationship with another human being.

I'm not saying that it's not possible to employ cleaning help in a way that respects the idea of social justice, but it would take extra effort to find a person to employ.

I do see Bob's point though; I can understand why he prefers to spend time on family outings, etc. When a person works long hours, there's not much time for the drudge work at home and fun family time.

Posted by: Another Librarianmom | March 9, 2007 4:48 PM

'If that stat is correct, it would mean 77% of people in the top tier weren't born into it and got their via hard work. It kind of undermines your point.'

It doesn't actually say that the rest got there via hard work. There are other ways. What about smart investments. I know several who became millionaires after investing in dot.coms and cashing out before the crash. They had inherited or been gifted with money from their parents that they used to invest. So, no, they weren't born to that level, but they got there thru the gifts from their parents and the stock increases, not through hard work.

I don't begrudge anyone the money they make on investments, but I also don't think for one minute that the gain on investments is because they worked hard. Wise investing is not the same as hard work.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:51 PM

With my noting of the NYT article, I suppose I should have noted the inverse: less than 10 percent in the top tier moved up from the bottom (it was stratified into five layers, and there was a multi-media program whereby you plugged in sociio-economic indicaters that would place you into a tier).

Moving from tier 4 to tier 5 would not be much of a stretch; those folks likely had college paid for and had educated parents as role models. The "Oprahs" (and I LOVE that analogy) who move from poverty to rich are fewer than 10 percent. And unless they win the lottery, it requireds a whole lot more work than having daddy pay for your college and get you an internship with his law firm.

Having educated parents instills education as a value. Without such role models, it's hard for a kid to break out of that life, especially if it's coupled with living in an impoverished neighborhood and going to poor schools. I'm not an Oprah, but I made it out of poverty and into comfortable middle class. My mother asked me to leave home when I was 17 years old, so I was a "hard worker" while many of you were picking out your prom outfits.

Fortunately, as I am educated and I have instilled those values in my daughter, she has a much better chance of maintaining a middle class lifestyle. And I will help her as best as I can in getting that education.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 4:51 PM

Foam Gnome, Father of 4, Armchair Mom, Takoma Park Slacker and Scarry:

You made the news:

 http://www.sys-con.com/read/346916.htm

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 4:53 PM

I bought my used car using money I made while I worked 12 hour shifts in the factory. You are not going to prove that I had it easy so you should stop trying.

No one bought me the car. my point is that some differnt people have different advantages. If would have grown up in the city,public transporation and jobs that I could walk to would have been a great help.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 4:56 PM

scarry - ""I'm sure some of you will say "oh, that's fine and dandy but if her mom had just gone to college ....."
No most people won't say that, they will feel really bad for the mother and their daughter. "

No, but SOME will. Which is what I said.

singlewesternmom - "If that stat is correct, it would mean 77% of people in the top tier weren't born into it and got their via hard work. It kind of undermines your point."

I thought the same thing at first. But what percentage of the 77% weren't necessarily born into privelege but who came from middle- or upper-middle-class families who supported them emotionally and financially during their childhood, encouraged them to continue their education post high school, and generally provided the stepping stones to success? So I don't think it necessarily undermines the point that "hard work" isn't all that it takes to be extremely wealthy, because the support system is still there in families who might not be in the top tier but who are still financially and otherwise stable.

For those who have a problem with the term "luck", would you agree that someone who was born with an IQ of 95 has less of a chance, generally speaking, to be wealthy than someone born with an IQ of 140? How about someone who is a natural leader? Someone who is talented artistically or athletically? Someone who naturally comes up with innovative ideas? All of those people have more of a chance to be financially successful than someone who wasn't born with those abilities or talents. All the hard work in the world isn't going to make you be able to be smart if you're not, or be a singer-songwriter if you're tone deaf, or be a professional baseball player if you can't catch a ball if your life depended on it. Is it not "luck" to be naturally gifted in different areas?


Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:01 PM

I am with Scarry on working out of blue collar lifestyle by going to college and breaking the cycle.

