Author Topic: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?  (Read 2109 times)

spartanswami

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WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« on: March 06, 2017, 03:39:59 PM »
DW and I are both in early 40's. Two kids, 8 & 12.

We moved to a town with a so-so school system (Greatschools 4-5) before we had kids in 2004, planning that we would move from our 3BR townhouse in a couple of years. 12 years later we are still here.

Pluses -
1. Both DW and I work 10 mins away in well paying jobs.
2. The townhouse is perfect for our family, right size, wooded area in the back, very safe (only $100K left on the 15y mortgage at 2.9%)
3. Fantastic neighbors and plenty of friends due to kids school and rec/travel sports.
4. Kids are doing great in school, both making Gold Honor roll and in gifted classes.
5. Though we paid $300K and the home is now only about $260K, the taxes at $5800 are far less than many of our friends pay for their McMansions
6. We are able to spend as much time as we need with our kids on after-school activities/clubs since we work so close and our jobs are flexible.
7. Low expenses and thoughtful spending have allowed us to achieve SWAMI  status http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/04/30/weekend-edition-retire-in-your-mind-even-if-you-love-your-job/


Minuses -
1. Many of our friends (kids friends) are moving to neighboring towns with excellent schools, slowly my kids are seeing their closest friends move
2. Not sure if I'm doing the right thing by continuing to stay in the town/school system (I question whether they are receiving the kind of intellectually stimulating learning environment they need currently, also the dwindling circle of friends that can intellectually/academically challenge them is a big concern)


Looking for some advice and pointers on how I should think about this, what would you do? I feel guilty at times that I may be short-changing my kids learning/futures by not moving to a better school district. However that would mean significantly longer commutes for both DW and me. More expensive home (>500K), more traffic, taxes, expenses etc.

Having grown up and studied in India where the educational system was horrible in contrast, I rationalize that the facilities, teachers and attention that my kids are getting even in this less than desirable school district are light years beyond what my DW and I went through. Through luck and a bit of work, we've been able to make a decent living and I think that my kids will be able to do the same.

The mustachian side of me says, "to hell with the herd, we will be fine, the kids will turn out fine"
But the catholic part of me still guilt-ridden, that I'm sacrificing my kids well-being to achieve a relatively comfortable stress-free lifestyle for my DW and me.

I'm looking for advice/suggestions/ways to think about this clearly first world problem.

kimmarg

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2017, 05:06:26 PM »
the cost of driving to see the friends in a new locale is much much less than moving. So is the cost of any acedemic enrichment type activities you might want.  invest in those items and stay put.

Cornel_Westside

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2017, 05:44:32 PM »
I'm going to view this from the perspective of the kid's education. Have you done research on the likely difference in college acceptances your children may get between schools? Lots of areas feel like they have better schools somewhere else, and they may be, but practically it may not get your child a tangible benefit that isn't mitigated by some reading. Most local newspapers will have lists of where kids are going to college if the school is considered a college preparatory school. My mother (moved from India too, btw) researched all the school districts in my area and found the one that appeared to be the best value. However, this was in a state in which great public schooling gives you great chances for top-tier schools. The ok public schools - not so much. I for one am a big believer in top-tier schools for the signalling and networking they provide. They also tend to provide the best financial aid, so unless you're in the upper middle class or the low end of the upper class, it's a no brainer.

What I am trying to say is that unless you are getting a school upgrade such that the top kids at this other school get a large bump in college acceptances, it probably won't make a difference. And in that case, being a big fish in a small pond does better. Most top schools have lots of kids from magnet schools near big cities and some kids who are valedictorians in their high school. Which one seems more likely if you move or do not?

Now, for your lives, it seems obvious you'd rather not move. However, if you wanted the best of both worlds, you could work for a few more years and then move to this better school area and retire (assuming the numbers work). If your kids are there for high school, they  will get the reputation benefit of this other school. In the meantime you can still keep them stimulated with extra stuff if you continue to worry that they may fall behind.

