Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Weekend in the D.C. Suburbs

Not long ago, I spent a weekend down in the Washington, D.C. area. (Unfortunately I didn't get to say hello to SingleMa and Mapgirl.) Let's just introduce the family I was visiting, who are related to Sweetie:

Greg, a lawyer
Beatrix, who has a master's degree in international relations, but is now mainly a stay-at-home mom with a part-time job.
Flopsy (12) and Mopsy (10), their two daughters
Peter (8), a neighborhood friend who came over to play

The family lives in a nice suburban area not too far from downtown D.C.-- and when I say nice, I mean really nice-- large, beautifully manicured lawns surrounding what you'd have to call McMansions, most in brick with a vaguely Colonial look. The nearby public schools are good, but most of the kids go to private schools-- Flopsy and Mopsy already do, and Peter will transfer to one next year. The whole neighborhood gives an impression of upper-upper-middle-class security and it's hard to imagine these kids not remembering their childhood as idyllic-- and the kids themselves are smart and sweet and polite, with a certain pre-teen innocence that is refreshing and charming. I know this all sounds a bit too nauseatingly sweet to be true, but it kind of is! I think Beatrix is a really good mom and the girls don't seem at all spoiled-- at least, not yet!

But of course anything that seems so perfect really isn't. It's not that there's anything terribly dark to report, but Greg is constantly at work, and despite that, apparently doesn't have great career prospects because he's not billing enough hours or landing new clients. This has led to some anxiety about the family budget. Of course this is all relative: they have a great house with a pool, and two high-end cars, and take the kids on vacations to fun places. But those private school bills are a killer-- $30,000 a year each for the two girls. So they've postponed doing some renovations to the house for the moment until things stabilize.

One of Greg's ideas to make things stabilize was that Beatrix must get a full-time job that makes at least $100,000. He apparently doesn't realize that such jobs can't just be had with the snap of a finger! (He also refused to make any accommodations in his own schedule to help keep the household managed if she started to work full time.) Beatrix is highly educated and capable, but like many moms, her jobs have been steadily declining in prestige and challenge since she has prioritized taking care of her kids. At this point, she is trying to land a totally administrative job at their private school-- their education is her top priority, and she wants the discount on the tuition. Anyway, that is all I really know about the family finances, but of course I found it interesting!

Back to the details of my visit:
I have visited the family on several occasions and was quite a hit with Flopsy and Mopsy. They are really into art, and once they found out I could draw, they kept requesting pictures of various animals, girls in ballgowns, and fairies. They also seem to just like the fact that I'll meet them more than halfway in various sorts of imaginative play, unlike some of the other adults around, who don't really want to get that involved. If they want to play charades, I'll ham it up. If they want to play teacher, I'm a very silly student. And this time, they wanted to play "Town," a game which involved paper wallets full of play money-- little squares of green paper were $5 bills, and pink squares were $1 bills-- and we'd each run a business in the town and buy things from each other.
They immediately wanted me to run the "art store," which was fine with me. Flopsy set herself up with the town printing business, so I asked for some signage for my art store. Mopsy was running the post office, so I sent out invitations to my gallery opening. Peter was assigned to run a supply store, where I could purchase additional sheets of paper and avail myself of his pencil-sharpening service. I started cutting up small pieces of paper and doing small drawings on them. I created a price list for these beautiful works, as well as gift certificates for art lessons. And business was booming!
Then I decided to work in some financial education. I asked the stationery store to print up invoices and a sales and expense ledger for my art store, so I could keep proper accounting. I suggested that Mopsy run a bank as well as the post office, where we could deposit our hard-earned pink and green paper. Flopsy was assigned to print up bank books, and I had to explain that banks didn't always have electronic machines that would spit out a record of how much money you had! Then I got Mopsy to start lending out the deposits so Flopsy and Peter would have more money to spend at my art store. Playing town became more like playing "economy," and I think the kids got a kick out of all these new elements I'd introduced to their game.

One final note on the visit: we went out to dinner one night in the downtown area of their suburb. It was hopping! I was impressed that the downtown area seemed to be thriving and all the restaurants and stores were busy. Sweetie pointed out that it's probably because D.C. hasn't lost all the finance jobs that New York has. It's not like all the restaurants here are empty, but what's really noticeable in New York these days is all the empty retail space-- the difference was striking.

Well, that's my report from the trenches! It will be interesting to see how things go for this family over the next few years...


simplesimon said...

I don't know how much detail you went into in your "economy" game but those kids are going to grow up and remember MadameX teaching them these little things about money. That's a great memory to leave people. I know I would've remembered.

Anonymous said...

Great game!!! Good for you.

Sounds like Bethesda.

Single Ma said...

That game sounds fun!!

Between my visits to NY and your visits to DC, we need to meet up for drinks at some point - hopefully soon.

Joy said...

yes, sounds like Bethesda, which makes paying $60K a year for private school even more absurd than it would be otherwise. Montgomery County has terrific public schools.

Chad said...

Here is a thought:

It costs $30k a year for private school, when there are decent public schools (note: if this is Bethesda or Arlington there are some really really good public schools). What if you sent the kid to public school and put that $30k away each year in an investment that earned would have $536,464 after 12 years. As the child, would you prefer a half a million upon high school graduation or an education that is supposed to be "better?"

Let's add in another variable college. Assuming they are willing to fork over $30k per year for grades 1-12, it's probably safe to assume they would be willing to do this for 4 years of college. If instead they invested it at 6% for the kid they would have $816,386 after college.

Now let's assume they went to a cheap state school and only put $15k away per year for the they have $746,830.

What would you rather have? A spectacular education and $0, or a good education and $746,830 to start your life? I would gladly take option 2.

I'm also never convinced that just because a school is "private" it has a good education.

Tired of being broke said...! I say if they can 'afford' it then go ahead. Finance is personal for each and everyone. However, from the looks of things a reduction in hours at Greg's job could cause a huge problem. It would be interesting to know if there is an emergency fund.