Ask the grumpies: How do you pick a preschool?

Leah asks:

How do you pick preschool? Our best options are the Catholic school ($6,300 tuition, and that includes lunch and the before/after care, but Catholic school), public school ($6,300 tuition and does NOT include those things, so we’d pay an extra $2k for lunch and care), or staying at our current daycare/preschool that our daughter seems to be aging out of (~$5,500ish, includes full day, breakfast, lunch, all snacks and no random vacation days). The other two preschools have random vacation days. We’d have to send in snack about once a month at the Catholic school, but at least they have snacks.

We are just so torn and are not sure what’s the most important and whether it’s worth it to pay $2k more for public school. That’s a lot of money for us.

Here’s our answer to a more general question 4 years ago on how to pick a daycare .  The fundamentals are still the same– visit the schools and look for teacher/student interactions and student/teacher happiness.  What’s slightly different for older kids is first that your child will be better able to tell you if something is going wrong, and second, intellectual stimulation may be more important.  So ask about differentiation if applicable.  (I also have to say I am in love with the way Montessori gets kids to clean up after themselves– a huge benefit, so keep an eye out for who cleans up after activities when you visit.)

Given that your current daycare is cheaper and less of a hassle (those random vacation days are no joke, also remembering snack once a month is non-trivial for us, though at least it’s just once a month), have you talked to their administration about getting more intellectual stimulation for your kid?  It may cost less than 1-3K to provide materials.  On the other hand, if the school just isn’t set up for that, it isn’t set up for that.

What is most important to us:

  1. Happiness
  2. Hassle
  3. Intellectual and physical exhaustion by the end of the day
  4. Actual learning

But YMMV.  Happiness is non-negotiable for us.  There are tradeoffs with hassle and learning that we’re willing to make, and indeed, getting DC1 to start K early was significantly more hassle than just keeping hir at preschool another year.  DC2’s public school isn’t leaving hir exhausted at the end of the day (zie still misses hir Montessori director’s math classes), but zie is learning Spanish so that’s pretty cool.  Thankfully we have paid care options for the random days off.

Regarding the religious aspect– ask them how they handle the Easter story.  That’s a good test for if they’re creepy religious or story-based religious at these ages.  I want to say that most Catholic preschools are story-religious, but I was a little traumatized by the Easter story in my Catholic kindergarten– how they handle these things really varies, even among preschools with the same denomination (as we found out with two different Missouri Synod Lutheran preschools).

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give Leah when making this decision?

 

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How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?

I asked this question in the Frugal Girl’s comment section on a post where she mentioned several nights where her kids weren’t there for dinner.

What do people eat when they’re out and about? That’s getting to be an increasing occurrence with us as DC1 gets older and has more after-school activities. Occasionally zie’ll be at one where food is provided, but most of the time they assume meals before or after (but there’s no time before and after is pretty late!). I am embarrassed to say that my kids had trailmix (emergency snack in the car) for dinner at least once this week (after that they weren’t hungry for dinner when they finally got home).

The comments were mostly that trail-mix is fine– maybe add a banana.

I guess I shouldn’t be implicitly shaming trail-mix meals!  And I know nuts are fine, but I’m not 100% sold on the merits of so much chocolate or sugary dried cranberries or the lack of anything green (other than pistachos).  A great snack, but maybe not a regular dinner plan… Plus there’s always the worry that kids will (gasp) get tired of it or that we’ll run out before making it into the city for more.  We’re at the point now where 3-4 days of the week are in this weird spot where one or both of the kids don’t get home until ~6:30 or later, sometimes with some downtime (sometimes briefly at home after bus dropoff, sometimes only in the car) sometime between 4:30 and 5.

What do you do for meals, or to stave off the low blood-sugar grumpies, on days where your “regular” routine is disrupted?

 

What are our long-term money goals?

  1. Make sure that we’re ok if DH loses his job.
  2. Continue maxing out our retirement.
  3. Be ready to replace one or both of our cars. [Update:  better be just one!]
  4. Be ready for smaller emergencies and expected home maintenance.
  5. Pay 100% for the kids’ colleges.
  6. (MAYBE):  Save up enough money to move to Paradise permanently(?)

