Couple Money header image ≡ Menu

Build Up Your Marriage and Money Stash

Learn to live on one income and have fun with the second with Couple Money’s Free Newsletter!

  • Automate Your Finances
  • Pay Down Your Debt Faster
  • Grow Your Money Together

Be a part of the tens of thousands who read Couple Money to build their finances together.

Public School Doesn’t Mean Free

public school costs


Public school is “…maintained at public expense for the education of the children of a community or district and that constitutes a part of a system of free public education commonly including primary and secondary schools” according to the dictionary. That sounds great, but if the schools are free why are parents paying so many fees?

The fees are nothing new. As a military family we moved a lot when I was growing up. I remember one school district charged fees to rent the textbooks. But there is a perception that there are more as a result of the poor economy.

We’re not talking about costs for extras like yearbooks and prom, but rather items that we expect to be included.


The school district we lived in while our kids were growing up didn’t provide buses to school after grade school. We either had to drive them or pay for public buses.

Having to buy a bus pass every month was a hassle and additional expense but the high school was about 10 miles away. It was all a matter of geography because the school district next to us provided buses through 12th grade.

Lab, Technology and Instruction

Science and technology classes require supplies and/or equipment that the typical class does not. Some schools are now passing these higher costs to the students or to be more precise, their parents. Many of these classes are required for students wanting to continue on to universities.

Advanced placement courses, which didn’t exist all that long ago, are also bringing in revenue at some schools.

Sports and Extra-Curricular Activities

Students may need more than skill or drive to participate in school sports now. All it used to cost was the price of the physical. Now many schools charge athletic fees which range from $35 to $200 per sport.

Then there is band, cheer-leading, clubs and more activities that also have, you guessed it, fees. Even graduation can have a $30 or higher fee!

One family mentioned in a recent article spent over $4,000 in fees for their four kids to participate in sports, band, classes and activities. This is on top of the property taxes paid that is dedicated to pay for public education.

I understand why the schools are adding costs here and there. Their budgets have been cut by states, cities and counties that have vastly decreased tax revenues. They’re trying to figure out how to provide the same services with less money.

That doesn’t make it right. Public school should be free; that’s the promise we’ve always had in this country. What’s your opinion on public school fees?

photo : Some rights reserved by calculat0r

Preparing for Emergencies- Earthquake in Virginia; Hurricane Irene in North Carolina

hurricane season disaster

Earthquake in Virginia

Yesterday while the three of us were going around town taking care of errands (aka looking for an HP TouchPad) an earthquake occurred in Virginia. While we didn’t personally notice it, our family on the Eats Coast certainly did and contacted us to make sure we were alright.

I’m happy to hear that there was no deaths and no major damage due to the earthquake.

Hurricane Irene This Weekend?

Unfortunately the earthquake isn’t the only weather related news on my radar this week. Hurricane Irene is coming up and some of the models have it projected to hit the Outer Banks in North Carolina. While our area will probably be spared the brunt of it, many people could need to evacuate.

Considering the two big events of this week, I decided to review our emergency plan.

Emergency Kit Supplies

After you have a plan, many organizations like FEMA recommend having an emergency kit ready to cover the immediate needs of your family until help arrives.  What do you need for your emergency kit? According to the Red Cross, here are some of the esstentials:

  • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3­day supply for evacuation, 2­week supply for home)
  • Food—non­perishable, easy­to­prepare items (3­day supply for evacuation, 2­week supply for home)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery­powered or hand­crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7­day supply) and medical items
  • Multi­purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area

In addition to the above supplies, depending on your family’s circumstances, you may also need:

  • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, cane)
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Two­way radios
  • Extra set of car keys and house keys
  • Manual can opener

Find and Go to a Safe Location

If you’re in an area where a disaster, like a hurricane, will strike, you should have a safe location planned to evacuate your family. Most of our family lives relatively nearby, so their places aren’t necessarily safer if we need to leave. Our best bet would be to head a few hours West to where a couple of our live. Should we need to head over there, we’d notify our families and give them another contact number to reach us by.

Protect Your Pets

Of course, if you have to leave, you’d like your pets to be safe. Before disaster strikes try to keep a list of hotels and motels that accept animals on the premises. You also want to have your local animal shelter’s number ready in case you have to call to get other recommendations if your first few choices are full.

Make sure your pet is secure in a pet carrier in case they panic. You need to be able to keep them under control as you evacuate. If you haven’t already consider getting your pet an ID chip or at least have their collar tags up to date with your contact information.

