Remembering True Honor and Courage after Election 2016

WWII Veteran Walter J. Phillips

1st Lt. Walter J. Phillips

Mark and I have referred to Walt’s experience of surviving a plane crash during WWII many times these past 3 months as Mark has recovered from his injury.

In some ways, it’s helped Mark to remember his dad’s courage and the extreme conditions in the first 24 hours after the crash (before the morphine).

Remember a hero today.

Dark and Quiet-Glad I’m Home

election 2016 aftershock

I’m stunned but not surprised if that makes sense. When some were so sure that there was NO WAY IN HELL that Trump could possibly be the next president, I worried that there WAS A WAY in this country.

I feared what some wouldn’t admit out loud but would freely express in the privacy of the voting booth.

When the no-brainer, game-overs were not ending Trump’s game, I knew it could be possible. But I’m still in shock.

Here we are. Thoughtful people are wondering what they can do.

My son, who voted for the first time and who might have written in Harambe had the GOP selected a human, asked a few times last night, “What are we supposed to do?”

Truth is, I don’t know. I have no idea how to convince my friends who are truly and systemically invisible under a Trump presidency (you know, minorities, non-Christians, women, girls, immigrants, the poor, the jobless, sane people) that this country or the world is safe.

I don’t feel safe.

But here’s what I plan to do in the next few days:

Besides medicating myself with all the leftover Halloween candy in the house and praying the Rosary incessantly (there is palpable calm and peace there), I’ll be….

Keeping the TV off. I’ve had enough of the chaotic ratings-chasing, soap-selling, vertigo-inducing “news” media that helped create this mess. Clearly, the talking heads and experts don’t know any more than I do. They did not see this coming.

I don’t care how it happened. It happened. I’m filtering and censoring what plays in the public spaces in my home. It’s not informative and it’s not entertaining.

Second, I’ll do my best to encourage civility in the family. We are all on edge and stressed about this terrifying  and depressing turn of events. Last night found us snapping at each other.

election night tweet

Exhibit A

I’ll try to be positive and calm and see if that rubs off. I’m hoping my kids (or Jodie) will make me laugh about something. See exhibit A, above.

Third. I’m declining to engage about this topic in the next few days, except to the extent that my kids need to talk about it to calm their own anxiety.

Outside of my family, no offense. I can’t talk about it. It’s too depressing. But really, what is there to say? Most people I know are reasonable and we all feel the same so do we really have to pontificate? No.

It sounds selfish and maybe it is but I need to regroup. It’s my way of staying out of the soup of despair. Total self-preservation move. Eventually, I’ll reengage but I’ll wait for the aftershocks to settle.

Finally, I’ll encourage my kids to double down on their gifts and interests and not to rely on gatekeepers, institutions or conventions to move them forward.

Two political parties were disrupted last night (though, if you read this prophetic piece by Naval Ravikant, it was really one). Get used to disruption and maybe take Jay Samit’s advice.

It’s time for me to go dark and quiet for a while. #blessup.

Bilateral Patellar Tendon Rupture~Recovery Pt. 1

bilateral patellar tendon rupture and recovery

Warning: This is a LONG post. If you or someone you know has suffered this rare injury, I hope it helps. That’s pretty much the point of it. The post will bore everyone else. This is the first of 3 parts. Part 2 covers weeks 2-6. In part 3, I talk about Mark’s experience during weeks 6-12.

It’s important to note that your experience might be completely different depending on your ability to rehab at home after the surgery, your age, weight, whether you have someone at home with you 24/7 (our situation) and the type of repair that was done. Mark did not require cadaver tendons which might have affected the healing timeline on the front end.

This post contains affiliate links to products we used (and are using). If you purchase a product I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I took the time to include links for your convenience, too. You probably have a lot going on.

Here goes…

It’s been three months since Mark got hurt at work. It seems like we are just coming up for air. Though, he still has a long road of recovery ahead.

Mark wasn’t cleared by the surgeon to try to stand at therapy until 2 months after the surgery. He was completely NON-WEIGHT-BEARING and LEGS LOCKED IN EXTENSION for two full months.