We are well on our way for #1-5, but #6 seems near impossible.  We could achieve #6 with some luck and some sacrifice, and if we wanted to move there with employment, sooner makes more sense than later given age discrimination concerns.  (Though perhaps we’d be ok with age discrimination given our deep networks?)  Plus… I like my job and my colleagues and may never actually *want* to do #6.  But the future is a long time and many things can change (indeed, the location of Paradise may move given global warming, tax changes, and whatever our friends decide to do as they age and retire).

What are (some of) YOUR long-term money goals?

link love and a challenge update

This is the week the addiction finally broke.  I no longer have the sense of yearning as I fight to keep from reaching for the ipad/iphone.  Still, when I do get to a computer I have unconsciously hit up twitter a couple times without even noticing until I’d finished.  Habits are hard to break!  I have been getting to work before 8am again which is nice because it’s just me and the cleaning staff and it’s peaceful and I can get an hour of actual work in before meetings start or before people stop by.  Previously I had done that, but something about this semester had me shifted to 9am for a while.  I’m still not getting into work before 7 like I had been, but some of that is the fact that we temporarily have 3 cars and only have a 1 car driveway and a 2 car garage so if my car isn’t the one in the driveway I have to wait for DC2’s bus to come.

Performance Today this month has been doing an amazing job this month highlighting black composers and musicians.  I am saddened by the great artists that have disappeared from regular view.  I’m shocked by the household names that I did not know were black (see:  Scott Joplin).  It’s so unfair that history is written by the dominant culture and not about the biggest talents.  We’ve lost so much.  A favorite this week was William Grant Still.  I agree 100% with the youtube commenter who remarked, “Where has this music been?! Lovely, evocative, original and beautifully written. Deserves a place alongside Copland, Gershwin and Bernstein.”

How banks block people of color from homeownership.

These FL students are inspirational (tw: school shooting)

Trump pitches plan to bring back boxes of government food even though it’s both less efficient and less equitable than SNAP.

H/T to Delagar for this 2015 post on how the cake place that denied a lesbian couple service also doxxed them and endangered their kids.

Only slightly less terrible for morale than stack-ranking

The next recession is going to suck

Media:  Reality has a liberal bias right now.  Embrace it.

Death by Pokemon Go

I am the very model of a NYTimes contrarian

Leslie Jones tweets the olympics

Ask the grumpies: Things to help a kid get into the college of hir choice

Sandy L. asks

If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?

We truly don’t know.  Take everything we say with a HUGE grain of salt.  I mean, we know people who got into Stanford but not Harvard and vice versa.  It really seems to be a crapshoot at a certain level, even if you’re your state’s math champion and have straight As, etc.  I don’t actually think it’s that hard to get into MIT if your grades and testscores are good and you have a true love of math and science compared to getting into Harvard (at least, I know a lot of people who got into MIT as undergrads who didn’t get into any ivies to which they applied).  It’s more difficult than getting into your state’s flagship, but there’s a lot less competition for those slots.  So I wouldn’t think that the science camps would be necessary.  Whether or not they help, I don’t know.

Back when it was called the Westinghouse science award, it helped to have won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

It helps to have top scores and grades at a known-name school and to have come from nothing.  If you’re first gen, low income, and have fought your way to the top, that makes it easier for colleges to decide.  Particularly if you’re a scholarship kid at Eaton or at one of the state public boarding schools for GT kids.

One of my colleagues’ kids got in to our (state flagship) school (for engineering/CS) late admissions despite being low on grades and testscores because he did an after school club with a professor in the computer science department and did a very good job at said club, and the professor was able to pull strings.  I don’t know how universal that is– certainly I have never had any contact with undergraduate admissions– but some professors at some schools might have some pull.

If Caltech has the same application it had 15 years ago, you’re more likely to get in if you take it seriously.  Fill out that page that says, “put something interesting here” with something interesting!  I filled the entire thing in very tiny writing with math jokes.  My ex-boyfriend drew a comic showing the path of his life complete with adorable stick figures interacting with the line representing the timeline of his life.  I forget what my sister put in there but I’m sure it was interesting and entertaining.  We all got in.

