62 comments

Avoiding Ivy League Preschool Syndrome

Alternate titles:
Better Parenting with Hot Glue
Raising Children Actually Costs Less than Zero

One of the big inspirations for my recent article on Complainypants Disease was the comments section of a mainstream newspaper article about some semi-early retirees that was recently forwarded to me by a few readers.

Don’t waste your time reading through more than a few of the comments, because they’ll make you punch a hole in your computer monitor. There were about 500 of them at the time of writing, and at least 75% were written by Ultracomplainers expressing some version of the following message:

“What!? These people are lying about being retired!!…  and besides, the only reason they could do this is because they didn’t have any KIDS!!! Waaah! Waaaah!”.

The funny part is, the article was about a couple who lives on close to $40,000 per year. By my standards, that is a lavish Prince Alaweed bin Talal lifestyle, seeing how my own family WITH a kid leads a guilt-inducingly fancy lifestyle with a current annual cost of about $24k (plus the implicit subsidy of having our house paid off).

So why do people think kids are so expensive to raise? They weren’t expensive to raise for most of the history of our species, or even most of the tiny slice of history since the Industrial Revolution. But now, all of a sudden people think it costs a million dollars to raise a child, which is equal in most of these  U.S. News commenters’ mathematically challenged minds to “a million dollars per year”, which is also equivalent to “more than anyone can afford, regardless of income, Waaah, Waaah!”.

I believe this misconception is due to a disease spreading through the middle class that I call “Ivy Leage Preschool Syndrome”.

In earlier times, parents considered themselves lucky to have enough food from their own farm’s harvest to feed their children. Even more fortunate parents had time to allow their kids to attend the one room schoolhouse and get a job that paid more than farming. Public schools improved and work modernized, and pretty soon every kid went to school. Women dramatically increased their participation in the workforce and with perfect timing, consumer culture dramatically expanded the material desires of these parents to allow the increased family income to be poured into more luxury spending disguised as necessities – instead of more leisure time.

And now, here we are, when today’s parents believe they need a 7-passenger SUV for the “safety” of their children, they need to take trips to Disneyland for family entertainment, and they need to put their kids into exclusive private schools and even fancy preschools, as well as horseback and violin lessons from trained professionals in various surrounding towns,  in order to keep them ahead in “the increasingly competitive world out there”. By pure coincidence, all of these needs happen to be very expensive ones that clever entrepreneurs and companies are making a lot of money from.

Did you ever notice how you never see a strong international trend of parents spending more time with their kids, or people canceling their TV service and reading more, or local parks and natural areas becoming increasingly flooded with parents playing with their children? Hmm.. why is this? Is it because we’ve learned that these activities are not good for our kids so we have wised up and replaced them with organized and expensive activities? Or is it because nobody is making money off of these alternative ways and nobody gets to look rich doing them, and thus the Marketing and Social Competition Engine is not tricking us into doing them?

Mr. Money Mustache is once again going to be the first one to fart in the quiet room by saying, “IT’S ALL BULLSHIT!!! YOU DON’T HAVE TO SIGN YOUR KIDS UP TO DO EXPENSIVE THINGS IN ORDER FOR THEM TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL!!”

First of all, it is not an increasingly competitive world out there. It’s an increasingly complicated and more rapidly changing one, but when it boils down to it we are still a friendly species who likes to spend time and achieve things together, and we’re more productive than ever. If you can raise your kid to enjoy hard work and value constant learning, and enjoy working with other people, he or she will KICK ASS IN THE WORLD, both economically, and more importantly, from a life satisfaction perspective.

So when people spend all night in line for the privilege of signing their kid up for a $30,000 per year preschool, so they will qualify to get into the right kindergarten, then elementary, middle, and preparatory high school, so they can get into a specific Ivy League University.. I think they are wasting their time and money.

If your child gets a top-flight education, he or she will indeed be challenged and surrounded by other mostly-rich and driven children. This will indeed lead to better lifetime networking opportunities and a greatly increased chance of earning $500,000 per year in his 20s, and several million per year at the peak of his career.

Meanwhile, if your kid goes to your local public school and the nearest state university, in a good field, he’ll be more likely to start out with just a regular job, and on average make the equivalent of $40,000-$100,000 after graduation, rising steadily based mostly on accomplishment and ambition. Of course, many of the most successful entrepreneurs don’t even graduate from college at all, but for the sake of argument, let’s still give the massive earning advantage to the Ivy Leaguers.

Do you think the $500k earner will be happier, or have a better life? Most people would say “hell yeah”, because they incorrectly equate income with happiness.

I would say “hell no”, because I have seen the trials and hardships of both the Ivy Leaguers and Public Leaguers long after they graduate and become real adults. Once a person covers their basic needs of food and shelter, additional income just goes to the false idols of luxury purchasing. Which doesn’t make you any happier. Folks in the privileged class just get to buy a lot more stuff earlier, and they are trained to work longer hours in their careers. In the end, they are just more effective consuming machines. Big deal!

Both people mentioned above have the opportunity to lead a happy and productive life, and even to attain early riches and retirement if they happen to discover The Way of the Money Mustache early on. The real opportunity to win in life is in having good relationships with other people, as well as getting started early on having an effective philosophy of life, and gaining more autonomy and the opportunity to create work that you are proud of.

If you use your mind when doing it, raising a kickass kid Costs Next To Nothing in the grand scheme of a rich-country person’s expensesBy my own calculations, the cost already starts out low (food, education, health care), and then is vastly subsidized by the fact that raising my child takes so much time that it keeps me from having time to spend money on myself!

Before parenthood, my wife and I used to go out to restaurants about once a week, take expensive snowboarding trips and jet around to places like Australia and Italy and Mexico. We bought ourselves cars, computers, stereo equipment, motorcycles, as well as filling our first house with furniture and appliances.

But now as parents, we realize that our kid doesn’t give a shit about any of that stuff. So we’ve stopped being as interested in it as well.  Now we check out books from the library (about 25 per week on average), watch science documentaries on Netflix, bike down to the creek to make ever-more ambitious dams from the round river rocks and sand, and we sit in a sunny patch on the garage floor with the hot glue gun, and make robots out of scrap metal parts that we find sitting around in my tool boxes (see headline picture for this article).