Since blowing both tendons is so rare (even the health professionals kept forgetting the ramifications), there’s very little information on the internet about recovery.

Non-weight-bearing means a completely different thing when you have one good leg. Logistically and therapeutically.

Weeks 1 & 2: Care and Comfort

The first week was all about pain management, getting regular (KWIM), comfort and avoiding blood clots.

Since I was helping Mark with every single maneuver and task in the first few weeks, it was great that friends and family (who really couldn’t do much else for him) brought meals and gift cards to the local grocery store that made feeding Mark and the kids easy on the fly. (It’s not even possible to express how humbled, grateful and relieved I was to receive this type of support so I won’t even try. If you know someone going through this, it’s an excellent way to help).

Mark was pretty much finished with the pain killers within 7-10 days.

The hardest thing was getting comfortable with both legs locked in extension in braces.

Mark also experienced an almost constant tingling, numbness and coldness in his feet, especially from the ball of his foot and toes. The kids or I would squeeze his feet with light pressure to relieve this as often as he asked. It gave him very temporary relief. Now that he’s on his feet more, he doesn’t notice it as much. At least it doesn’t bother him if it is there.

One dose of Senekot at night worked great to get the pipes moving that were jammed up from pain killers. ‘Nuf said.

Otherwise, good food, hot coffee in the morning, a captivating book and “The Sopranos” (loaned by a neighbor) kept things bearable in the beginning. We are so lucky to have the most thoughtful and generous friends and family. People were so supportive and thought of ways to ease the burden and this terrifying turn of events.

Blood Clots

Mark was on Lovanox shots (in the stomach-super fun) for 3 weeks post-op then 325 mg of aspirin 2X per day.

Ten days after he was finished with the Lovanox, he experienced a sudden onset of back pain (kidney/lower lung) in his left side. Accompanied by an occassional catching when he tried to take a deep breath.

No other classic symptoms associated with blood clots (swelling, other shortness of breath, chest pain). His symptoms improved with ibuprofen and lasted about 12 hours. We wrote it off as muscle pain or strain.

Two weeks later, the same pain returned in his back on the right side. This was more severe, lasted longer and again improved with ibuprofen. Since it was the second episode, we went to the ER. (No easy task when you can’t get into a car-grateful for a good friend who jumped in with his wheelchair van.)

Turns out that he had a clot in each femoral artery and pulmonary emboli in his right lung.

Long story not short, the hemotologist put him on 15 mg of Xarelto 2X per day for 3 weeks then 20 mg once a day until at least 3 months after he is completely mobile and unrestricted. He has had no problems on Xarelto.

My advice, don’t mess around with aspirin after the Lovanox. Insurance company will resist because it’s supposedly expensive but beg the surgeon to campaign for it or get a hemotologist to confer before you leave the hospital.

Hopefully you can afford the copay. If not, get to the ER as soon as you get whiff of a symptom, no matter how difficult it is.

Miscellaneous Comfort Tips

We realized a day or two after Mark got home that he got a lot of relief by laying flat and resting his legs on bed pillows long-ways. Sometimes two under each leg. It relieved pressure in his lower back and reduced swelling in his feet, ankles and legs. It also got his heels off the bed.

Mark iced his knees fairly regularly in the first two weeks. I left the hospital with the ice packs and covers plus refill ice packs. These 8 gel packs can also be heated and have come in handy for stretching once therapy started outside the house.

Therapy

Healing. That’s it. One week post op, Mark had an appointment with the surgeon to remove the surgical bandage. The next week he went back to get the staples removed.

Transportation

Mark was unable to get into or ride in a normal car or van. Even if he could have gotten in without levitating, he wasn’t allowed to bend his legs. We were lucky that the worker’s comp covered all transportation costs until he was able to get into a car. They sent a wheelchair van for all doctor visits and therapy.

Equipment

Here is a list of “MUST-HAVES“: Mark was injured at work and the Worker’s Comp carrier has been great about getting him everything he needs to help with his comfort and recovery. We are lucky NOT to have co-pays.

If you have high deductibles and are blessed with family and friends who really want to help, maybe they would be willing to help you afford these things for a few months.