On the application, if there’s a place for it, have an interesting story to tell that illustrates your interests and your academic path.  One of my college ex-boyfriends got in everywhere (he picked our SLAC over Stanford) partly because his admissions essay was a delightful story about how he built a trebuchet.  My sister got in everywhere she applied (including ivies) probably partly because she talked about how physics informed her dancing.  It probably also helps to be focused and to pretend you know what you’re going to do with your life and why and you have a path mapped out to get there.  Extra points if you are unusual– a young woman in an award winning Poms squad and an all-girls math team who has taken as much math and hard science as she can who really wants to design more energy efficient engines.  (Again, that was my sister.)

Many schools will make their final waitlist/admit decisions for people on that margin based on who has visited the campus/had an alumni interview.  I think this is unfair to low income kids who CAN’T just hop on a plane or spend two weeks in the summer driving up and down the East Coast from the Midwest, but it’s policy at many schools.

Applying early action, particularly the kind where you swear to go if you get in helps, though it decreases your financial aid offer many places.

Playing (and being really good at) the right instrument/sport can help.  But it is hard to predict what the school of your choice will need the year you’re applying.  (And this probably doesn’t matter at MIT, but I don’t actually know.)

Not needing financial aid can help at some schools.  I don’t know if MIT is one of them, but MIT is notoriously stingy when it comes to financial aid.  (Harvard is exceedingly generous!)

Being a member of an Olympic team or the child of a celebrity or owning your own profitable business or app or nonprofit that you started as a teen can make you more attractive.   So can having published a scholarly paper in an academic journal.  Or having a patent.  Or a parent who gives a multi-million dollar donation.

Passing the AMC 10 or 12 and doing well on the AIME can help.  Taking college classes and doing well in them doesn’t hurt (though as this becomes more common, it may no longer be as strong a signal as it once was).

We’re told that leadership experience, state and national awards, and volunteering can help, but I’m skeptical.  I don’t know if these are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient.  There’s just too many people each year who have these things.

Some people swear by college coaches.  I don’t know how to find a good one or what kind of value they add to someone who is already doing well.

I don’t know what we’re going to encourage our kids to do.  This is more timely for DC1 who starts high school in a year and a half.  Zie is really into math, but not competitions.  Zie like robotics, but not competitions.  Zie loves computers and games and likes programming but needs more formal training in programming.  Zie loves music but although better than I was at that age, is not at competition level either in piano or violin (the piano teacher is pretty lax and zie just started violin a year ago), and again, is not crazy about competition.  We might be able to get hir an unpaid summer internship with a professor at my school, or zie can do more work for me, possibly even something publishable.  Zie could take summer classes at the community college or the university (I still haven’t figured out how to do summer student-at-large classes, though it’s pretty easy for high school students to take college classes during the school year).  It is hard to say what’s best.  Most likely we’ll just let hir interests guide hir and focus on learning rather than on getting into a specific school.  Because for high income kids of educated parents, the specific school isn’t that important for earnings.

Anybody know more about what undergraduate admissions offices are looking for?

A mostly unscheduled weekend snapshot

One weekend:

Saturday:

Extended morning cuddle time.
DH and DC1 go grocery shopping:  8-9:45
DH takes DC1 to robotics (last Saturday before tournament, DH is there because the last two times DC1 went by hirself we got complaints from the teacher about DC1 wandering around):  10-4
I take DC2 out for lunch:  11am-whenever
Kids chores (I help with workbooks) and homework
I do so much laundry and dishes (kids fold their own clothing– usually DH joins too but I did his stuff while he was at robotics) and made a bunch of food (start beet salad, freeze the rocky road liquid that DC2 and DH made the previous night).
Finished and scheduled a bunch of blog posts.
DC1 and DH watch Paddington Bear in preparation for seeing Paddington 2 in theaters. It is too scary for DC1 and we spend the next few nights with hir complaining about being too scared to sleep. Paddington 2 is nixed.