Our son goes to the public school that is a 5 minute bike ride away from our house, a school that is often passed over by the Ivy-League-Preschool set that occupies the other high-priced homes of our neighborhood. Ours is a school where about 40% of the kids come in with English as their second language, which seemed very exciting to all three of us in the MMM family. I only learned later that this statistic is considered undesirable to most high-income parents, because somehow they have caught the Disease that tricks people into thinking that the expensive and exclusive options are better than free or cheap ones.

The kid is off to a great start in his school life, turning out to have unusual abilities in many academic areas, and I believe a big factor in this is the fact that we have not given him the traditional rich-kid upbringing. We hang around mostly in a 2-mile area surrounding our home and play with kids that happen to live nearby. We don’t have TV, and somehow the boy has no desire for products and toys that he doesn’t already have!

If he’s interested in lessons of any sort, we prioritize the ones that are within biking distance, and as a group we would probably hesitate to sign up for something in a far-off town unless it was to address a life-threatening disorder.

“But wait!”, the rich might say, “You’re denying your kid the violin and horseback lessons just because you’re Cheap!!”.

Wrong again, fellow rich people. For a child in our country, Educational activities are in absolute abundance. Everywhere you look, there is too much exciting stuff to learn!! It’s just like adult leisure: there are far too many options, so you might as well pick the ones that are free, and offer the most benefit.

A key part of this whole Excellent Childhood deal is YOU. I usually spend about 6 hours a day just playing and learning with my son. I view myself as one of those automated tour guide devices that you can walk around with in a museum – except I’m available to him wherever we are in life.

“Why did the water in the creek flood this dam we made yesterday, Dada?”

“Well, did you notice how it’s hot outside today? Look at the thermometer on my watch – 86 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 Celsius. Now look up into the mountains where this creek is coming from? What do you think is happening to the snow on a hot day like today?”.

Isn’t that FUN!? .. Just from random hanging out and playing, we have had opportunities to discuss the water cycle, the workings of every major part of a house and car, the biology of plants, animals, and insects, the entire solar system including each planet and its moons, the earth’s ecosystem, oceans, weather, feelings and psychology, culture and alternatives to violence, reading, math.. and I have no idea of the whole list, I just find that these things tend to come up, even if you’re just playing with Lego or making wooden ships together in the garage. Kids want to learn, and they’ll gladly suck far more information out of you as a loving and dedicated parent, than they can from a classroom setting alone – even in the best school.

Although Mrs. M. and I have only been part of the school for two months at this point, we have also signed up for a reasonable amount of in-school volunteer work. We get the chance to spend about 4 hours per week each there, and it feels great to do unpaid work to help the staff and have one-on-one time with dozens of little kids, many of them excited to see parents contributing in their classrooms. This is apparently a record year for parent volunteering at our school, possibly because the attitude of becoming more involved with school is growing in my own particular area.

Some go even further and take up homeschooling with their kids. I admire these people and I believe it can be a great choice for those with the inclination to do it. Personally, I am very happy with added random socialization added by the public school, and the added free time it provides us parents to balance our own lives back out during the school hours. And thanks to the taxes I pay, it’s free!

Just like most of the other areas of modern life, child-raising is one where the cost and the benefit are actually two unrelated things.  You can spend a lot, and get no benefit at all. Or you can spend very little, and get the greatest results. The Early Retirement Extreme guy would say that these variables are actually described on two entirely separate axes.

For some of us, this means we can spend less on our parenting habit, and still become better parents at the same time! For others with a surplus of money, more expensive options certainly open up – but don’t feel they are better just because they cost more – and remember the secret cost of every decision to spend more if you are not yet retired – it takes you away from your own kids.

 

  • shanoboy October 12, 2011, 6:40 am

    Now that I think about it, I probably actually spend less having kids, than I did before. I no longer waste money on eating out, going to expensive concerts, bars and other CRAP, and instead that cash goes into my kids.

    My other childless friends act like I’m really missing out, but my kid is more fulfilling than a smoky venue or over priced meal at a restaurant ever dreamed of being.

    My only issue is insurance. I am extremely hesitant to go out on a limb and start my own business or take any job that doesn’t have solid insurance, and regardless what MMM says, buying your own is EXPENSIVE!

    Reply
  • Rainey October 12, 2011, 7:00 am

    For us right now with kidlet so young our main expenses with him are diapers (which I can’t wait for him to not need anymore, but that we get fairly cheap with coupons or through my Amazon Mom account)…and meds (poor thing has asthma and a newly discovered peanut allergy).

    Other than that, it’s really quite cheap once the initial hospital bills are paid off. Instead of going out to eat so much we use that money to go to a big consignment sale twice a year and restock his clothes with quality brands that I’d never pay new prices for. Food and laundry costs aren’t that much more with a toddler than they are for two adults. Toys he mostly gets from relatives, but I got him a Pillow Pet for free off of Freecycle recently (and washed thoroughly) and he’s getting a Thomas train set for Christmas that I earned using those Huggies points that come in every pack of diapers (that I got so inexpensively)!!

    Our big “expenses” each year for him are our zoo and museum memberships…as I believe those experiences are worth more than a roomful of “stuff” that he would hardly play with.

    Reply
    • Brave New Life October 12, 2011, 9:54 am

      You sound a lot like me.

      For clothes, consignment stores are good. If you live in an active Craigslist area, you can usually do even better. We’ve found you can buy clothes on Craiglist, then sell them for the same price when they grow out of them.

      Reply
    • loz October 13, 2011, 5:35 am

      The cost of disposable diapers is crippling – but the cost of basic cloth nappies (prefold + cover) is piffling, and the effort is not much more than taking extra garbage bags out to the trash! (I’ve cloth diapered 3 kids, 2 twins, and it really isn’t a big deal, although the disposable industry would certainly like you to believe otherwise). They also leak less if you get a well-fitting cover (ditto).

      Reply
      • Rainey October 13, 2011, 11:20 am

        Well, DH wasn’t on board for the first kiddo to be cloth diapered, and it looks like we may have just two…so it looks like it’ll just be disposables for us. With couponing, I have managed to sometimes even be PAID to take diapers home…so yes…we may have paid out more on disposables than we would have on cloth, but not an astronomical difference.