  1. Urinal (get one before you leave hospital)
  2. Wash basin (again, hospital)
  3. Extra wide bedside commode (not the drop-arm model which would be a death trap)
  4. Ramp if you have stairs to the first floor of your home
  5. Sliding board
  6. Reclining Wheelchair (if possible)
  7. Case of wipes
  8. Fully automatic hospital bed (this is an affiliate link but you won’t likely be able to afford this. Insurance probably will. Campaign for the fully automatic. But get whatever you can.)

Since I cared for my aunt in our home for two years prior to Mark’s accident, we were equipped with a ramp into the house, a bedroom on the first floor with a fully automatic hospital bed and an extra wide bedside commode.

Mark’s not a big guy so he likely wouldn’t have been approved for the extra wide commode (insurance approval is based on weight)-but we had one. Knowing what I know now, I would have paid the difference or bought one outright. It makes sponge-bathing himself so much easier and more comfortable. Since we don’t have a shower on the first floor or even a walk-in, this is important. Even if we had an accessible shower on the first floor, getting in there would have been virtually impossible with his restrictions in the first 8 weeks.

Also, Mark avoided a bed pan by learning how to maneuver onto the commode. Sorry for the graphic detail but this would be important to a person facing this injury.

Being locked in extension (legs straight out in braces) and non-weight-bearing, made transfers (even to a wheelchair or commode) tricky.

Luckily the hospital PT showed him how to slide onto the commode and wheelchair while his legs were still supported on the bed. He scooted sideways on the bed then backed into either chair. See photo below to see what I mean: (sorry for the blurry pic but gives you an idea).

how to transfer to wheelchair with bilateral patellar tendon injury

In the wheelchair, he would slowly back out while I supported his braced legs until the wheelchair leg supports could be swung into place (either by him or one of the kids-yes, a 3 man operation at first). Another trick was bridging the leg supports with 2 sliding boards so his legs wouldn’t fall through or have to be strapped to the supports. See photo below:

Reclining wheelchair and bridge for legs

Reclining wheelchair and bridge for legs

We have a chair in the living room with a weirdly large ottoman. Both are low and were easy for Mark to slide onto from the wheelchair. (Photo below) If not for this furniture, Mark would have been stuck in bed or the wheelchair for 8 weeks.

bilateral patellar tendon rupture recovery and support

Let’s talk about the wheelchair for a minute.

The equipment company sent a lightweight wheelchair sized according to Mark’s height and weight. As much as I appreciated the size for maneuverability through the house, the narrow seat was uncomfortable for Mark since his legs were locked straight out in front of him. Imagine sitting upright in any chair with your legs straight out.

After a couple of tries, they found him a reclining chair which was much more comfortable for long periods of time (trips to surgeon, ER and in a wheelchair van).

The seat base is wide and deep and the ability to recline the back even a little makes a big difference.  If you can get your hands on one of these bad-boys, even if you have to buy it yourself and resell it on Amazon when you’re finished, you won’t be sorry.

Hospital Bed

As I mentioned above, we already have a hospital bed because I cared for my aunt before Mark was injured. I’m guessing most insurance companies will authorize a hospital bed because they were asking if we would need one when Mark was still in the hospital. Get one if you can. If you can get a fully automatic one, get it. The bed made sleeping on his back bearable.

Mark didn’t need the trapeze so we sent it back. A bigger person might need one.

This post is getting loooong so I’ll tell you about the next 4 weeks post-op (weeks 2-6) in the next installment. I hope this has been helpful.

 

 

 

The Search for College Scholarships

college scholarships

[This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of the links, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. My review of the books in this post are my own opinions].

I’m in “find-money-for-college” mode.

Since Luke committed to Cleveland State University, he’s been preparing to take the SAT again and I’ve been doing research on scholarships to minimize the amount he’ll have to borrow.

In this post, I’ll discuss three resources that I’m using to organize the search.

First, I bought two inexpensive ebooks that offer a systematic approach to searching and applying for scholarships. Both are quick reads and have similar strategies, so either would be helpful.

“The Scholarship System” by Jocelyn Paonita


The author provides a step-by-step approach to find money, organize your search, plan and write effective essays and other tips and strategies. The book includes worksheets to help you plan along the way and to minimize repetition and back-tracking.