Sunday:

Extended morning cuddle time.
DH does online gaming with friends (I help kids with chores and putter with other chores): 9-12
DH helps my students with a tricky programming problem:  12-1
I finish making beet salad and make tuna noodle casserole.
DH and DC2 make angel food muffins with the eggwhites leftover from the ice cream we made Friday/Saturday.
Did a bunch of financial/family chores (2018 IRAs, ordered a book from the library for DC1, emailed about getting on the middle school math practice mailing list, etc.  I had a list of about 9 things that needed to get done sometime that weekend and worked on them in between answering math questions.)
DH and I kiss a bunch.
Cranked through some work emails in preparation for Monday.
Listened to a bunch of 1960s and 1970s songs and sang and danced. Taught the kids the mashed potato and a few arm moves from the 1970s (that I learned in kindergarten in California…) DC1 showed us hir preferred hopping dance move. DC2 has an impressive group of dance moves. I realize that I really need to wear a sports bra if I’m going to twist like we did last summer.
Help my sister with some activism stuff.

I just cannot schedule weekends.  It makes me really unhappy to have them scheduled.  I could be getting more work done, and before kids I worked 6 days a week, but I have a really hard time doing that now.  DC2 especially is really good at interrupting me when I’m trying to get something done that requires thinking.  I really enjoy unstructured weekends.

How do you deal with weekends?  Feel free to link up to your previous weekend scheduling posts if applicable.

DH got a 10% raise and now we’re really going to have some obnoxious money posts

What do we do with all this extra money?!?!

I think we’re going to really have to sit down and think about our money goals.  The alternative is to not do that and to just put all excess money away in taxable stocks until we actually need money and then see where we stand.

We’re again at this point where we can easily buy all our needs and all of the upper-middle-class wants we ever dreamed about as lower income kids, but we can’t you know, quit our jobs and buy a house in Northern California.  We’ve paid off our house and don’t want a bigger one (or a second one).  We’re maxing out our retirement and saving at a heavy clip for the childrens’ college.  We have a hefty cash emergency fund and an even heftier secondary fund in taxable stocks.  We have yard service.  We eat out once or twice a week.  We don’t really want a cleaning person because that’s not a priority and I find it really irritating to have to pre-clean or to have to deal with cleaning people in the house when I want to be relaxing.  (I understand that truly excellent cleaning people don’t require such things, but I wouldn’t know how to find a truly excellent cleaning person.)  I don’t mind doing our laundry or loading/unloading the dishwasher.  I just bought myself a whole bunch of Cat Sebastian Kindle books, but that really wasn’t a huge expense.  I’ve also started (as of DH’s re-employment) regularly giving to charitable and political causes when they ask, usually to the tune of $25/pop, on top of our regular previous giving (mostly to educational causes).  And we’ve stopped driving to visit DH’s family and fly instead.  But all of that was before this 10% raise.

But now there’s more that we could do.  Things I’ve never really thought about doing before and maybe they’re things we should do or maybe we should just keep stockpiling money because if we didn’t want them before, maybe we don’t need them now.  (And yes, many of these are things that lots of bloggers who regularly complain about money make priorities rather than paying off their debts, so maybe we’re not thinking big enough.)  And even with all this excess money, we can’t do all of these things, only a subset.  So it isn’t obvious that the answer should be yes to any or all of these.

We could go to Hawaii!  Or Europe!  Or the Caribbean.  (But… vacations take time away from work…)

We could send the kids to fancy away summer camps.  (But they’re still pretty young.)

We could spend the summer someplace that isn’t a bazillion degrees Fahrenheit.  (But moving is a pain, especially with cats.)

We could spend the summer (or part of the summer) someplace where only Spanish is spoken and let the kids get immersed in the language.  (See above, plus I wouldn’t be able to spend time with econ colleagues.)

We could fund a scholarship for someone low income to go to private school or college.

We could remodel the kitchen and bathrooms (though actually, we could remodel the kitchen even without this raise [update:  maybe not right away—see below update]).

We could landscape the lawn to make it less thirsty.  (But… Bermuda grass…)

We could replace the roof and put in solar tiles before the roof dies (but we’ll probably wait on this until the roof is older and solar technology has improved).

We could buy a super fancy electric car or a minivan.  (This is not going to happen.  Ditto having a third child…) [Update:  the Honda Clarity that we just discovered existed is affordable after the federal tax incentive…]

We could eat out a lot more each week, or order fancy food online, or get a subscription service that doesn’t require chopping.

We could buy empty land around town and keep it empty and make sure it never has obnoxious advertising for evil political candidates posted on it.

What is missing from this list because of the limits of my imagination?