        Reply
    • Brighton September 11, 2013, 1:05 pm

      For diapers (might be a little late for you) I would look into what is known as Elimination Communication:

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Diaper-Free-Baby-Training-Alternative/dp/0061229709/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378926206&sr=8-1&keywords=the+diaper+free+baby

      I did this with my son and didn’t have to use diapers at all until I switched to a different shift at work when he was six months old.

      Reply
  • Heidi October 12, 2011, 7:09 am

    Well, this is the first time one of your articles has made me think–“I’ve gotta go buy…” We don’t own a hot glue gun and now I feel the need. Those are awesome robots.

    Reply
  • logicalnot October 12, 2011, 7:10 am

    Once again, MMM is spot on.

    Reply
  • Les Wes October 12, 2011, 7:55 am

    “And thanks to the taxes I pay, it’s free!” . . .grumblecakes. . .

    But anyway, have you heard of the Free Range Kids blog? http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

    There’s a very similar tone to this article and interesting info all the time.

    Les

    Reply
  • M October 12, 2011, 7:58 am

    Dude, you were not kidding about the comments on that article. Complainypants galore! No one is happy that someone did what they only dream about, and everyone agrees it takes $$$ to raise “a” child.

    If one article received that many negative comments, someone – like you or Jacob – writing a whole blog about retiring early must hear from thousands of haters weekly.

    Reply
    • Early Retirement Extreme October 12, 2011, 11:28 am

      I was once invited to become a regular contributor for US News. I turned down the offer because I knew which kind of readers/comments I would get. I’ve also turned down a TV show (they were looking for frugal freaks for their freak show). Some early pioneers like Roth and Daczycyn have also experienced the flames of Main^H^H^H^HConsumer Street media.

      Some people are just “beyond reach” and it gets worse the closer one gets to the mainstream channels. I have a zone of media channels, I don’t go beyond. For that reason, I don’t get a lot of hate. Most of the hate I get are people commenting and making shit up about me on reddit. I have had extremely few examples of personal abuse on my own blog. Less than a handful of examples for almost 4 years of blogging.

      Reply
  • Adrienne October 12, 2011, 7:58 am

    Now that my oldest is in school a full day (how can he be in first grade already!!!) I value our time together more than ever. Why would I want him to be constantly occupied with “activities” – cost or no cost. The best gift a child can have is free time to play.

    Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 12, 2011, 11:59 am

      I also have pretty strong objections to the over-scheduling of a child’s time.
      Scouts on Monday. Piano on Tuesday, Math tutor on Wednesday. Soccer on Thursday. Go to grandma’s all day Saturday.
      I’ve seen it happen to a number of children and I can’t help but think, “When does this kid get to breathe? Play a board game? Make up his own game? Imagine something or other?”
      All the while, the parents are looking over their shoulders at all the other parents, making sure that the level at which their child is “engaged” meets the approval of the community.
      Poor, poor kids. They’re more flags of standing than actual human beings.

      Reply
      • Oh Yonghao June 25, 2014, 12:41 pm

        It’s even worse in Asia. School starts at 7am, 8am if you’re lucky, and gets out at 5pm. From there you will maybe go home and eat a quick dinner then promptly go off to cram school for subjects like piano, English, and math, this may occupy you until 9pm where you will then go home, fall asleep, and get up the next day to do it all over again.

        My friends there are amazed when I tell them what my school years were like. School starting at 7:30am and being out around 2pm, then going home and playing the rest of the day.

        Reply
    • CincyCat January 28, 2013, 6:38 pm

      I agree on nixing any and all extra curricular activities. We don’t have our kids in any “organized” anything, and they are just fine. In their free time, our girls read books, make forts & houses out of cardboard boxes and like playing Angry Birds & Webkins (limited screen time, of course). We do pay for private, Montessori school, where they get daily outside play, weekly PE, music, and art and individualized instruction, which we are happy to pay for since the local public school district is making cuts in these areas. We recently got a newsletter from the local district Superintendent asking for reading tutor volunteers since 58% of their 3rd graders cannot read at grade level. There is NO WAY we’re sending our kids to the local district, if we can help it. However, Mr. CincyCat is thinking about volunteering to be a tutor. (I’m already committed to volunteer work at the girls’ school.) In Cincy-area, living in a house that is below your means unfortunately often means you end up in a crummy public school district. :(

      Reply
  • John October 12, 2011, 8:21 am

    MMM – great illustrations on the impact that decisions have on our lifestyle. If we make raising our children our priority, the illusion of consumerism must take second place.

    Are you familiar with “Raising MIro”? They have a similar take on education, which is achieved in a very ‘mustachian” way. Lainie and her son Miro share their adventures from the Road of Life, discussing issues of humanity, global citizenship, worldschooling, slow travel, volunteering & living in the moment as they explore the big beautiful planet, they call home. You can check out their website: http://www.raisingmiro.com/

    Reply
  • Kevin M October 12, 2011, 8:23 am

    This should be on the front page of Yahoo! instead of the terrible stories about the $40k family and single guys living on $20k/year. I envy you, MMM, spending that much time with your son. And I totally agree with you that what some would call “boredom” (not having scheduled activities) is a good thing for kids. I think Steve Jobs even had a good quote about needing that sometimes…
    from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-10-06/news/30250602_1_paul-and-clara-jobs-latest-smartphone-apple

    Dropping a clue to what made him tick, Jobs once told a friend, boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, he explained, and “out of curiosity comes everything.”

    “All the (technology) stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too,” mused the restless visionary.

    Reply
  • Jenny October 12, 2011, 9:04 am

    I love the robot idea – we’re going to have to do that. We do have our kids in public preschool and kindergarten for mostly full day, and then they play with Grandma and Grandpa for the afternoons (which is awesome for many reasons). We don’t do any activities right now because I feel like we miss out on time with them as it is, so we leave as much “empty space” in our schedule as possible – and get creative. We also have a child with severe disabilities, and her schooling is free for life, but her options are also limited (for life). She will probably not go to college and hold a job – regardless of type of education. Yet, she is happy, and we have adopted this approach with all the kids – income is not related at all to happiness in our family, and we kind of have to go with the flow with all of our children based on their interests and abilities. And we can do that without spending any money at all.