 

“Confessions of a Scholarship Winner” by Kristina Ellis

 

Ellis has an interesting story. Although she was eligible for scholarships that don’t apply to many students (immigrant parent, father passed away, low-income household) her approach is very similar to Paonita’s.

Both authors insist that students can qualify for scholarships regardless of grades, class rank or SAT scores. Both Ellis and Paonita give practical advice about how to make an application stand-out and highlight a student’s interests and attributes even if they don’t seem significant.

For example, Paonita suggests using certain power words in the essay and Ellis suggests opening an essay with a story instead of repeating the question as a thesis statement.

“The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2017” by Gen and Kelly Tanabe

 

I bought this book after reviewing an outdated version at our local library. Some amazon reviewers complained about how it’s organized (for example, all state-specific scholarships are in one section rather than separated by state). I was able to skim the descriptions fairly quickly to eliminate scholarships that don’t apply and note ones for which Luke might qualify.

Now that I have a list, I’ll organize them on a spreadsheet (as suggested by The Scholarship System) and include application deadlines, scholarship amounts and other basic information.

I discovered a few things while reviewing the scholarships in this book. First, many scholarships are available to undergraduate students, graduate students, even PhD.s. Other scholarships target younger students so it’s a useful resource for many years and it’s clear that a student should continue to pursue scholarships throughout his college and grad school years.

The other thing I noticed is that there are dozens of scholarships for female engineers, amateur and HAM radio operators, students interested in food service/hospitality/travel industry, to name a few.

I found at least 20 scholarships for which Luke is eligible. In a future post, I’ll write about the application process and how we prioritized our efforts.

SAT Prep for the 21st Century

 

SAT prep expertNow that Luke has committed to attend Cleveland State University, he’s obligated to raise his SAT scores to qualify for the academic part of the scholarship on the table.*

Since he didn’t prepare at all the first time around (procrastination), Luke’s pretty confident that any prep will bring up his score.

I didn’t want to take a chance, though. I had read one guy’s story about how his son used an online course for only 3 weeks and scored perfect on the SAT.

Krause Institute perfect SAT

Enter Kranse Institute SAT Prep Expert

I know, sounds like B.S. and I don’t expect Luke to obtain a perfect score but as I did more research into the course designed by Shaan Patel, who perfected his approach to the test and studied the test design for a perfect score himself, I was convinced that Luke could get some value from the videos.

Luke has been using the course for one week, here’s what I like so far:

1. I don’t have to nag him

This, in itself, is worth the price of the course. I catch Luke reviewing the videos without any prompting from me all the time.

2. The videos are short and concise

The course is organized to address one area at a time (obvious) and each video within the subject covers one concept or strategy. This streamlined approach minimizes confusion and easily allows the student to measure progress and identify trouble spots during practice.

3. The interface is aesthetically pleasing

Let’s face it, our kids are visually engaged 24/7. The video course has the benefit of graphics which in-person, paper-based study aids don’t.

The slide graphics are pleasing to the eye and don’t distract from the concept or strategy. This makes the whole process appealing and less stressful.  In short, it’s easy on the eyes.

Shaan Patel (the course creator) teaches all the lessons. His voice is soothing and natural.

4. It’s convenient

It’s great that Luke can login and watch a video at any time of the day or night from anywhere. He enrolled in a prep course at our local high school last year (3 hours for 6 Saturday mornings in a row) but had to miss a few classes for tennis tournaments and prior commitments.

While showing up consistently and going over practice questions in a group setting is better than nothing, the class setting wasn’t efficient or personalized.

The Kranse format allows Luke to review concepts that he consistently has trouble with and skim videos that cover concepts with which he has less trouble.

5. Time

The course is designed to take 6 weeks. Students have access for up to 18 months which is plenty of time if your student plans to review the videos to retake the test.

Patel advises using official college board questions (his reasoning is sound on this) but he gives you the best strategy to approach each type of question.

6. Price

At $499, the course is a fraction of the cost of other popular SAT prep courses and boasts an average score improvement of 368 points (210 on the new SAT format), including 7 perfect scores among its students.

