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The High Price of Poor Financial Choices

anyone's crystal ball working? this one's busted

anyone’s crystal ball working? this one’s busted

I spend a lot of time telling you guys about my financial mistakes and what I’ve learned from them. Fortunately, most of my horrible experiences are in the past (except for my crappy credit score), so it’s easy to look at them objectively. But I’m realizing that your financial past can still come back to haunt you, even when you’ve worked hard to make better choices.

Here’s What Happened

A reader sent me a link to a Youtube video about Montessori schools, letting me know how much the philosophy helped her son, who has Asperger’s (like Jayden). I had a basic understanding of Montessori, but had never really looked into it – I always thought it was a preschool program and nothing more.

So I’m watching the video and Jayden comes into the room. At the end, he asks, “Are there really schools like that?” I told him yes. “Are they just for little kids?” So we googled a little bit and found a brand new Montessori high school on the other side of the state that I didn’t know existed.

Yesterday Jay came home from school talking 200 miles an hour about Montessori. (Apparently he looked it up in class since he’s grounded from the computer here at home.) How it seems perfect for kids who, like him, need hands-on experiences to learn. How he wouldn’t have to struggle with so much book work that seems pointless to him, and he could focus on his interests. I’ll admit – I was kind of tuning him out because I’m so used to his monologues on different topics.

Then he dropped a bomb. “If I could go to that kind of school, I think I wouldn’t feel as hopeless about my life. Maybe I could do well in school and have a career someday. I think we should move so I can go to that high school we saw online.”

The Logistics

First, let me say how shocking it is for an autistic child to even think about moving. Our life centers around sameness and routine – something as trivial as the wrong peanut butter to jelly ratio on a sandwich can ruin the whole day. Any time I’ve mentioned moving or even traveling, Jay had a complete nervous breakdown. For him to suggest moving across the state, away from all his family, I know how much hope he has pinned on Montessori and how miserable he really is at school.

That said, moving across the state would be ridiculously expensive. The cost of living in a large city versus my tiny rural town would be astronomical. And there’s the little problem of tuition – the Montessori school is private, and tuition is $8000 a year. Even if I returned to my former career full-time, there’s NO WAY I could afford all those extra costs on my own.

Mom, Torn in Two

A Montessori school seems like the perfect answer to all the struggles we’ve been dealing with for years. From what I’ve seen, it has the potential to undo all the years of negative school experiences that have caused my son to despise education with every ounce of his being. Public schools are simply not designed for kids who can’t learn by sitting at a desk pushing a pencil.

I never thought I would be in a position where my child needed something and I couldn’t provide it. Since he was born, he has always been my first priority. Even when my spending was out of control, I didn’t buy anything unless I knew he was taken care of first.

I think all mothers deal with guilt where their children are concerned – there are always could haves and what ifs to torture us and keep us awake at night. However, I can’t even express how guilty I feel right now. This is not some random thing that’s out of my control – this is something that could have been prevented.

If only I had gone into a higher-paying career field. If only I hadn’t taken out so many student loans. If only I hadn’t switched jobs last summer, leading to chaos and eventual self-employment. If only I was debt-free and able to fathom the idea of $800 per month for my child to go to an amazing school. I could go on for days (and probably will, inside my head where you guys don’t have to follow along).

Where This Leaves Me

For now, I’ve been spared the agony of crushing Jayden’s soul – we just missed the application deadline for next school year, so the earliest we could even talk about the Montessori high school is next winter. But I don’t see any way that things will change between now and then.

I am absolutely sick when I think of all the money I’ve wasted in the 13 years since Jayden was born. The total probably could have paid 4 years of private school tuition for two kids. Now, because I took so long to get my spending under control, I will never find out if Montessori is the right place for him.

Instead, I have to send him to the public high school in less than 6 months, where he will continue to be depressed, socially isolated, and frustrated by a system that doesn’t address his educational needs. And I feel like I’m throwing him to the wolves. “Sorry, kid, I can’t afford to give you the things you need and deserve. I know the other school could help you become successful, but I don’t have the money. You’ll just have to deal with it.”

Please, Learn From My Failure

You may not have kids, or if you do, your kids may not have special needs. But that doesn’t mean that another person may not depend on you someday. Don’t waste another minute saying, “I can always save money later,” or “I have plenty of time to get my finances straightened out.”

In late 2010 when I realized I needed to get my act together, I patted myself on the back for coming to my senses before my son was old enough to need my help. At the time, I was thinking about cars and college expenses. It never occurred to me that my epiphany had happened too late, and that a situation might arise where he needed something I simply could not provide.

No one has a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. But if you prepare for it in advance, tomorrow doesn’t have to feel hopeless. You will NEVER regret making good choices, but (as I’m learning) the wrong choices can impact your life even when you think you’ve recovered from them.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. April Stotler says:

    It's so hard to know what you will need money for in the future.

    But I would also suggest that you not give up. What seems impossible right now might not be as terrible as you think. Check for Scholarships. Check and see what can be done.