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 12, 2011, 9:34 am

    “DESTROY HIM MY ROBOTS!”

    The bottles of colored paint you get from the dollar store are – surprise – one dollar. Eight of them are eight dollars and last most of a year. For canvas, it’s the header pages from work that we toss out by the hundreds around here. I admit to buying $3 frames to hang them up on the wall.

    Result? Hours of entertainment and lots of wall art.

    But I do have a glue gun. Maybe it’s time to build robots and teach them how to make copies of themselves.

    ZZZZZZZAP!

    Reply
  • Brave New Life October 12, 2011, 9:48 am

    I’m with you on the idea that there are a million things to go learn for free – not just violin and horseback riding… I love going on hikes and answering my sons questions:

    Q: Why is there water in the creek?
    A: Because the snow is melting.

    Q: Why?
    A: Because the sun is hot today.

    Q: Why?
    A: Because there are no clouds and the UV rays are strong here in Colorado.

    Q: Why?
    A: Because we are at a high altitude and so there is less atmosphere to block it.

    Q: Why is the elevation higher?
    A: Because for millions of years the earth has been shifting.

    Q: Why?
    A: Umm…you got me. :)

    On a separate note…

    I’m all for kids just playing outside on their own, exploring nature, and even getting in to some trouble. At the same time, some of my favorite memories as a kid was playing a few organized sports – especially baseball and wrestling. What’s your opinion of organized sports? And does that opinion change if the public school offering the sport requires fees for equipment and travel?

    Reply
    • Cujo October 23, 2013, 8:16 am

      I came here to ask about organized sports, saw you already did, and was disappointed that it got no responses. One of my daughters plays on a regional volleyball team, and the other is in her high-school marching band’s color guard. These are significant line items on our budget, but I think they’re worth it and they’re certainly not ivy league preschools.

      (Note: Even in public high school, these things are – sensibly IMO – only partially subsidized; we have to pay for kids to participate in sports or band.)

      Reply
  • Dancedancekj October 12, 2011, 11:20 am

    I agree totally, with the exception of learning a musical instrument. In my case at least, it came in very handy!! Teaching discipline, the power of practicing, learning how to push myself, the responsibility of having a $2000 instrument to take care of, the socialization aspect of being in an orchestra or playing in a social setting, musical appreciation that carried on into a useful ability to sing and dance, which in turn opened some doors for scholarships, leadership opportunities, and getting to where I am today. Not to mention that a good high school violinist can set up an entrepeneurial quartet system that earns some mad cash playing for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals!
    That being said, there’s no reason why it needs to be violin lessons for learning music. Learning music could be learned for free if the parent has a basic understanding of it – although both of you could take lessons together! Learning to read music, count beats, and pitches could be achieved with a simple recorder, or something like a clarinet or keyboard which is cheaper and easier to play than most of the strings, brass, or wind instruments. We had a very good (and free) strings education, but you could ask a friend who has knowledge of a musical instrument, or even find a knowledgable highschooler and pay them a lower fee for teaching lessons. There are even Youtube videos on how to play instruments…

    Reply
    • Monique Rio October 13, 2011, 10:02 am

      I agree with this comment. Music is often totally overlooked in school and there are all of these benefits associated with it that Dancedancekj mentioned: discipline, working toward mastery, potential to earn money from it eventually, the joy of playing with others.

      If parents have excellent discipline muscles this can all be done at home, but if you don’t teachers can help with that.

      Reply
      • MMM October 13, 2011, 10:32 am

        I like your perspectives on that, Monique and Dance!

        I was being overly simplistic, since I actually am based on music myself. We have guitars, piano (keyboard), and a full fancy drum kit in my house, as well as microphones, a mixer, and lots of smaller silly instruments like kazoos, shakers, and a didgeridu. And we listen to music every day and even tend to actually Get Down and Boogey regularly. But I think having musical parents and a musical home will have a stronger influence (and is free!) than sticking your kids into lessons and then having them do dry forced practice sessions at home. If the instruments already at home strongly draw the child’s interest, then I’d expand to lessons.

        If your kid is playing a musical instrument, you should be accompanying them with another one at the same time – with music, it should ALWAYS be time to Jam, in my opinion.

        Having said all that, musical ability and interest is a hugely genetic thing. Some are born with a Golden Beatbox in their mouths, others can never play Mary Had A Little Lamb except through pure muscle memory. The Non-Musical folks can still have great lives and achieve their creative outlets in other ways. Just as I would not gain much benefit by dabbling in my Arch Nemesis called Calculus, while others change the world with their genetic predisposition to Calculus Awesomeness.

        Also, the idea of earning money as a Wedding Quartet is awesome!

        Reply
        • Dee October 13, 2011, 5:27 pm

          Speaking as a pathetically non-musical person myself, I appreciate all the efforts that were made in my childhood toward teaching me music nonetheless. This was back when the school curriculum included music classes and was supplemented by my mother paying for piano lessons. I have no natural aptitude and struggled through those classes and I think there is great value in that. Imagine how much bigger a music moron I’d be otherwise?! So even if a child shows no natural talent or aptitude, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of even formal music lessons offhand.

          Reply
          • Kenoryn October 24, 2012, 2:57 pm

            Me too! I had aptitude, but not interest, and my parents made me take violin lessons from when I was 9 onward. Now I’m very grateful to them for making me stick with it! I play in a band and a symphony and have made money from gigs and from teaching in the past, starting in high school. In fact my favourite job I ever had was as a wandering minstrel at a renaissance faire. And although I hated practicing (and still do) I did enjoy playing in a string group and an orchestra back then, too, and playing at seniors’ residences and hospitals which my teacher organized.