Though what I did not do is go for the high-paying career path and did non-profit work. I was offended several years ago when my boss said that I could never have a child on my salary ($30K), she was right... and I had a degree, worked hard, etc. Also, when growing up - I walked 3 miles everyday to work in the summers until I could afford to but my own car then got to drive. I do like the concept of cost share for the non-necessities. I will never be rich, nor wealthy but perhaps I can instill the value that things are not important.

Posted by: single mom | March 9, 2007 5:02 PM

Takoma Park Slacker?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:02 PM

Stop being defensive. I never said you had it easy. I already congratulated you for overcoming the odds.

I just wanted to point out that not everyone can do it just because you did. Not everyone has the same intestinal fortitude, drive, personality, or whatever quality drove you forward but leaves them behind. it's not always enough just to want it and to be willing to work for it. Not everyone has the same life. people on this blog have discussed how some are introverts, some are extroverts. I imagine it would be harder for an introverted, shy person who lacks confidence to overcome obstacles than it is for an outgoing person who feels very sure of themself.

Think of it this way. Not every one has the same talents. Not every one can run fast no matter how much they want to and how hard they try.

Posted by: to scarry | March 9, 2007 5:05 PM

oops, that should have been "to singlewesternmom" in the 5:01 post

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:05 PM

I'm one of those grandmothers who buys the kids' clothes. I purchase practically the entire wardrobes for my twin grandaughters. I shop clearance racks at Macy's at the end of the season and store the clothes until they are big enough to wear them. I used to also shop another regional department store, but they no longer carry the brands I like, and don't have such great bargains anymore either. I buy my grandaughters mostly Ralph Lauren these days, not for the name but for the quality. I can't abide the "sexy" outfits some brands have for toddlers and little girls. And the quality of the construction and fabric is important - I hate the feel of cheap fabric when I'm wearing the clothes too. I never buy anything for my grandaughters that is not at least 75% off the original price, so it's not as pricey as you might think. I bought them a lot of Osh Kosh and Tommy Hilfiger when they were younger, but can't find those brands for them anymore. I sometimes buy other brands (Stride Rite, Nike, Puma and such), but only if it's quality fabric and construction. When the girls outgrow the outfits, my daughter passes them along to her friends with girls and they are thrilled to have them for their daughters.

Posted by: carrot | March 9, 2007 5:05 PM

Oh dear, if that's "the news" we're all in trouble...

Posted by: try harder | March 9, 2007 5:06 PM

I am a nurse and work for the fed govt. A former roomate is a physician and we are still friends now, after almost 25 years. Sometimes when she has a meeting in an interesting place (Vegas, Fort Lauderdale) she invites me to go along. Someone once asked her why she hung around with people like me (meaning less educated). Her response was great - "because she is one of the smartest and nicest people I know and is a good friend". She will always be my friend because of that.

Posted by: KLB SS MD | March 9, 2007 5:06 PM

"For those who have a problem with the term "luck", would you agree that someone who was born with an IQ of 95 has less of a chance, generally speaking, to be wealthy than someone born with an IQ of 140?"

And the outlier on this would be George W. Bush, but that's where family wealth and privilege kick in : )

Inversely, Bill Clinton, who was raised in humble suroundings by a single working mother, has an IQ that has been estimated to approach 180. He is an Oprah, and that move from the bottom tier to the top tier was based on intelligence and hard work.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 5:06 PM

"Stop being defensive."

Why is it that when someone doesn't like what someone else has to say they are being defensive?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:08 PM

"Stop being defensive."

Why is it that when someone doesn't like what someone else has to say they are being defensive?

"You are not going to prove that I had it easy so you should stop trying." (scarry)

I'm sorry, scarry's statement sounded defensive to me. I don't recall saying that she had it easy. I was only questioning whether or not she may have had some support from others along the way. My memory may be faulty, but it seems that she spoke in earlier blogs about how supportive her husband was for her to return to school.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:13 PM

"Not everyone has the same intestinal fortitude, drive, personality, or whatever quality drove you forward but leaves them behind. it's not always enough just to want it and to be willing to work for it."

Maybe not, but the sooner you realize that the rest of the world is not going to pay for you to sit around and discover your talent, and you'll starve if you don't find your own solution, maybe you will find sufficient motivation. if what you need to do is work two jobs, save your money, and go to community college, then get going.