    And hey, if he misses his freshman year, he could still get through his Sophomore, Junior and Senior years ok. So right now while it might be a good time to look back and say, "Ok. That was a mistake," also think, "How can I make this happen."

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mindkiller.

    • I love the Dune reference. I thought I was the only geeky one.

      • April Stotler says:


        You know, I read Dune one summer after my dad threatened to take away my nerd card since I hadn't read it. I really, really, did not like that book. But I read it. The only thing I found useful or interesting was the concept of fear being a mind-killer and panic being the great chink in mental armor. That I will be grateful for.

        • I guess i have the platinum nerd card then lol. The entire Dune series is a very interesting analysis of human nature, but I'm a total sci-fi geek that way. I agree with you though. Fear is a very powerful force. We have to overcome it in order to be successful.

    • Unfortunately, even without tuition, I can't afford to move. The cost of living there is much higher, plus the pay for therapists is significantly lower. My rent alone would be more than I'd bring home in a month.

  2. I went to private school, not a Montessori school, but private school. Most private schools have scholarships, not just for academics but for need. Have you looked into that? Also I would keep investigating and make sure that what you see is what you'll actually get. As a product of private school, I have mixed feelings about it. My education was amazing, way better than the public schools in the area. Other aspects were not as great. Don't give up on this if this is something that is truly going to help him though. It sounds like he's really excited about it.
    You can always try pricing it out so you know what kind of job you would need to get to afford what he wants to do and what the cost of living for that would be. That way you could focus the job search. Going into freak-out mode only makes things seem more difficult. Maybe if you break things into smaller pieces, it will feel more manageable.

    • I know what kind of income I'd need, and unfortunately it's not possible in my field. Therapists simply do not make that kind of money, especially in that area. There are several colleges, so there are a billion therapists to take the lower salaries.

  3. That was incredibly raw and honest. I imagine it was difficult to write, but could be such a wake up call to readers that there are real consequences to financial mistakes. So often, we focus on the acheivable goals of "digging out of debt", and "increasing wealth", you just pulled the pf boogeyman out of the closet…lost time and money, as real things. Applause to your gift to readers in writing this post, and sympathy, as I know you're probably still hurting from this situation.

    • April Stotler says:

      I want to just say THIS.

      While we all want to help you and offer suggestions, it was incredibly brave of you to offer this up to us and say boldly, "Here I am. This is what I did. They rest of you are not alone."

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jillian. It's hard to put this kind of information out there, but hopefully it will help someone else realize the toll that debt can take.

  4. I don't think you will find a single person who never made a bad financial choice. However it is very difficult to find one who would admit it so openly and honestly like you did. I admire you for that! I made plenty in my life and I am still paying for them. Mistakes have a tendency to haunt us for a very long time!

    • The good thing about us is that we're at least willing to talk about our mistakes. When I read some blogs, I'm blown away by the fact that some people apparently make perfect choices 100% of the time. I think we provide value for real people who are struggling with the same decisions. 🙂

  5. I'm sorry Andrea, this is an awful feeling. I don't want to downplay your sense of despair but I think a lot can happen in a year. Your blog is becoming really successful, and you can blog from anywhere so maybe a move is possible? I just think you have time that maybe we don't have to write this off entirely just yet.

    Also I really like the Montessori idea. It would never fly beyond preschool here since our schools in Alberta are super-standardized, but I definitely want to send my future preschooler to a Montessori school (well, maybe. It is stupid expensive)

  6. You are right that it's so helpful to get finances in order in advance of needing them, but don't be too hard on yourself:  $800/ month is a lot, and many parents wouldn't be able to swing that.  Good luck finding a solution that works for your son- maybe there's a Montesorri homeschooling curriculum that he would do well with or some other path that would work. 

    • I'm looking into some options. I am VERY much against homeschooling – with all the hassle he gives me about homework, I can't imagine actually trying to teach him. But I have a feeling high school is going to be an absolute disaster, so I'm preparing for the possibility of doing Montessori at home. If that happens, you guys may be reading my posts about life in a loony bin!

  7. My ex boyfriend is an abusive narcissistic asshole, but I did learn one very important lesson from him: Try to look at every problem from many different angles. You can usually get what you want that way.

    * There is a scholarship for everything; are you a single mother of a teenage girl who participates in Pokemon tournaments in the summer and plays WoW during the winter? There's probably a scholarship for that. You just have to put in the time searching for them.

    * With your education, is there a possibility you can volunteer one or two days a week as an during/after-hours school counselor and get a discount on tuition?

    * Craigslist is your friend. You may be able to someone looking to rent their basement or two rooms in their house for a reasonable rate. It sucks sharing a house, but it's not forever, it's just a few years.

    * A previous post talked about the necessity of him having a car once he's old enough. In a larger city, that won't be necessary because public transportation is more readily available. Ask him if not getting a car in exchange for being able to go to this school is a sacrifice he's willing to make.