            Reply
    • partgypsy October 12, 2012, 9:14 am

      yeah, I agree with ALOT of what you say, and we do the same (long nature walks or walks with the dog, library, and just hanging out and doing playdoh or watercolors, or my favorite putting on some music and doing interpretive dances!). But both my husband and I play piano (hubby plays other instruments as well), and my oldest had been consistently asking for 2 years for lessons, until we finally said yes a few months ago. Yes, we tried to teach her informally, but it wasn’t until she was getting lessons that she took it seriously and has really putting effort and making great strides. To me, playing an instrument is akin to learning another language, it stretches your brain in a orthogonal way from many other activities, and is also a way to both enrich your personal life and entertain those around you! But yeah, it’s expensive. As far as music gene not sure I buy that but if there is there are many different kinds. For example I learned to read music very easily, but could not compose something worth a darn. OTOH my husband is not as good at reading and remembering other people’s compositions, but can make up his own songs (has a band) and is a human metronome (great sense of rhythm).

      Reply
  • BDub October 12, 2011, 11:56 am

    If you read through ALL the comments on that Yahoo article, you will see that someone (me) told people they should go to this website called MrMoneyMustache to see that it can be done with kids.

    Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple October 12, 2011, 12:58 pm

    Preach it! I live in a fairly expensive city, with a wide variety of incomes. My son’s elementary is 75% Latino and 60% English Learners. And the attitude I get from my friends in better school districts is “poor you”.

    I work for a living, so I’m an evil working mom, let’s just get that out of the way – I don’t apologize for it. But I am constantly amazed by the amount of activities that my friends’ kids have been in, from birth.

    Mommy and me, Kindermusic, infant swim lessons, ballet, soccer, music lessons…you name it. My kid is 5.5. And my friends’ kids are 5.5. And some of them have been playing soccer for 2 years. Most of my friends’ kids are in at least two activities, and in many cases, these are working parents who schlep their kids to soccer practices and ballet lessons. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

    My son is in swim lessons – I want him to learn how to swim (I didn’t learn until I was WAY too old, and we live at the ocean, it’s a safety thing.) Does he feel like he is missing out on other things? Well, sometimes he probably does. But the single most-frequent request that I get from him isn’t “Let’s go to Disneyland” or “I want to play soccer”.

    It’s “can you get out of work early and pick me up from kindergarten directly? Or can you just quit your job?”

    Luckily, my friend and neighbor across the street has also been a low to no-activity family, so I don’t feel too weird about being lame. I’d rather spend my hours playing games or coloring or legos or other stuff instead of driving him to soccer practice at 4:15 pm and eating a sandwich in the car on the way home.

    As far as Ivy League schools and such go…you know, my spouse went Ivy League, and I attended a top-10 engineering school myself. However, we both went on Navy ROTC scholarships and were both very grounded on what we could afford in school and after. I enjoyed my experience, but I would not recommend a student go into deep debt in order to get that education. Yes, if you go to such a school, you can start out after school at a higher salary. But it’s what you learn on the job and what you accomplish that sets the tone from years 3+.

    Reply
  • Leigh in CT October 12, 2011, 1:00 pm

    When you get the chance you should head to your local library to check out Peg Tyre’s new book The Good School. I heard her interview on NPR and wanted to hear more. Tyre includes many of the same items you point out here re. insanely expensive preschools, the importance of being your child’s first teacher and how to tell a “good” school where kids actually learn from the schools that just happen to look new and shiny and expensive.

    Reply
  • jennypenny October 12, 2011, 3:06 pm

    OMG. I’ve read some nasty comments before but the comments in that article were the worst I’ve ever read. Most were hostile or didn’t believe them at all. And the no kids thing is total BS. I have 3. Sure, they’ll cost you some money (wait until you’re feeding a teenager MMM), but the first child will cost no more than what the average new car costs over the first 18 years. And any kids after that one are cheaper. People used to have kids to add to the family’s productivity. Now they are seen as the primary drain on the family’s wealth. When did that shift happen?

    Reply
  • Amalia October 12, 2011, 4:58 pm

    Thank you Mr. Money Mustache for telling it like it is !!!!! Yeah!!!! I love your blog, are you on Facebook?

    I thought I was the only crazy one that never wanted to have cable TV and hated Disneyland. Spending time with your kids is priceless, and for those who can afford to be a stay at home parent the rewards are huge. It’s probably the best thing that you can offer your young child. There is no way a kid can learn more while locked between the 4 walls of a classroom than if you can take him on field trips every day, read, etc.

    My mother in law is a retired teacher and she says you need to put them in a school asap to keep up with the competitive environment in a school later. For some reason that doesn’t match the low test scores kids in this country have compared with other developed countries. I grew up in Eastern Europe, stayed home with my grandmother until I was 5 and learn tons of things. And no, I didn’t fail in school because of that, I actually excelled.

    All kids need when young is love and attention and someone to answer questions for them to satisfy their hungry minds and later when they go to school they’ll be just fine!

    You are becoming my hero Mr. Money Mustache, keep on writing!

    Reply
  • Pachipres October 12, 2011, 8:39 pm

    We have been very fortunate to homeschool our children right through highschool. It has been a wonderful experience and both dh and I have been able especially in the last three years(he is on contract) been able to spend alot of time with our children.

    Reply
  • Sheldon October 13, 2011, 3:31 am

    Interesting how vitriolic the comments on the USnews article are.

    One guy said (about the couple travelling around the world) “these people don’t know how to live” – another claimed the story was fake.

    I suspect the difference is that the readers on MMM and ERE are mainly self-selecting frugalists so there is only minor quibbling on comments on here.

    Whereas on USnews you get lots of people whose fundamental values revolve around status seeking through consumerism. Hence the rage when someone suggests you don’t have to be part of their “religion”

    Reply
  • Kevin October 13, 2011, 7:35 pm

    Reply
  • qhartman November 1, 2011, 11:52 pm

    Totally true that the “good” schools are a waste, particularly for kids up to 12 or 13. I would go so far as call many of them “bad” given their emphasis on unimportant things. Like computer skills and standardized test results. They also seem to (in most areas) completely lack emphasis on really important things. Like running around and learning how to actually think rather than regurgitate the “right” answers. Unfortunately, a lot of our public schools have this same problem.

    A good alternative to these is Waldorf education. http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/index.asp

    Not free (in America at least) but not as expensive as one might think. Virtually all Waldorf schools have very aggressive tuition assistance programs. It’s worth a look if public schools aren’t meeting your needs.