It better be enough to be willing to work for it, because the alternative is poverty.

Excuses, excuses, excuses. submitted by pittypat, i'll bet.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:14 PM

Single western mom: Clinton's background wasn't that humble. His mother was educated (a nurse), and his step-father co-owned an auto dealership. He was considered upper middle-class by his friends and neighbors.

It clearly wasn't a bed of roses, but there was no one-room shack or outhouse, either.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:16 PM

Me and my husband supported each other. We both worked hard, but if I wouldn't have had him I still would have made something out of myself.

My other brother joined the Navy at 17 and later became skilled trade at tile. Where was his support network?

My other brother is an alcoholic who cuts down trees for a living.

Seems to me that you can be something if you want to. Maybe me and my "non-alcoholic" brother are just really exceptional.

Either way, you can't sit around and complain about what "life" did to you if you don't try to make it better.

No one is going to give you anything, you have to take it.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 5:18 PM

That wasn't from pittypat. Have you no compassion for anyone? This all started when someone said that a couple working split shifts at minimum wage jobs to support their family probably worked harder than someone who said that they worked hard to become affluent.

someone working a minimum wage job on the night shift and tending to children during the day may not have any energy left to go to school on top of everything else. You probably feel like the woman who is about to become homeless should quit sitting around and discover her talent.

Maybe they shouldn't be in the situation they are. But they are, so why not try to come up with some useful solutions instead of being coldhearted.

You also seem to be assuming that everyone can be successful at college. some people just aren't smart. Others are smart enough, but have learning disabilities. It's not a perfect world.

Posted by: anon | March 9, 2007 5:21 PM

I have been out for a few hours and I can't believe that SAHMBACKTOWORK agrees with me about something! Makes me so happy.

For those of you who are convinced I am an elitist spoiled brat, I just wanted to say I would NEVER pay $900 for a stroller. I went Graco all the way. Lightweight, sturdy, great customer service. My favorite (which I still have) cost $12.

Posted by: Leslie | March 9, 2007 5:23 PM

Yes, Bill Clinton's mother put herself through nursing school while young Bill lived with his grandmother, and she later re-married, which boosted the family's socio-economic status (but if memory serves, Bill Clinton's stepfather was not a nice guy).

Bill Clinton learned a lot from his mother's hard work. And I'm pretty sure that Rhodes scholarships require hard work.

Posted by: single western mom | March 9, 2007 5:26 PM

I responded to the comment in my post. It did not refer to the homeless woman and does not apply to her. I have not only compassion but RESPECT for her and the couple working split shifts.

college is not for everyone and not everyone is smart. everyone who is not disabled can work hard, though. sitting around wishing you had the talent to be a professional singer or baseball player is a waste of time. you can be successful in construction, in retail management, in auto repair, in many, many areas, but you do have to be willing to work hard, and it may require you to work two jobs to get ahead.

hard work has much more consistent results than a plan to wait for a lightening bolt of luck to change your existence while you lay on your futon.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:28 PM

anon,

I have been around the "people' you are talking about my whole life. At any given time, I may have to send family members money, drop what I am doing and solve a problem, talk my nephews through a paper on the phone, fix a resume from back home because another factory was sent over seas and someone needs my help, etc.

Can you say the same thing? Are you faced with this everyday of your life? I have always been blue collar and I understand what you are saying that everyone may not have the skills to go to college.

The bad thing about that is that there aren't that many blue collar jobs anymore and if you work in a restaurant, grocery store etc, you are going to have to accept that you aren't going to make a lot of money and that you can't compare your life to the life of someone who went to college to be a lawyer.

I didn't make the rules and I feel really bad for the woman who is losing her job. If she was my daughter's friend I would ask them to live with me until we could work something out.

Posted by: scarry | March 9, 2007 5:31 PM

I am too cheap to buy a really high-end stroller, but I do like some high end models. However, the appeal of the bugaboo is lost on me. It looks small and uncomfortable, doesn't fold up like an umbrella, and costs easily twice what many high end strollers do. I have a peg perego pliko (bought 2nd hand) that is serving me well through a second child, and is large enough for my 4 year old (not that I let her ride anymore). The bugaboo just costs too much. When I see someone out with a bugaboo, I find myself looking at them to try to guess why on earth they purchased it.

