If you’re a parent, then chances are good you want the best for your family. If someone on the street asked you what that was worth for you, you’d probably say it’s worth any price.
Some parents think of paying any price in terms of dollars and cents. But there are other hidden costs to consider as well. For example, if you live in an underperforming school district, which is best for your family in the long run?
- Moving to a neighboring district with higher taxes but better schools?
- Supplementing your child’s school experience with lots of extracurriculars?
- Or sending them to an expensive private school?
Each has their own costs, and only your family can decide which cost is easiest to bear, in terms of both time and money.
The stakes and trade-offs are even higher when it comes to healthcare. For example, you can do your homework ahead of time when planning for an addition to your family, and choose the best provider in your area. Or you can cut corners and either choose the least expensive, or end up with one that’s subpar because they’re the only practice with a wide-open schedule. Either way, you eventually find yourself contacting a firm like Gray and White Law to pursue a birth injury claim. All because you didn’t go to the best doctors and hospitals in the first place, to ensure the optimum health for your newborn baby.
So how do you provide what’s best for your family – especially if you’re a family on a budget to begin with?
I’d like to suggest that you start with a more important question: How should you define what’s best for your family, and weigh the cost?
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
What truly is “best for your family”?
Traditional definitions of “the best” often require lots of money – and this isn’t always easy to find. Of course, there are plenty of creative ways you can save money, with a little effort. For example, creating an effective homework station doesn’t mean your kids need their own separate home office!
The bottom line is, there are lots of ways to give your kids the best, without spending an arm and a leg to do so. Often they involve a little imagination, an investment of time instead of money, and some reframing of what “the best” means and what you’re willing to spend (other than money). Lack of money is anything but a barrier to providing your family with the best; in many cases, it can actually be a fabulous opportunity.
Public education is a right in the United States, but the quality of that education varies widely from one district to the next and one state to the next. And private school tuitions are often way beyond the reach of most families.
So how can you provide the best for your family when the educational deck is stacked against you?
- Do your research. We moved to our current home when I was eight months pregnant with Kimmie. It’s only two miles from our previous home, but in a much better school district. When searching for a house, we kept the school district and the property taxes at the forefront of our search, so we could find a place that had a good district but taxes we could afford.
- Get involved. I went to public schools K-12 in a horrible school district growing up. (The district was so underfunded, our high school textbooks were older than we were!) But even though my father worked insane hours, he served on the local school board for over a quarter century, so he could try to make things better for the district’s students despite limited resources.
- Advocate for your child. This often costs time more than anything else, but it’s so worth it. My younger brother Evan was the first diagnosed learning-disabled student in our district growing up. Getting him an education was a constant uphill battle, but my mother took the time to fight that battle for him. I’ve had to advocate for my own children’s education at every step so far, but the time spent is well worth it.
- Supplement their education creatively. Think carefully about how extracurriculars can enhance their school experience. Girl Scouts, church choir, church cooking club, and a local science museum’s coding club are some of the extracurriculars our girls have done that are low-cost or free, but have enhanced their educational experience far beyond what school can offer them. Likewise, we take them to national parks and museums to further broaden their horizons outside of school.
- Consider alternatives. Would homeschooling your children give them the education they need? Are there cyber schools they can attend for a more individualized education? Or are there scholarships/vouchers your family can apply for that would make a private school more affordable?
Especially in this season of open enrollment in the United States, there’s no denying that our healthcare is ridiculously expensive. Individuals and employers find themselves paying more and more each year for even the most basic coverage. The “premium” plans that many of us might like – and some of us might need – are often too expensive for many families to afford.
How can you get the best for your family when it comes to basic health and health care?
- Again, do your research. We have several chronic conditions (asthma, allergies, etc.) in our family that mean we always use a lot of health care. Every year I do the math. You’d think that the low-deductible plan would be the more cost-effective. But actually, we come out several thousand dollars ahead on the high-deductible plan my husband’s work offers, even though it means more paperwork for me.
- Be proactive. If you’re changing jobs, don’t overlook the importance of decent health coverage when weighing new offers. If you’re already in a good job, consider joining the benefits committee at your workplace (if such a thing exists), to help advocate for the best possible options for you and your coworkers.
- Adopt (and teach your kids) healthy habits. Get your sleep. Eat a balanced diet that’s high in veggies and whole grains, and low in processed foods. Keep your stress level in check, and teach them to do the same. Make sure you all exercise. Those basic healthy habits will go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy, so you don’t NEED as much health care!
- Maintain your health, and reduce the chances of illness. Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products (including e-cigarettes); if you do, quit. Get your flu shot. Teach your kids to brush and floss regularly. Wash your hands and cover your mouth to minimize the spread of germs. Make sure that everyone in your family gets their regular preventative-care checkups on schedule. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and costs a lot less. Staying on top of little problems before they become big problems is LOADS cheaper than trips to the emergency room!
- Speak up. Make sure your elected officials know your concerns. Put pressure on them to work toward better health care access, better prescription drug prices, and more affordable premiums. Make sure they know how these issues affect you and your family personally.
3) Money vs. time
Yes, you need money to cover your family’s basic needs. But when it comes to what’s best for your family, “the best” is not always equal to “the best that money can buy.”
This may seem counterintuitive, but your children actually crave (and need!) your time far more than they crave nice things. Don’t fall into the trap of using (or thinking you need to use) material items to buy their affection. “Things” can never fill the void created by a lack of attention and engagement. What children really want – and need, in order to thrive – is interaction and encouragement.
- Do you spend way too much time at work? Look into ways to make a passive income (I’ve written about some here).
- See if you can telecommute one or more days a week, so that you can spend more time at home with your children without quitting your job.
- If the cost of childcare is just killing you, maybe you need to rethink your work situation and/or your childcare options. I discussed some of the alternatives to high childcare costs in this guest post I wrote for Lemon Blessings.
- Be the parent who takes the time to do what’s best for your family. Maybe that’s volunteering for your local PTO, or running for school board. Maybe that’s volunteering at their school. In my case, it meant taking a day off work last week to testify before our state’s board of education on behalf of my kids’ unique educational needs.
- Focus on what really matters. Turn off the TV, put away the devices, and just talk to each other. Make a habit of doing this every night at dinner, and/or every morning at breakfast. Your children will benefit far more in the long run from these and other priceless gifts that don’t cost money, than from fancy toys and expensive camps.
The bottom line:
Providing the best for your family may look different than what’s best for the family next door. But that doesn’t mean that more/more expensive is always better. Some of the poorest parents give their children such love and attention, that many more ‘privileged’ children long for the same. They miss the interaction and engagement they don’t get, due to their parents working so hard to provide for them. Never forget how important it is to spend time engaging with your child, and investing time behind the scenes to secure what’s best for them.
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