You can’t afford to have a limited water and food supply and many mouths to feed. Your pets should also have their own survival kit.

  • Pet food
  • Bottled water
  • Medications
  • Veterinary records
  • Cat litter/pan
  • Can opener
  • Food dishes

If you can’t take your beloved pets with you, call boarding kennels and make arrangements for their care. Have their medical records on hand to prove they are up to date.

Being Prepared For Emergencies

I’ll admit right now, we aren’t prepared as we should be with our emergency kit. Just because of the time involved in getting one ready with everything, I’m heavily leaning towards purchasing a kit a pre-made kit from an organization like the Red Cross.  We really would need to have something grab and go ready.

How prepared are you? Do you have a plan and kit ready for your family?

Photo CreditNOAA/NASA GOES Project

15 Ways to Save on Baby Expenses

How to save big on baby expenses

It’s Monday and I’m starting to get back into the swing of things here on the site. My husband is taking his paternity leave to help me around the house as I get acclimated with my new routine. Our mothers were here the first few weeks to give us an experienced hand and I have to say, it was wonderful.

Having a baby has been a huge change in more ways than one, but something that surprised me is how inexpensive they can be if you’re willing to do a little work. Family helped us find ways we can cut back on baby expenses while still getting what she needs.

15 Ways to Cut Down on Baby Expenses

I decided to consolidate some of the best tips and advice I’ve heard and read so far from others into a list that you can print out and put on your fridge.

  1. Have a trusted friend or family member babysit your child. Don’t take advantage of a loved one’s generosity; you should still compensate them for their services. After all, you most likely get a discount and you’ll have some peace of mind over your little one’s well being.
  2. Make your own baby food. If you have the right kitchen tools and the time, go ahead and make your baby’s food. It’ll also give you the freedom to introduce a variety of different foods to your baby early on.
  3. Buy baby supplies in bulk (when appropriate). You can save quite a bit of money if you buy certain items in bulk, like diapers. consider subscription services like Amazon Mom to save 30% on diaper orders.
  4. Consignment stores are your best friends. We have quite a few consignment stores in Raleigh with some high quality items. There’s one that specializes in baby clothes and gear a short drive from us that has fantastic deals. We picked up some outfits for $1-$4/each, with some of them having the tags still on.
  5. Cook at home. Not exciting, but a huge cost saver. Eating at home not only helps you keep more money in your wallet, but you’ll have more control over what you eat. That means better health and more wealth. Curious about what foods to try or what cooking tips can save you time? Check out my blog Married Food for ideas.
  6. Watch your toy budget. Babies don’t need as many toys as you think. It’s tempting to get the latest educational toy that comes out, but some basic ones really go a long way. Plus they have the added bonus of encouraging imagination.
  7. Buy for the long term. When looking at cribs, my husband and I wanted to look for something that would last for years. Besides getting a convertible crib, we also looked at the material. We didn’t want the bed to break down after a move or two.
  8. Go generic.Your baby can tell if she’s wearing the name brand shoes or having her bottom cleaned by the store brand wipe. Save yourself some money and go generic.
  9. Buy washable nursing pads. You’ll go through them quickly, so it may pay to invest in some washable ones.
  10. Check out the clearance rack. You can pick up some nice clothes and baby gear by looking at the clearance rack.
  11. Keep the change. Go ahead and collect all the loose change you have at the end of the day. You can use that to build the family’s savings or put it aside for your baby’s future expenses, like a college fund.
  12. Take advantage of coupons and discounts. Use manufacturers’ coupons and sites like Amazon Mom to score deals on necessary baby items.
  13. Try free mommy programs at the library.
  14. Wait for the baby shower. If you’re watching your dollars, be patient. If loved ones buy you some necessary items for your little one, you can pick up what’s missing.
  15. Network with other parents. Parents can be a great resource for sales and deals in your area.

Save Even More on Baby Expenses

Looking for more ideas on saving with baby expenses? I’ve included the Baby Expenses series (as of today) to help you get started.

Join In the Baby Expenses Series

Are you a parent or a parent to be with some helpful advice or stories? Please go ahead and join in on the fun, there are 4 ways you can be a part of it:

  1. Leave your tips in the comment section. I  love reviewing thoughtful comments from readers. Some topics have several ‘right’ answers and I think sharing different view points can be helpful.
  2. Submit your stories for future posts. As you know, baby and expenses can cover a variety of topics. If you have a short story or some tips you want to share, please submit them. If you’re a blogger, please share your site’s address with the email so I can credit you if you want.
  3. Write a blog post about your experience. Please include a link in your bio for your site and if you have a relevant post on your site, please link to it in your post.
  4. Share you favorite posts with friends. If you have a favorite post, please share them with your friends who are expecting. I’ve included share buttons for Facebook and Twitter to make it easier and you can always email them your favorite posts as well. If you think it’s a great for them, please encourage your friends to sign up and receive updates through RSS or directly to their inbox. It’s free and an easy way for them to keep up with the latest posts on Couple Money.