    Reply
  • Quentin Cassidy November 11, 2011, 10:28 am

    Word. Love the site. Love the message. Kind of preaching to the converted here but good on you to spread the gospel of time is money. Just love it.

    Reply
  • JC November 30, 2011, 12:27 pm

    Agree with you that kids don’t cost much. However, if there are two working parents (this is controversial but it’s for another discussion), kids need to go to preschool, afterschool program, etc. I think this is by far the biggest expense when we’re raising our 2 and 1 yr olds. There are cheaper options out there but we chose the more expensive place b/c it’s cleaner, better food, more activity, ect.
    We did save some money by cooking more at home etc but, when we do go out, we have to order for 3 instead of 2 to feed the kids as well. That’ll go up to 4 instead of 2 in couple of yrs I guess.

    Reply
  • Shanna January 22, 2012, 4:30 pm

    I want more like this!!!!!!!!!!!! There is so much pressure even in my not too fancy neighborhood! All those classes and activities paid for, when I think back I can barely remember even being 5! I took a gymnastics class when I was about 6 or 7 and it was great and a good memory but mostly I remember playing outside with the neighbors for hours and hours with dirt and sticks.

    I picked the preschool closest to my house that was the cheapest and as a huge bonus the backyard is full of trees and dirt!!

    Reply
  • FreeUrChains January 24, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Ever make sock puppets with 2 children? Free and It takes about 3 hours on average o.o but really a fun time! Then you ask two grown ups to do it and they give up after 5 min, and say “I have better things to do”, besides expressing their creativity. What? getting stuck in Rush hour traffic?

    Sharing of Free Time and Needs, and Limitless Learning is what explodes Humanity’s Potential in the Right Direction.

    Consumerism is the complete opposite, so avoid it with your own children.

    Reply
  • CNM April 12, 2012, 10:55 am

    Hello and sorry for the necropost. The issue of schooling has recently become important to my family. We are expecting our first kid in a few months. In my community, the public schools are not good. As an example, the two public schools in my town have graduation rates that hover around 50%. I know that a kid’s future is probably more connected to his/her home life than school life, but FIFTY PERCENT?!?! That sounds too terrible for me not to consider private education. So, my question is, at what point is private school worth it?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 12, 2012, 11:18 am

      Hey, that’s a interesting question, and not one I had thought about since I hadn’t really looked into any statistics of my own school system until just now. Maybe you can help me learn!

      First of all, when you say graduation rate, does that mean the eventual graduation rate from high school? I looked up one of my own local high schools, and I think (but I’m not sure) that the following table shows it has a graduation rate of about 88%: https://cedar2.cde.state.co.us/documents/SPF2011/0470%20-%205282%20-%203%20Year.pdf .. If that’s true, than 50% sounds pretty low indeed.

      Secondly, I’m not sure what influences the graduation rate. If the school is in an area where the kids themselves are at an academic disadvantage due to poverty or language barriers, then the graduation rate might not be a reflection of the school’s quality at all. If on the other hand a poor quality of staff and principal is the cause of the low graduation rate, it would be more of a problem. You could probably get a feeling by talking to the staff themselves, and the parents of any high-achieving students within that school, to see what they think based on years of experience with the school.

      The final factor would obviously be safety. I’ve heard that some schools just develop a violent or bullying culture. But I’m not sure how to gauge that. Maybe if you dress up in a nerdy outfit and walk through the school yard when everyone is outside, to see how peacefully they react :-). Or you could inquire with the police department to see how often there are incidents. The high school near me seems to have very well-behaved kids – I often ride my bike through its parking lot, towing a bike trailer full of groceries and wearing my paint-splotched construction clothes, and I’ve never even received a single sarcastic cat call. I know I look out-of-place riding through there, so I credit the students with being very peaceful for not trying to stir things up.

      Private school is worth it if your kid will truly lead a better life after attending. But the availability of debt-free parents who have free time to spend with their kids should definitely feed into that calculation. In my own neighborhood, where parents shun our excellent public school, and still choose private, there’s obviously some misguided snobbery involved.. and it happens a lot among high-income people.

      Reply
      • CNM April 18, 2012, 10:23 am

        Thank you for the reply. The 50% number is persons who graduate in 4 years. The numbers increase for 5 year students. I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We have 2 public high schools here- one graduates about 65% and the other 51%. Yes, some of the low stats can be attributed to ESOL students, poverty, and transient students. However, even taking that into account, it still seems awfully low to me. In any event, we still have some time to decide what to do with our kiddo.

        Reply
        • Lisa April 16, 2014, 2:45 pm

          You’ll have obviously made your decision about school by now — and I don’t know that you’ll ever see this — but I grew up in southern West Virginia. Some of my classmates had to ride a bus 40 minutes one way just to get to a public school. There weren’t any private schools in our neck of the woods that I ever heard of. Our drop out rate was 40-ish% for my graduating class. And less than seven years later, I graduated near the top of my master’s degree program which and was offered a scholarship to go on for my PhD.

          So going to a “bad” public school doesn’t always mean limited academic options in the future. I got both my undergraduate and master’s degrees for free through academic merit scholarships. Granted, my mom took us on lots of trips to the public library — at least twice a week, even when school was in session — so our education was well-supplemented.

          For the record, I turned down the PhD offer and am putting myself through nursing school right now. (Graduating in three months! Woot!) My master’s is a seminary degree, and I’m co-pastor of a small Mennonite church plant in Pittsburgh, PA. Which is beautiful work, but doesn’t really pay ($600/mo right now). So the plan is for my two fellow co-pastors and I to all be bi-vocational, meaning we’ll have second careers that support our ability to serve the church. While I love nursing, I’m grateful to have found this blog to help me learn how to stretch and save my money so that someday I will be more free from the need for a second income than I am now!

          Reply
    • CincyCat January 28, 2013, 6:55 pm

      Ditto. The public district where we live is awful. 58% of 3rd graders cannot read at grade level, to the point where the Superintendant was asking for volunteer tutors from the community. We chose a very low cost of living neighborhood when we chose our house (but we drew the line at bars on the windows), but an awful school district came with the territory.