Laura33

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2017, 06:24:44 PM »
Have you researched the MS and HS?  Do they have a good college prep courseload your kids could take?  AP or IB options?  I'm going to suggest that as long as the the answer is yes, the smart thing to do is stay put, unless you have serious concerns about peer group, safety, school facilities, etc.

The reality is that kids' educational success is much more strongly correlated with parents' socioeconomic status than the specific school.  Your kids already won that lottery -- and they have parents who have extra time and are choosing to spend it with them to boot.  This is far and away your kids' best asset. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that college acceptance is largely a numbers game.  I live near one of the best public HS in the country (magnet school = selective admission), and even there only a few of those specially-selected and tremendously-well-educated kids get into Harvard or MIT -- even though the kids who don't get in are demonstrable better-educated and probably more qualified than many of the kids who get accepted from other schools down the street.  Some places make this even more overt: if you are in TX, for ex., the "top 10%" rule (which is down to something like 7-8% now) means the top % of kids get guaranteed admission into the top state schools -- meaning that moving to get your kids into a more competitive school district actually decreases their chance of admission.  Most schools are not as overt about it as the UT system, but it's a significant issue.  Not saying you must target a HSS, but the concept trickles down to the lower-tier schools as well.

So I'd say, if you have the available time and assets to support your kids, including things like Kumon if the schools fall short here or there, then at the very least, they will not be injured by staying put -- and who knows, the chance to be the big fish in the small pond may end up giving them a leg up.  OTOH, if the schools are truly inferior (vs. just populated by kids from less wealthy backgrounds), then you really should consider moving, because college admission is irrelevant if they don't have the knowledge/skills to succeed once they get there.
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AMandM

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2017, 07:59:47 AM »
+1 to everything Laura said.

Also bear in mind that if you move to a wealthier school district, it will be very hard to avoid spending more in other areas of life beyond the house itself.  This can be especially hard on the kids.  It's relatively easy for the parents, say, to cut their own grass with a push mower while the neighbours hire lawn services, but it's really hard on kids if all the other kids get Chipotle after school every day, go to the movies every weekend, buy the commemorative jacket from every swim meet, etc.  See this thread for an illustration:
 http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/mini-money-mustaches/struggling-with-how-much-to-provide-a-high-school-student/

Good luck, and good on you for thinking so carefully about your kids' future well-being.

Laura33

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2017, 08:52:06 AM »
Also bear in mind that if you move to a wealthier school district, it will be very hard to avoid spending more in other areas of life beyond the house itself.  This can be especially hard on the kids.  It's relatively easy for the parents, say, to cut their own grass with a push mower while the neighbours hire lawn services, but it's really hard on kids if all the other kids get Chipotle after school every day, go to the movies every weekend, buy the commemorative jacket from every swim meet, etc.  See this thread for an illustration:
 http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/mini-money-mustaches/struggling-with-how-much-to-provide-a-high-school-student/

That's a really good point.  Even in our more socioeconomically mixed neighborhood, the kids all go to the pizza parlor or bakery after school, they want to go to the movies or buy tickets to school events, there are band trips/after-school clubs and events, "spirit wear," etc. etc. etc.  We manage this generally by covering some (field trips), giving DD a fixed monthly allowance, and then paying her to babysit and do extra stuff if she wants more, so she has the choice of how much extra work she wants to do to fund how much lifestyle (note: not trying to divert into a discussion on the merits of part-time jobs, we have just decided against that for now for a number of reasons). 

But I am thinking now of how much more financial pressure there would be if we had sent her to the private school a few miles up the road -- they have a horseback riding program there, so just imagine the social pressures if all her friends were taking riding lessons and maintaining horses and traveling around to all of the various shows and such.  And I'm sure they all gets cars at 16, too (the place is out in the country and not particularly conveniently located) -- at least my kids can walk/bike everywhere.  Makes our school's constant nickel-and-diming look like a steal by comparison.