If you’re expecting or raising a newborn, I wish you and your family the best!

Photo Credit: Ann Gordon

How to Select A Guardian for Your Children

guardians for your children

Becoming a parent means being responsible for the care and well-being of your child for at least 18 years.  But what if the unexpected happens?  Who’s going to take care of your child(ren) if both parents are no longer around?

I remember the discussions my kids’ dad and I had when preparing our first wills many years ago.  It’s natural for each parent to want the child to go with “their” family and it took some time to come to an agreement.  Here is a list of criteria that can help you in this decision.

Values and Beliefs

Religious upbringing is an important consideration.  Most likely, you want your child brought up by someone with the same religious background.  Consider if the prospective guardian’s level of involvement in spiritual activities is something you would want for your child.

What values and characteristics are important to you?  Make a list of qualities you would want your children to have and learn.  Use this list to screen potential caretakers.


Do you want your children to grow up where you live now?  If this is important it will definitely narrow the list of candidates for many people.  For me, this would be not a high priority, but then I spent my childhood moving from one military base to another.

Family Situation

Do your prospective guardians have children already?  If yes, are the ages compatible with your child’s?  If you have multiple children, maybe it would be better to select a couple that don’t have any especially if keeping the children together is important (which I think it should be).


I don’t mean can the guardian run a marathon, but rather can they handle raising children.  Your parents or grandparents might make wonderful caregivers but are they physically up to the demands of small children?   We’re in good health and can be quite tired after a weekend with our 2-year-old grandson.

Is the guardian financially able to take on additional family members?  Even with insurance and social security payments, it may not be enough to cover the cost of your children to their family.

Last, is the person emotionally fit to take on the job of guardian?  You chose to take on the responsibility of parenting but it would be thrust upon the guardian.  Are they strong enough for all the challenges of child-rearing?


I put this last but it is maybe the most important criteria.  Who has a strong relationship already with your child or children?  It would definitely be easier on the child to live  with someone who they already know and love.


Once you’ve made a decision, talk to the person and make sure they’re willing and able to take on the role.  I would share the decision with close family members so they  know your wishes.

Thinking about the worst things that can happen in life is not fun.  Knowing your child is taken care of no matter what, makes it worth the work!  What is your experience in selecting a guardian?

Photo Credit: docentjoyce

2nd Opinion From Mechanic In

car mechanic second opinion

For those who have been curious about our car drama, I’m happy to report we got an update to share. If you remember from my original post, my husband took his car in to get the air conditioning fixed. With the heatwave it became even more important to get this done. However, we were blown away by the shop’s call.

1st Mechanic – Replace or Repair

After we dropped off the car to his regular shop, my husband was expecting a phone cal telling him that the repairs had been completed and he could pick up his vehicle. Instead he received a list of what was wrong with the car.

Here’s a rundown of the original mechanic’s diagnostic:

  • New A/C Compressor and Clutch Needed
  • Replace Serpentine Belt
  • Replace Radiator
  • Replace Head Gasket

Total estimated cost for parts is about $2,000 and then there’s labor. So we’re looking at $3,500 to repair a car that cost less than that. Needless to say, we were stressed and worried about having to replace the car while we expecting to have a baby any day.

2nd Opinion – Much Cheaper

When the baby arrived, the car drama took a back seat. After things settled down somewhat we took the Toyota down to the shop a friend recommended to get a second opinion.

My husband got the update from the mechanic about the diagnostic’s results. According to the shop, we DON’T need to replace the head gasket. There are some repairs that have to be made, though, and the estimate to get our car running fine is….around $300.

I thought I misread the message my husband sent. $300?! That’s less than 10% of the original estimate. I did find out that the estimate was preliminary. They were going to recharge his car’s air conditioner system, but it may not work. However, they wanted to start with the easiest (and least expensive) solution.

My husband was ok with the repairs, so we’ll wait and see what happens next. I’m so hoping that we get this finished soon and back to two cars.

Thoughts on Car Mechanics

Depending if this second mechanic can come through, we’ll switch mechanics. I know Sam has found a great mechanic; how about you? Did getting a second opinion on car repairs pay off for you? Did you switch mechanics?