      Reply
  • hands2work September 24, 2012, 11:07 am

    Amen, preach it brother MMM! I raised a child who is now 18 and is doing quite well in his first semester of college. I was purposely NOT a helicopter parent. Over the years we exposed him to scouting, playing bass in the school orchestra and playing (community) basketball, but we only ever did one activity at a time and we always encouraged him to spend as much time with his friends as possible as we always knew he would be an only child. We lived in a neighborhood where there were families from a host of nations (VA suburbs outside of DC). We did have tv, but I refused to buy him any electronic game systems, I hated the thought of him playing indoors alone. He played them at his friends houses, but at least that way he was in the presence of other kids. Now at age 18 he is well rounded, has tons of friends in a rainbow of colors, does well in school, is in a relationship with a 20 year old girl and is happy.

    Reply
  • Sister X October 12, 2012, 3:49 pm

    As someone who has benefited greatly from violin lessons, I would say to every parent not to write them off entirely. There is the cultural enrichment factor, yes, and the lovely friends I’ve made through such an interest. But I also earn about $800/year from playing my instrument. (I take part in local theater and opera, plus I’ve played gigs at weddings and such.) It doesn’t seem like much to some people, and I know other people who make a decent living from their music, but for me it’s a great investment and on top of that, holy shit it’s so much fun I’d do it even if I wasn’t getting paid! (In fact, I do–I also play with a local symphony as much as possible, unpaid.) So it can be a pretty decent return on investment for your kid, if they’re interested.
    THAT is the key to making such things as music lessons worthwhile. Of four siblings, I was the only one to get private music lessons because I was the only one interested in them. Since you want your kid to be happy, and because music is something which makes me incredibly happy, my parents considered it well worth the cost.

    Reply
  • Pia Smyth November 25, 2012, 9:31 am

    I’m totally with you on public schools, etc, but what about before public school? We only use hand me down clothes, cloth diaper, I breastfeed, etc etc, but the cost of daycare is our biggest expense. I negotiated to work from home 3 mornings a week, which has helped cut the cost down as I can keep our youngest home with me during that time, but we’re still spending over $1000/month on childcare. And that’s at the most affordable daycare in the area!

    Reply
  • Mr 1500 January 23, 2013, 7:00 pm

    “Mr. Money Mustache is once again going to be the first one to fart in the quiet room by saying…”

    Hilarious! Perhaps you too enjoy Jim Carrey movies!?!

    Reply
  • Frugal in DC April 27, 2013, 11:22 am

    Loved your article in the Washington Post and your mindset. I bet there’s gonna be a whole lot of buzz in cube farms around DC next week about “that guy in the Post article who retired when he was 30.”

    I think that the whole Ivy League Preschool phenomenon is a reaction to the top fear of most overeducated Type A parents: that their kid is not going to get into college. I will let everyone in on a very well-kept secret: the US government wants to make it relatively easy for people to get college degrees! It’s one of the top goals of our national education policy. Why? Because college graduates, on average, earn more money (and therefore pay more taxes), are healthier, and need less access to public safety net programs over their lifetimes. This is why we have community colleges, college programs that give credit for life experiences, part-time degree programs, college-level courses in high school, student loans (which are stupid, I know), and so on.

    My son went to a high school where no one race was in the majority and there was a relatively high percentage of students whose first language was not English. We decided to live in a neighborhood near public transportation and close to work so we would only need one car for the family. He mastered the bus transportation system pretty quickly and learned from an early age to get along with people from all types of backgrounds. He turned out just fine–he got into the college that was his first choice (mostly funded by our state’s taxpayers rather than college loans–we have great public colleges in our state) and is pursuing a challenging major and minor. His goals after college are such that they would make any Tiger Mother drool even though we never gave into the overscheduling bullshit or tried to influence his choice of major. We always let him choose whichever activities he wanted as long as (1) he chose only one activity at any given time and (2) any activity that was not after school had to be provided by our local county (i.e., low cost) and close to us. Absolutely no travel sports teams. We wanted him to have plenty of unstructured time, which allowed him the flexibility to start two small businesses on his own initiative starting at the age of 12: a dog-walking service and later on a photography business (with a DSLR that he saved for himself–you can bet he appreciated and took good care of that camera). We also instilled in him from an early age that our job was to prepare him for adulthood and to provide things he needed, not things he wanted (such as iPhones and cars). He was and still is on his own to figure out how to get things he wants, and is doing just fine at college without a car. Anyway, we really believe that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should, and looking bad we’re very glad we didn’t overschedule his time with stupid organized activities, hand him expensive gadgets, or try to influence his future.

    Reply
  • Aubrey May 8, 2013, 8:56 am

    So what really worries me is that there aren’t enough people out there like you who think this way. It feels kind of hopeless at times. The world is going to continue to turn, things are just going to get more expensive, and it will continue to be, as it always has been, the case of the haves vs. have-nots. I wish I could figure out a way to make the world slow down and experience more of the things you are talking about. I loved being outside as a child. As an adult, when there’s a sunny day and I’m stuck behind the office desk making someone else rich, I just think…wouldn’t it be nice to slow down, and go watch the damn clouds for five minutes? You’re right, this disease is contagious. I don’t know how to stop it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way. This post was very inspiring to me.

    Reply
  • Rebecca June 6, 2013, 3:02 pm

    Fath— er– Parents of the Year award. Awesome.

    Reply
  • Johnny Austin September 4, 2013, 3:08 pm

    My two bits on this particular post is that most of my friends growing up that had the silver spoon in their mouth flamed out and amounted to next to nothing. We grew up in a poor family of 8 kids and when I wanted to buy something my parents would hand me a basket of Baby T-shirts that my mom made and I would go door to door selling shirts until I earned enough to by my own ticket to Disney Land. My oldest brother is a multi-millionaire that spends more time with his family than ever and the rest of us have the capacity to make our way in the world much better than my rich friends that had the horse riding stables and the access to all the drugs and booze they wanted, care of the cash flow their parents bestowed to keep them happy and out of there hair… I would choose my life of less than every time because in hind sight it was much more than!

