Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Halving Your College Costs, Part 2

I was floored a year ago when I realized my oldest son wouldn't be heading off to a four-year university like we'd planned. I was more than floored - devastated is a more accurate word. I'd spent years preparing him for just that outcome and I felt betrayed. What use was all that schooling without the crowning glory of a four-year degree?

My son had a terrific SAT score, got great grades, and got scholarships everywhere he applied. The issue was where he applied - to US universities. We didn't take into consideration the cost of being an "international" student because we are US citizens, even though we live in Canada. While his scholarships covered the regular part of tuition, they didn't cover the "foreign" part, and after adding in transportation, etc., we couldn't swing it.

Why not take out a loan?

I was leery of saddling a graduate with thousands of dollars of debt, and now I'm thrilled we didn't pursue that route. For one thing, upon attending general ed classes at the local college, my son realized he was sick to death of school and wanted to get to work. For another, the stats today for college grads are horrible. Instead of a traditional four-year education, incurring debt and putting off work for four years, my son essentially pursued an apprenticeship with my husband and learned computer programming at home. He co-produced an online game with my husband that just entered open Beta testing and will be launched soon. He's mastered a number of programming languages and has experienced first hand the process from beginning to end of how to create and market a game.

Am I against college? Certainly not.

I am, however, far more pro other types of learning than I was before. While before I felt that going to college was the "destination", now I feel that education is a tool to help you get to a destination. Higher learning has a cost and the current model isn't cost-effective.

Much more on this later....

A Sustainable Home?

First things first - the house.

If you've read this blog, you'll remember we've been trying to downsize for several years. I liked my old house - it had huge rooms and more than enough space for all of us. Our living room was 20 feet by 14 feet or so. My bedroom 20 x 12. I was able to sit 25 people down to dinner. Can you say spacious?

At about 3100 sq feet, with 3 bathrooms and 5 bedrooms, however, I began to feel like at least 10 people ought to be living in it rather than 6; maybe more like 12. It had a number of dead spaces that were of no use to anyone. The layout was uninteresting and we all tended to spread out in our own rooms rather than spend time together.

Our new house is 2300 sq feet (I think!). It is much more efficiently laid out and far more cozy. It has three usable floors, one of them the basement. It has a fireplace to keep us somewhat warm should our power go out. And it has a warm, homey feeling our other house lacked. In fact, we've found that people are dropping by far more frequently than they used to. We're not sure why - perhaps because the house and property are just so interesting.

The outside looks totally old and non-descript, but when people walk inside their eyes light up. Hardwood floors, open beams, the kitchen, dining room and living room sized right for people and flowing into each other. Large double-paned windows let in the natural surroundings. It sits on a one-acre lot with a small woods at the back.

Two decrepit but usable outbuildings round out the property, providing all sorts of things for us to do. My husband is in heaven. And so am I. I managed to grab the attic office - a sweet room with a sloping ceiling that reminds everyone of Grandma's house. I have my "office" in the dormer window. I have a table for arts and crafts in another corner, a tiny shelf-lined alcove for books, and a grouping of three chairs and tiny table for conversations. I'm up a flight of steps that are definitely not up to today's code, but that's part of the charm. People drop by and clomp up the stairs, settle into a chair and tend to stay awhile.

I will upload pics soon!

Here We Go Again!

We finally did it!

We found our forever home; a 1950s house built by its first owner on a 1-acre plot of land. We are within walking/biking distance of every store I frequent. The kids can get themselves to school with one exception (during winter months this next year). It is one-third smaller than our previous home - about 2300 square feet counting the basement and attic - and much more efficiently laid out. All six of us still fit! We soon will have an orchard, chickens, gardens and lots of berry production (that's what grows best here).

Older, wiser (I hope) and with renewed enthusiasm, I return to this blog prepared to face the hard questions. Questions I've been struggling with for longer than I care to admit:

How much money is enough?
What is my "share" of the world's resources?
How do I motivate myself to choose the sustainable path when it's hard?
How do I short-circuit my desire to purchase and "own"?
How do I function in my society while making choices not condoned by my society?

Here's the thing - I should be in the perfect position to live a low-footprint life. I am relatively affluent, educated, motivated, and live in a fairly progressive town that is very easy to negotiate without the use of an automobile for at least 6 months out of the year.

But I don't find it easy at all to downsize my life. I find that everything around me and in me pushes me to buy, want, accumulate, and so on. So here we go - let's not sugar-coat things any more; let's get into the nitty gritty details.

Think of this as "Halving It All" part 2:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Halving Your College Costs

This is a very hard post for me to write.

Today I got some news that put the nail in the coffin of my oldest son's plans to attend a university in the United States. For those of you who don't know my situation, we immigrated to Canada from the US about six years ago to be near my husband's family and to be able to pursue our dreams of self-employment.

My oldest son chose to apply to US universities because he's interested in Meteorology and we couldn't find any schools offering undergraduate degrees in Meteorology in British Columbia, where we live. He also wanted to return to the US.

I felt that we could pull it off. He had a homeschooling background but was attending his senior year of high school at a public school. I figured he'd interest US universities because of where we live AND the homeschooling background. His grades are terrific, his SAT score was very high. He sent in his applications and we waited for the results.

The results are in.

He got accepted everywhere. He got scholarships everywhere.