If I were going to spend that kind of money on a stroller, I'd get a Phil & Ted's e3. It's much much more flexible.

Posted by: YetAnotherSAHM | March 9, 2007 5:46 PM

Hey Leslie,

Check your inbox. There should be a proposed guest blog in there.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 5:55 PM

Well, I really seem to have put the cat in amongst the pigeons with my comment. A few thoughts:

Bravo, Scarry! You have earned my utmost respect for your accomplishments.

Yes, I agree that luck can be credited with any individual's innate strengths and talents. I've been loath to mention that intellectual gifts clearly play a role in socio-economic mobility because I expected I'd be flamed by the more determinedly egalitarian members of our blogging community.

And yes, some people have the crap luck to be born into ungodly circumstances (e.g., abusive families, extreme poverty, etc.) and that sucks. It surely means the deck is stacked against them. Many will end up repeating the terrible pattern with their own families. But others - and more than you think - will break the cycle.

How do I know this? My father grew up "on the state"(i.e. welfare) and was often sent by his mother to drag his his father out of the local bar at 2:00am. As he likes to say, they didn't have a pot to piss in. Dad found that unacceptable, and so made use of the public schools and libraries to get an education. He won a scholarship, worked two jobs throughout college, got a job as an engineer, and has worked his butt off every day since to ensure that he and his would never end up where he started out.

So yes, I had a support system. I had parents who instilled a strong work ethic, a respect for saving and planning, and a love of learning. Dad climbed from poverty to the middle class in hopes that his children would be able to make it even further up the ladder. DH and I are trying to do the same for our children. I thought that was the way it was supposed to work - each generation working to give the next a better life.

Of course it's unrealistic to expect that there will be lots of "Oprahs" out there leaping from poverty to wealth in a single bound. But it is NOT unrealistic to expect those in poverty with the basic raw material to do so to use the free resources available to them to advance to the next rung on the ladder.

Finally, I worked PT all through HS and college and worked FT while also going to grad school FT because that's what needed to be done. I also worked 70+ hr weeks (as did DH) before I had children so I could be in a financial position to have children. So please don't give me that rubbish about the couple working split shifts working harder.

Posted by: to amazing | March 9, 2007 6:06 PM

"you can be successful in construction, in retail management, in auto repair, in many, many areas, but you do have to be willing to work hard, and it may require you to work two jobs to get ahead."

The people working in construction, retail management, and auto repair are not AFFLUENT, which is what we're talking about. "Getting ahead" and making a comfortable living is a far different thing from being wealthy and being able to afford the kinds of things mentioned today.

"Finally, I worked PT all through HS and college and worked FT while also going to grad school FT because that's what needed to be done. I also worked 70+ hr weeks (as did DH) before I had children so I could be in a financial position to have children. So please don't give me that rubbish about the couple working split shifts working harder. "

I also worked part time from the time I was in my mid-teens through college, full time during graduate school, and long hours in preparing to start my family. Yet I would NEVER compare that kind of hard work to working a blue collar job, on my feet, for 8 hours and then coming home and caring for children for 8 hours while my husband goes to work. Just yesterday we had many people on the blog complaining about how hard it is when their husbands are out of town on business. Parents working split shifts with their spouse do that EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Scarry - I think it's really wonderful that you "broke the cycle" in your family and went to college. But I still think you're missing the point, because as far as I know, you are not "affluent." You have done well for yourself and are better off financially than most of your family. But can you afford a $200-$300K education for each of your children? Yes, hard work can help a person to break the cycle but it STILL requires a great deal of luck to become wealthy.

Oh, and I can't resist commenting on this:
"My other brother joined the Navy at 17 and later became skilled trade at tile. Where was his support network?
My other brother is an alcoholic who cuts down trees for a living.
Seems to me that you can be something if you want to. Maybe me and my "non-alcoholic" brother are just really exceptional.