Kranse offers a 7 day 100% money-back-guarantee (useful if you purchase the course and the student doesn’t even crack it open or doesn’t feel it would be a good fit). They’ll also refund your money if your student’s score doesn’t improve, no questions asked.

Quick sidebar here: In our case, the cost of the course is easy to justify. Luke saved us hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in travel and application expenses by making a choice after one college visit. Improving his score could translate to at least $6,000 a year. The college won’t be affordable at all if he doesn’t meet that 40 point improvement threshold. Stakes are pretty high and worth a couple of hundred dollars for us.

A Special Offer for My Readers

The blog where I originally learned about the course offered a limited time/availability 30% discount code. I contacted the company and obtained 50 coupon codes for a 30% discount for my readers.

If you purchase the course and enter the coupon code “SAVE30NOW” on the checkout page, you’ll get $149 off the regular price.

 

* Update: He got it! Luke raised his score enough to get the scholarship! 

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through a link, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

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That Was Easy (Update on the College Visit)

 

CSU-vikingI mentioned last week that Luke went on his first college visit.

He liked everything about the weekend, including the tennis coach, the other players, the team’s prospects for winning the conference in the next few years, the campus and the brand new, indoor tennis facility a few blocks from the dorm.

Bonus for us is that it’s only a couple of hours away which will give us an opportunity to see some matches. YAY!

If the athletic + academic scholarship offer stays the same, I feel comfortable with the finances. He’ll probably have to borrow some but he can offset or eliminate that by brainstorming and saving a bunch of money. I’m not expecting grants but you never know. He might bring his SAT score up enough to qualify for another $1500 per year. Every little bit helps.

It’s great to have the search process behind him and there are definitely perks to being recruited (admission, priority for classes, job at the tennis center, etc.). Luke’s ready to focus and now he has something to work toward.

In the next post, I’ll tell you what he’s doing to bring his SAT score up.

College Visits

college-visits

Photo cred: Aleksandr Kozlovskii | unsplash.com

My oldest wasn’t interested in college so we were spared.

Her younger brother (by 11 months) will visit his first college this weekend. He has to go alone because I’m caring for Mark who suffered a serious injury at work that left him temporarily disabled. Mark can’t even get into a car.

Luke plans to play tennis in college and the coach is hosting his visit (though he’ll be staying with someone on the team). Don’t even go there. I figure he’ll be in a position to drink and hope he’ll be smart.

I visited 2 colleges when I was a senior in high school and attended the second. I wanted to play basketball so my choices were limited to small, D3. I didn’t have the resources to go far away. I also didn’t have the resources to apply to or visit a lot of campuses. It was fine. I was content with my choice and loved my college experience. I qualified for a lot of grants and aid and only borrowed $12,000 for my degree.

I know it’s standard for kids to visit 10, 20 sometimes 50 different schools. I don’t know how that happens logistically. How is that even helpful? I think it confuses the matter and gives kids the impression that every aspect of a college experience should be perfect.

Luke knows it’s not realistic to go more than a couple of hours away. We can’t afford to fly him back and forth from school. He also knows that we don’t plan to give him a tour of the U.S. in search of the perfect set-up. He has a few priorities in addition to our limitations.

Money will be the biggest factor. His eligibility for assistance is a big mystery. Likely we’ll have to disappoint him if the numbers don’t add up. I refuse to let him borrow more than $15,000-$20,000 total for an undergraduate degree (I prefer no debt) and no matter what FAFSA says, we’ll decide how much we can afford to contribute-if any. I try to prepare him for the reality of that but I don’t think he gets it.

I’m also trying to convince Luke to be strategic about college. I learned that NCAA Junior colleges award twice as many full scholarships as D1 and D2. Luke will likely grow, mature emotionally and improve his skills in the next few years. Plus he would have the option of going farther away if we have to pay for less school. This might put him in a position to be able to use his college fund to pay for the remaining two years at a 4 year college where, because of the limited  number of scholarships, he’s not likely to get as much help.

Just about everyone I talk to (my age and younger) regrets borrowing as much as they did for their four year degree and wishes they would have gone to community college for the first two years. If Luke can play tennis in a truly competitive situation, I don’t think he’ll regret it.