Plus, frankly, we live closest to the pizza parlor, and there is a serious benefit to having roving groups of teenagers wander by and flop in your house, where you know where they are and what they are doing.  :-)
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tyrannostache

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2017, 11:25:51 AM »
I think Laura has it right. Your involvement with their education and ability to spend time with them by not having a long commute is more important than going to a marginally better school. If you think your kids need more enrichment, let them go to cool summer camps or do enriching activities after school--anything that forces them to work hard and interact with other high-achieving kids. Take them on trips to the big city to see weird theatre or the symphony.

I also think there's an intangible benefit to living in a more socioeconomically diverse community--it helps to stay out of the bubble or entitlement mindset that can be prevalent in wealthy neighborhoods. That helps to keep your own costs down but more importantly helps kids understand that wealth, luxury, and top-tier schools are not givens in life--that there are a wide variety of ways to live.

Oil Patch Adams

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2017, 12:39:44 PM »
What would I do?

Stay put.  Your kids will enjoy life better when you are stress free.  College is where the real educational challenge is.  Not pleased with your kid's educators...educate your kids in other/better ways.  Keeping up with the Jones is the worst financial decision one can make...don't pass that behavior on.

RedwoodDreams

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2017, 03:52:28 PM »
What would I do?

Stay put.  Your kids will enjoy life better when you are stress free.  College is where the real educational challenge is.  Not pleased with your kid's educators...educate your kids in other/better ways.  Keeping up with the Jones is the worst financial decision one can make...don't pass that behavior on.

+1   You are in a great position now. I think more critical is what kids learn from their parents, events and activities you take them to, the things you model at home. There are so many ways to craft a meaningful life that don't involve "best" and "most expensive."

Have you looked at rootofgood.com? I like his family's down-to-earth attitude about school districts, living in a modest home, etc. and if you read his blog, you really get a sense of a family in a great financial position that's able to spend time together, enjoy life's simple (free!) pleasures, cook good meals, take nice trips (because you're otherwise not overextending yourself), and not get caught up in the Jones stuff. What a great thing for his kids to witness.

In our family, we've tried to resist the insane academic pressure put on kids now. Our son is in a good HS but isn't particularly motivated to get top grades. That's fine. We've talked to him about his future college options given the choices he's making now, which are his alone to make because we're  not going to get into the business of managing his schooling/studying. There are plenty of good options other than "trying to get into MIT." And, frankly, the lower key options tend to be cheaper unless you get a scholarship.

Also, moving for friends is tricky. People shift, move, change schools all the time, and over the years they'd be forming new friendships anyway as interests and activities change.

You have permission to enjoy the nice life you're enjoying right now-- that "good enough" is pretty great. :-)

fuzzy math

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2017, 06:17:26 PM »
College admission doesn't necessarily even equal success. I know many people who went to college, got degrees or dropped out and work in low paying jobs unrelated to their major.
Some successful people went to community college later in life, got a professional degree and are making lots.

You know your kids. What do they want out of life (if they are old enough to be able to judge - I have no idea what my 6 yr old wants)? Work on that.

If they are in the gifted program they are already receiving special instruction and as they grow older will end up in honors / AP classes which are fairly segregated from the regular "riffraff" at a lower ranked school.

Laura33

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2017, 06:46:35 PM »
I also wanted to say thanks for posting this -- we have chosen to stay in a "good" district even though we could have afforded the "great" one (or sent the kids to private), largely for similar lifestyle reasons, and I do periodically worry that I am being selfish and not putting what is best for my kids first.  Because, you know, kids.  But it was a lot easier to see the right answer with someone else's name next to the question.  :-)
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obstinate

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2017, 09:50:43 PM »
It's very important to understand that the majority of Great Schools scores are achievement oriented. That is, they don't take into account the starting conditions of the students at the school. Only one of their three factors is growth-oriented.

So to give you an example, consider a hypothetical student with one rich student who is doing very well and thriving. The school might receive a rating of nine on the ten point scale. Now suppose a poor student who had been neglected by their parents joins the school. Even if the school is giving the poor student the same resources and attention as the rich student, the poor student is likely to have lower test scores, because they started with a disadvantage. This could drop the school's rating to five or six.