Is your problem with your alcoholic brother just that he's an alcoholic, or that he cuts down trees for a living? Because I think logging is a completely respectable way to earn a living - and it is definitely "hard work."

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 7:11 PM

I don't have any children (yet), but the best money (and time) I ever spent on one was when I made a toybox and a set of wooden alphabet blocks for my single mom friend's baby.

Here's the toybox:

http://wood.jlansford.net/wordpress/?cat=6

and here's the blocks:

http://wood.jlansford.net/wordpress/?cat=12

She was stunned to get the toybox (I gave it to her while she was pregnant) and then touched when I gave her the blocks for her baby's birthday. Her appreciation made all the hard work worth it.

Posted by: John | March 9, 2007 7:17 PM

----"For those who have a problem with the term "luck", would you agree that someone who was born with an IQ of 95 has less of a chance, generally speaking, to be wealthy than someone born with an IQ of 140?"

And the outlier on this would be George W. Bush, but that's where family wealth and privilege kick in : )----

Bush's IQ at age 22 was estimated to be in the mid-120s. His SAT score was 1206, even more commendable given that he took the SAT before the College Board dumbed it down in 1995 to inflate the average score by 100 points.

"To Bush-bashers, it may be the most infuriating revelation yet from the military records of the two presidential candidates: the young George W. Bush probably had a higher I.Q. than did the young John Kerry."

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/24/politics/campaign/24points.html?ex=1256356800&en=50a1bcbb16e7cf21&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland

----Inversely, Bill Clinton, who was raised in humble suroundings by a single working mother, has an IQ that has been estimated to approach 180.----

Is the source of that estimate the Lovenstein Institute in Scranton, Pennsylvania? That's a hoax.

http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/hoaxes/presiq.htm

Posted by: Allison | March 9, 2007 7:37 PM

"The people working in construction, retail management, and auto repair are not AFFLUENT, which is what we're talking about. "Getting ahead" and making a comfortable living is a far different thing from being wealthy and being able to afford the kinds of things mentioned today."

You really should read The Millionaire Next Door. :-)

Posted by: Shandra | March 9, 2007 8:45 PM

So sorry MN. NC State played a whole game. Their passing was amazing. UVA didn't help themselves with their rebounding either. Next time thoughh...

Posted by: dotted | March 9, 2007 9:29 PM

dotted: ouch. you're my friend, LOL? good luck today! wouldn't it be great to be in Tampa? (low of 59, high of 80 today)

Posted by: Megan's Neighbor | March 10, 2007 10:53 AM

MN,
I wasn't being negative about UVA! Hey, NC state played out of their mind. They are the hot team. The reminder of this weekend will be interesting, to say the least. As much as Tampa would be nice, it sure looks like a Carolina blue sky out there today. he he he!

Posted by: dotted | March 10, 2007 11:52 AM

To Hopeful...I'm late in the game, but I suggest you look at Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village as well.

Posted by: MV | March 12, 2007 10:20 AM

So, what? That means I should have at least $800,000 somewhere because I don't have a kid. I'm going to start looking for it now.

Posted by: reginad, edgewater | March 12, 2007 10:28 AM

"I'm not saying that it's not possible to employ cleaning help in a way that respects the idea of social justice, but it would take extra effort to find a person to employ."

Find someone who runs their own business doing part-time housecleaning. That's what I did.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 12, 2007 2:39 PM

Best "investment:" we live in Hungary now and are raising our two boys here, where - apart from a very narrow class in the tip-top income bracket - there is none of the pressure for expensive and electronic "stuff." At least, not as much. At least, not for now. So at least we saved ourselves a whole bunch of energy we would have expended on trying to curb and limit consumer-oriented kiddie culture.

Clearly, this is not an option for most bloggers, and I'm not even recommending it as such. The U.S. can be a great place to raise kids. I'm just underlining that "all that stuff" - fancy baby furniture, huge homes with a separate "theme" room for each kid, coordinated bedlinens and electronic toys - really aren't necessary, because in most of the world it doesn't even come up. So take heart all you parents-to-be: the pressure to buy and consume can be turned off if you want to.

Posted by: kac | March 14, 2007 5:47 AM

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