I’m guessing there’s less competition for JUCO tennis scholarships. Since tennis is an elitist sport, Luke’s peers are looking at top academic and tennis programs. I read that many junior college coaches don’t allocate their recruiting budget simply because they don’t have the resources to recruit and scout and aren’t approached by suitable athletes.

So, the question will be whether Luke will consider my advice about how to navigate this college thing. My main goal is coming out on the other end of it with little or no debt. We’ll see.

Dear High School Guidance Counselor….

school yard

original image credit: Francisco Galarza via unsplash.com

I know it’s your job to “guide” students. I get the impression that you believe it’s your job to direct them toward college-no matter the expense or their interest in going.

I understand you met with a group of Juniors the other day during their English class. You had them enter their email addresses on a site that asked them a litany of questions to help them decide what to study in college.

Is it true that you told the kids who don’t plan to go to college to reconsider? Did you also tell them not to answer something stupid (your word) like “be a nanny” on questions about their plans after high school?

I won’t take that remark personally even though my daughter has told you on several occassions that she plans to nanny when she graduates in order earn money to pursue other goals. You probably weren’t interested enough to learn that she’s a gifted, conscientious and engaged child-care provider who loves to be with kids of all ages. She tells them stories, plans projects and crafts, invents games, fixes meals and reads with them. In short, she’s happy when she’s with her younger cousins or small clients. I think hers is an excellent plan that will provide a lot of flexibility. Before you go there, no, she doesn’t want to be a teacher. She doesn’t want to watch 25-30 kids at a time, just a few.

My daughter has a keen understanding of her interests, skills, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. She’s lucky that she doesn’t need a computer program for that. My guess is that lots of kids know these things about themselves but when they try to communicate them to you, you don’t really listen to them. Instead, you dismiss their ideas and try to pigeon-hole them into a pre-defined, acceptable major or career.

Being a nanny isn’t “stupid”. High-quality child care is a valuable service. Responsible and experienced providers are in demand and can earn a lucrative income and unique experiences all without the burden of debt. Many full-time nannies can earn more than their college-educated peers and enjoy benefits like free housing, meals, transportation (including discretionary access to a car), all-expense-paid vacations and paid vacation time.

My daughter and I have spent a lot of time discussing how she can develop her interests and skills to create a career, multiple streams of income and a lifestyle that she chooses.  Regardless of whether someone else regards it as successful, acceptable or adequate.

The job you decided to mock is irrelevant. My point is, it’s unprofessional and narrow-minded to dismiss certain occupations or paths to a fulfilling life. Your job is to support students and help them find every resource available to pursue an idea, a vocation, a career or a dream even if it doesn’t align with your idea of a respectable profession. Steering a diverse group of students down one, narrow path doesn’t serve them, even if it does serve your ego.

Did you know that 40% of students drop out of college without a degree? Do you think maybe they were steered toward college as the only option by people like you?  Yes, I’m suggesting you’re partially to blame. Do you ever advise students who are unsure about their future to work for a few years or go to community college?

Did you know that some of your students borrow as much as $80,000 for an undergraduate degree?  The average student debt for a college education is $37,000. Do you think that’s advisable? I don’t.

One more thing. Quit sharing my kids’ email addresses with colleges and military recruiters. Even kids who are interested in college don’t want to be spammed by them. My kids know where to enlist if they decide to go that route.

I was tempted to email you about this recent presentation but decided against it because my children are insulated from your narrow views and I realize I will not change your mind or your tactics. They know they have my support and encouragement to pursue any path or no path and work until they figure something out. Some will likely go to college but probably not with much assistance from you.

Yours truly.

Why I Regret Starting a 529 Plan for My Kids

why-not-to-save-in-a-529-plan

Let’s be clear: I don’t regret saving for the kids’ future. I regret limiting that fund for college.

Like many young parents, Mark and I were anxious to start saving for college. A 529 plan was the no-brainer option at the time. The fund grows tax-free and as long as the money is used for a “qualified education expense”, the interest is never taxed. There can also be state tax deductions for contributions.