Nothing has changed from the perspective of the affluent student. Not their opportunities or their eventual quality as a person. If anything, the affluent student is better off by becoming acquainted with how the other half lives.

Take GreatSchools ratings with a grain of salt. If your kids are thriving and your teachers seem engaged, your school is likely doing just fine for them. Some states have better ratings systems that focus only on growth metrics. I know that New York City schools are rated on this basis, because I have been looking into these for my son.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2017, 09:52:57 PM by obstinate »

chemistk

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2017, 05:54:20 AM »
+1 To what everyone else has said.

Another thing to consider is that later in life, your kids may end up thanking you for choosing the lower cost lifestyle over the higher. Obviously, it was never going to be an issue for you, but not having to worry about your parents' financial health later in life is a seriously underrated benefit of a frugal lifestyle (this, coming from a married millennial father who is not worried about his own parents but is increasingly worried about his inlaws). Your kids will probably thank you for choosing the sensible option, giving them a better example of how to spend their money & time, and for allowing you more flexibility to visit them should they move far away.

And for the friends thing? I went to private school from K-12 (we always had one of the smallest houses and some of the worst cars compared to everyone else), and my closest friends were a 20 minute drive away. It wasn't until HS that I had a friend who even lived in the same neighborhood as I did! Do I care now? Not really. Looking back, the friends I had in Elementary and Middle school aren't even a remote part of my life anymore. Meanwhile my wife, who grew up with a lot of nearby friends, hardly sees anyone anyway. Most have moved away. So from my perspective, don't worry about it too much...they'll be just fine.


spartanswami

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2017, 07:52:56 PM »
Thanks for all your many thoughtful responses.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2017, 04:34:19 AM »
Are the middle and high school safe, physically? I could save 50% on my house by living in the Allentown City school district but the schools have a lot of fights and gang activity. I don't think you have to go to a 1-rated school but I do think it needs to be safe.

spartanswami

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #15 on: March 24, 2017, 10:01:53 PM »
Oh yes, the schools are safe....at least as far as I know. Have met and spoken with a few parents of kids in the school as well as people that went through the entire school system. It's just that the GreatSchools rating and general perception that the schools aren't as good academically as those in the neighboring towns.

Tuskalusa

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #16 on: March 24, 2017, 11:17:52 PM »
I agree with the folks on this thread. If your kids are served well by the schools they are currently in, then there doesn't seem like any huge need to move them. It sounds like you all have a great family life. Adding the stress of a longer commute and larger mortgage doesn't sound like it would take your family in a comfortable direction.

I live in the Silicon Valley. We are in a diverse area, and my son is enjoying school and is on track and learning. He loves his teachers, and I have no doubt that he will continue to succeed. That being said, our school is ranked as an average school. I don't think those rankings are reflecting my child's experience. He's happy. He's learning. We have a fabulous school community.

We could choose to move to another area with higher ranked schools. It would mean longer commutes and more financial stress for our family. Honestly, I don't know if my kid would be better served at a school with a higher ranking. Our current school serves him well, and it works for our family.

I think ranking help keep schools accountable. However, I think there are many factors that are not measured by those rankings. If your kids are happy and successful where they are, then it sounds like you have a great situation right where you are. 😀

Good luck!

Cranky

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Re: WWYD: Move with herd or stay put?
« Reply #17 on: March 25, 2017, 06:06:49 AM »
The only test scores that mattered for my kids were theirs - they went to school in our low-income neighborhood. Yes, there were kids there who struggled, for all the reasons that low income kids do often struggle. But my kids did great and it showed up on their state tests.

And it's true that top colleges would rather have an excellent student from a less great school than one of the zillion excellent students at a highly rated school in a wealthy neighborhood - colleges are looking for economic diversity.

Give your kids the enriching academic experiences that they may or may not get at school (which really, in terms of time, is a smallish part of their education) and enjoy a lower stress life.