    Reply
  • Paul November 21, 2013, 6:31 am

    You’re an F’ing genius! I’ve been a teacher for 18 years now and I can tell you from experience that you have this parenting thing figured out. If only I could get most of the parents to view spending time with their kids as essential to their learning, so many of the problems in schools would be fixed.

    As a new parent myself, I also want to point out that I too have more money now than I have ever had. We decided to have my wife stay at home and raise the kids until they are school age. So, we sold a car to get rid of car payments, turned off the cable, switched cell phone plans, refinanced to a much lower house payment, began shopping smarter and using brands of equal quality but lesser cost, and in general began using MMM badassity. Still, having my wife quit her job was scary at first. Turns out though that through the financial plan of badassity, we cut our spending by more than she was making. Now, we have MORE money at the end of each month than we’ve ever had.

    The added bonus is that the kids are being raised by their parents–mostly Mom–and not by some nice, friendly, knowledgeable (but not their parent) lady at a preschool. I run in the mornings by a preschool and I always feel sad for the people who are dropping their kids off at 6:15 am knowing they won’t be back to pick up their kids for 10 to 11 hours. I feel so very fortunate to be in a situation that allows us to do it different. Now, I just need to get me completely retired!

    Reply
  • Sam January 29, 2014, 8:49 pm

    I am a student. While I agree with a lot of what you say, I do think going to a good school is important to reach ones full potential. A good school however does not necessarily mean an expensive school.

    For middle school, I went to a small private school. This was ok, but not ideal. I was the only person in my grade that was really interested in learning how to program computers, or learning formal logic, etc… We did not have a computer programming class due to lack of interest.

    So I turned to auto-didactic learning via the internet. This was ok, but not ideal. You can not develop strong beliefs when there is no one to challenge your beliefs. This holds even for science and mathematics. Part of learning is talking to other people, often teaching and being taught at the same time. You may also learn a lot of book knowledge but never learn how to apply it in the real world.

    For high school, I went to a public magnet school. This gave me an opportunity to talk to other like minded students, which really accelerated by learning. We have classes that at alternative private highschools don’t even know about, like Organic Chemistry or Differential Equations. The most ironic part about this is that I had the opportunity to go to a private highschool which cost money, yet would have given me worse education.

    I feel that I am reaching a potential I could never have gotten to, as a result of seeking out a good education. If I went to another school I would not have been immersed in Organic Chemistry, by lack of opportunity. In short: Seeking out a good education DOES matter, it just doesn’t have to be an expensive one.

    Reply
  • Elizabeth Johnson March 18, 2014, 2:23 pm

    Mr. MM LOVES music, this we know. A child with a fiery interest in music would benefit from the talent and experience of a really good private music teacher. What if Junior Mustache is that child?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 18, 2014, 10:51 pm

      I AM one of his private music teachers! We make music together and learn about it almost every day. The recording studio and the house full of musical instruments is finally getting the use it deserves, and the boy is way more dedicated than I ever was.

      Making music – actually jamming and creating new stuff – with your own family and friends is the ultimate form of musical expression in my opinion.

      Reply
  • Renae March 19, 2014, 7:33 am

    How do you budget in the cost of clothing for children? I have three young kids (7, 6, 4) and I feel as though the cost to keep them clothed (even shopping at some second hand stores and Target) is so overwhelming. The clothes don’t seem to last very long, and they outgrow them in the span of a year, and every season demands different types of clothing (we live in Maine). Not to mention sneakers, sandals, winter boots, etc.

    Reply
  • Melissa Curran-Moore April 28, 2014, 10:44 am

    I would really love to hear the perspective of some parents of teenagers. All of this worked well and good until we hit the teenage years.

    Reply
  • Loretta May 30, 2014, 8:25 pm

    Working my way through the archives and loving it!

    I’m the SAHM of a 13 yo girl and 11 yo boy. I chose the nearest public primary school in Melbourne so we could walk every day. The bonus was it was a Japanese immersion school so the kids were taught in that language for 7 hours a week, for no extra cost! More than 50% of the kids were from ESL families, and single parents with lower socio economic backgrounds (the horror!) which was considered a bad thing by a lot of parents, who sent their kids to bigger schools. In fact, I copped a lot of flack for sending the kids there, but our experience of it was wonderful, and my advice for choosing schools is to go with your instincts and don’t accept other people’s opinions, but check things out yourself.

    As for expensive after school activities, my kids didn’t do any for years, saving me thousands of dollars. We hung out after school every day, going to the park, playing with the dog. Now my daughter does Cheer which is expensive but she begged for a whole year and loves it. She also horse rides, which is normally expensive, but for her it’s FREE as she is a volunteer at the stables and has the pleasure of being around horses for 4 hrs every Sat morning, mucking out stables and helping with the riding lessons. She is developing a good work ethic, and will have no trouble getting a paid part time job with this experience in the future, not to mention that I have no intention of buying her a horse (we now live in the country Victoria, Aus, husband works from home for his old city firm, it can be done, he just asked!) My son has drum lessons at school and has asked for a drum kit for his birthday.

    I spend very little on clothes, apart from the initial outlay for school uniforms. How much clothing do kids really need? Do they really need cute matching pyjamas? Mine sleep in t shirts and track pants. Does my daughter need heaps of fashionable clothes? She gets a basic wardrobe of jeans, jacket, a couple of tops and shoes, anything else she wants I get from the op shops, or she saves up for with her allowance/birthday money. I think it’s usually the mums who want to buy new stuff for their kids, as they get sick of looking at them wearing the same clothes! My son has to be forced to relinquish his too-small t-shirts and pants.

    Reply
  • MellyM July 8, 2014, 2:07 pm

    We pay for music lessons because both of our kids love playing the piano and singing. We’ve also found another activity that is free (except the cost of a t-shirt). One of our daughters was interested in helping animals, so she volunteers weekly at the local Humane society. So for the cost of gas and a bit of time (we live in the country and the closest shelter is in Longmont). She’s learning new skills every time she goes and they have offered her an internship when she turns 16. They start training kids at 13 and it teaches them responsibility, people skills as well as animal handling skills for nothing!

    Reply

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