But the scholarships aren't enough. Since we no longer live in the US, he counts as an out-of-state student at every college. While his scholarships cover full tuition in almost every case, they only cover IN-STATE tuition. Out-of-state tuition costs more than double in-state. Add in housing and food and plane tickets and it's too much.

So - on to plan B. He can attend the local community college for two years and transfer to either a provincial university or a school in the US, if he saves enough money. Here's the cost difference:

Four years as an out-of-state student at one of the state universities: $26,000 - $29,000 per year. Total: $104,000 to 116,000

Two years at community college: $3500 per year. Two years at regional university: $15,000 per year. Total: $37,000

Two years at community college: $3500 per year Two years at US university: (out-of-state) $27,000. Total $61,000

Interestingly, what's bugging me the most isn't the outcome of my son attending the regional community college/university. It's not "winning" the scholarship "game." It feels like we stole the football at our five yard line, ran it all the back up the field and got within a foot of making the goal and then dropped the ball.

I mean, for heaven's sakes - he got the grades, did the applications, aced the tests, got accepted, got the highest scholarships these schools offered.....and still isn't going. ARGH!

Halving it all isn't always pretty, folks. But at the end of the day, my son will still get a fantastic education at a third of the price in-province and at about half the price even if he attends a US university for his third and fourth year.

I'll choose halving my costs over taking out loans or borrowing against the mortgage any old day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kids Halving it All

Two days ago I announced to my family that spring break (in three weeks) was going to mean spring cleaning for us. After working 24/7 for the last year and a half I need a break and my house needs to be scrubbed from top to bottom.

Yesterday, son #3 was home sick and apparently bored because suddenly he started hauling boxes and bags out of his room and into mine. Then he started hauling furniture out. By the end of the afternoon things were pretty bare.

Being the good mom that I am, I yelled at him. :(

In my defense, I did say that spring cleaning was going to happen in three weeks - NOT YESTERDAY. I am currently working 12 hour days finishing a huge production push with my job and I am not ready to move furniture, go to Good Will or any of those things. I am a little bit at the end of my rope.

It's good to know the kids have absorbed de-cluttering skills, however.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes

Thanks to a recommendation on a forum, I ordered Radical Homemakers for my Kindle last night and started reading it right away. I'm not sure how I missed this one before, since it's right up my alley. Anyway, I'm finding it's pushing me to think about "halving it all" in a whole new way.

When I started this blog, I wasn't working outside the home. I was, in fact, doing what many of the people in Shannon's book are doing - finding ways to live frugally and make things myself as a way to live a better life.

But I struggle with wanting and at some point that wanting became so strong I started several jobs: I went back to child care (teaching preschool) and I started a publishing business. Child care was fun because I love kids and I got nice steady paychecks, which I'd missed during my years at home. The publishing business was fun because it used every ounce of my brainpower and was a roller-coaster ride of learning new things and averting crises.

Then something happened, actually a convergence of things. I looked up a few months ago and realized that I no longer have time for my family - any time. I rush through meals, which I no longer cook: my husband took that over. I go days only exchanging a few sentences with the older kids. I rarely go outside. Rarely. Instead, I work twelve to fourteen hour days for very little remuneration. I eat out more, as a "reward" for my hard work. I've put on twelve pounds in the last year - a lot for my small frame. I eat ibuprofen like candy. And twice in the past two years a large corporation (one of the giants) has damaged my family's earning potential by throwing its weight around in ways that are criminally unfair to the people who create the products it sells.

Why am I doing this? I find myself asking again and again. Is it worth it? What do I really need that money for?

According to Radical Homemakers, I'm not alone in longing for my old, more sane, life. Part of the reason I wanted a career is because I felt so boring at cocktail parties (the few I attended). When people asked me what I did, I said "I'm a mom." If pressed, I said, "I homeschool." I could talk your ear off about curriculum, and often did, but most people didn't care, or were antagonistic to the concept.

Now that I have the career, people are somewhat interested, but only for a few minutes. That's not a good enough reason to lose track of my own kids, the weather and the phase of the moon.

I look forward to reading the rest of Radical Homemakers to see what choices others have made in my shoes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hard Choices

I am far from perfect. I struggle with keeping a consistent life vision in my head, and I have an all or nothing type personality which means I'm often riding high on a new project or crashing and burning with an old one.

Last night I crashed and burned. Strung out from way too much computer time, facing several months of work that simply can't be done any faster but must be done before I take on new projects which are beckoning me, I fell into a fit of the I wants.

The litany basically goes like this: I want to move back to California. I want to travel the world. I want to be a homemaker but also have an endless supply of money. I want to be thin. I want to be beautiful. I want to be successful. I want it all right now.

At times like these it's hard to remember why I made each choice I made along the road. It's hard to viscerally recall how much I hated working 60 hour weeks and had no time for my own children. That's why I left California and moved north. It's hard to remember how much I wanted to use my particular skills and brainpower. That's why I started my own company. It's hard to remember that I was the one who said I had to publish 65 books last year. That's why I gained ten pounds.

I can make new decisions. In fact, I'm suffering today because I am making a decision over and over again: I am choosing to edit audio for far more hours than is comfortable for my body because I want to get it done and have it all squared away before I take on the new projects that beckon me. I could choose differently - I could do a little each day.

I keep telling myself that in the future I will make good, sane choices that will allow me to have a lot more fun in my life. I tell myself, Work hard now while it's cold and snowy so I can play when it's sunny in a few months. It's a valid choice as long as I keep remembering I'm the one making it - no one is imposing it on me.