So, here’s why I regret saving in a 529: There are so many valuable and practical ways to learn outside of college that can’t be funded by a 529 without paying taxes and penalties on the interest.

Nineteen years ago (the year Hannah was born), college appeared to be the only and best way to have a career and wasn’t nearly as expensive. In 1996, 52% of Bachelor’s degree recipients carried student loans averaging $12,000 (which is the same amount I graduated from college with in 1990). Today, at least 71% of college graduates have student loans averaging $37,000.

In contrast to the 1990s, high school students can begin to teach themselves skills that add value to a fast-paced, global economy. College is required for some professions (academia, law, medicine) but isn’t for many others.

Apprenticeship programs, gap years, online certification programs, fellowships, world travel and small business opportunities are all valuable and practical alternatives to college that can’t be paid for with 529 funds without penalty.

[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]529s are a subsidy for institutions that are overcharging and under-delivering.[/tweetthis]  They’re one form of university welfare. The other forms are private loans, grants and government-subsidized loans. Students aren’t really the beneficiaries of these forms of assistance when a degree doesn’t guarantee a job or skills that employers say are lacking in most college graduates. (Don’t believe me, read this book about the skills gap).

Hannah graduated from high school and has no plans to attend college. Instead, she’s participating in a program that matches highly motivated young people with a small business or startup willing to train them.

Praxis charges tuition but boasts a net-zero cost because the total payment is less than the guaranteed pay the participant receives from the business partner during the apprenticeship. In addition to skills training, Praxis offers one-on-one mentorship, weekly group discussions and guidance on personal and professional development projects. Every participant has a tangible body of work to show potential employers at the conclusion of the program. The Praxis model has been so effective that business partners now commit to a full-time offer with a minimum salary of $40,000 for participants. No college will guarantee that.

By the time her classmates graduate, Hannah will likely have saved as much or more than they have borrowed in the same time period. She’ll be earning as much or more and she’ll likely be living on her own. Compared to other 18-34-year-olds, who, for the first time ever, are living with parents more than any other living arrangement.

So, what to do with all that money we saved for college? We could transfer the 529 to one of Hannah’s siblings.  We put that money aside for Hannah, though, and frankly, I’d rather see it go to photo equipment (Hannah’s business), studio space, even a car, than an over-priced college.

Even though she’ll pay taxes (at her rate) and a 10% penalty on the interest, we’ve decided to use the money in Hannah’s 529 plan to pay the tuition for Praxis. The interest and penalty combined don’t compare to the interest that most students will end up paying for the lifetime of the loans they’re taking.

I’m not so put-off by the taxes owed because if we had it in any other type of fund, we would have been paying taxes on the interest all along. The penalty stings a little since she’s using the money for a program that has a guaranteed ROI and is tens of thousands less than college would have been.

Hopefully, 529 rules will expand with growing opportunities in our rapidly-changing world that make more sense than college. Any changes will likely come too slowly to help my children.

I’m not sure what will happen when the college bubble finally pops. Likely, even those who opt out will be stuck holding the bag. University Provosts everywhere will continue to receive their bloated salaries or maybe they’ll run for the hills taking their golden parachutes with them.

Rethink opening that 529. There are other ways to save in a high-growth fund for a minor. You can still use that money for college but you’ll have other options.

Opting Out of the Awful School Pictures

 

school-pictures

4th grade me with my Dorothy Hammill haircut

I’ve had it. I used to feel guilty that my kids didn’t have school pictures since they were homeschooled.

This year, I’m opting out.

I’ve purchased a “package” for each of the kids for each of the years that they have been in school. I never display them. I rarely share them. They sit in the cellophane window envelope in a drawer somewhere.

To be perfectly honest, none of them are any good. Not one school picture actually looks like the kid in it. Bad smile, pasty face, awkward angle. They are just bad.

The photo packages are too expensive and they’re purposely designed to NOT include the sizes you might want.

I thought Mark would be offended that I didn’t want to buy them this year but then forgot that he’s a boy and doesn’t care about stuff like that. I knew Kate wouldn’t care. The only year she let me buy photos, she wouldn’t let me see them. She wasn’t interested in doubling down on her humiliation by getting the “retake”.