    * You've taken major strides in getting yourself on track. Don't let the "I shouldas" drag you down (or tempt you to go shopping!) What do you want Jayden to see during this time frame? You beating yourself up for bad decisions in the past or you pulling up your bootstraps and making good decisions now and in the future?

    Rock on, girl!

    • Thanks for the suggestions. Your point about a car is a good one; however, the tuition for a year is more than he'll even have to spend on a car. 

      And you totally caught me on the shopping thing. I've been shopping online almost all day – but I haven't bought anything!

  8. I totally sympathize, empathize and understand your post — as a parent, you definitely want to give your kids 100%. I am not going to try and say I understand because I don't have kids yet, but believe me, when I say I truly feel what you're saying.

    I have never been to private anything, and school has always been public (free) for me.The majority of kids (including myself), and even successful people in the world, did not have the benefit of private schooling and they make/made it work.In my experience, all the kids whom I went to business school with, and grew up going to special private schools like Montessori, having tutors and a fancy education, ended up just where I was.They had it easier than I did, so my only option was to work harder to make up for that "disadvantage".You may not be able to afford $8k/year for one kid, let alone $16k/year for two (it's about ~$120k in total if one kid starts at 3 and goes until 18!!), but what you can do, is spend time to supplement his education at home.I know this sounds so cheesy, but sitting down with them and being THEIR tutor because you have no other alternative, and getting them to realize that this is a hurdle that they have to overcome, could be a blessing in disguise.He'll just have to work twice or three times as hard as the other kids who have better advantages because of money, but money isn't everything.

    It isn't impossible and he shouldn't be led to feel resentful in the future that you couldn't pay for his private schooling, and all this other 'blame the other person' attitude I see now in my own brother, who feels like everyone but him is to blame for his lack of success.

    It could really be a good thing in the end.

    Even earning a good income, I daresay spending $8k/year on tuition would be a stretch when you consider that it doesn't include uniforms, school trips, and all the other things that other rich kids have, that the less fortunate kids lust after and wish they had.

    It becomes a spending trap when you hear Billy got a new bike at $3000 and you have none, or had to ride a $10 one. The guilt piles on when you hear Susie went (again!) to Paris for 2 weeks in the summer with her parents and you were stuck watching a movie about Paris.

    Just my two cents. Take from it what you want. I see your point and I feel your guilt, but this could be a great way to show that money isn't everything, and money doesn't guarantee or define success in anything in life — having a strong work ethic and working hard matters much more.

    • I understand what you're saying and I appreciate the time you took to type out such a thoughtful response. However, I'm not agonizing about this just because I want him to go to a private school. He's autistic, and the public school system here has not been able to provide what he needs to learn. There simply aren't resources like there would be in a bigger city. 

      If he was a "typical" child, I wouldn't even be thinking about this. I went to public schools my entire life and turned out okay, for the most part. But for him it's not about overcoming anything – he won't outgrow autism. He will be autistic his entire life, and his options will be limited. I just want to see him earn a high school diploma.

  9. It breaks your heart when you are unable to provide for your child. Starting to save early is key. The amount does not matter. 

    • Completely agree. I'm embarrassed to admit that he has more in savings than I do, but that's his money and not what I've personally saved for him. I kick myself for not saving for him – even if it was $50 a month, that would be enough right now to cover a year of tuition.

  10. Is homeschooling an option at all? You could tailor your son's education to him and it would be a lot cheaper. Might be something to explore with him since he hates public school so much.

    • My mom has really encouraged me to consider homeschooling. My concern is that I won't be able to keep myself from strangling him. A homework assignment that should take 15 minutes can take 2 hours. I just don't know that I could handle it! I haven't ruled it out, but I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that.

      • Maybe you could get past the busywork and worksheets and boring stuff and if he's active in selecting his curriculum, maybe he'd do it? There's co-ops, too. Your son might love it, ya never know! Maybe you could give it a trial run for a month this summer and if it goes well, cool, don't enroll in the fall. And if it's a big fail, then to public school he goes.

  11. Pam Brooks-Crump says:

    Hi there Andrea, I just happened upon your tweet.  I just want to say that I am dealing with my own financial crap! (Can you say that here?!)  Anyway, my children went to Montesorri when they were little and thru them I learned some amazing things to empower my kids and myself!  It was truly a great experience for us.

    Now about this $$ stuff for the tuition, I want to say, if this is truly the next right thing for your son, then it can and will happen. Don't ask me how, ask for Inner guidance. I send you and your son lots of love.

    Back to the $$$, I have set goals to get out of debt……may take 4-5 years!?

  12. I think you are beating yourself up WAY harder than necessary. No one
    knows the future. We make the best decisions we can with the
    information we have.

    I would continue to look
    into the school, and maybe take a visit. See if this is REALLY something
    you BOTH want. Scholarships may be available. If you have a year to get
    it in place, you can start planning now. You never know what the future
    will bring. 😉

    My son has Autism, and I know we
    have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars already. And I would do
    it all again. And if there was an opportunity like you have….I would
    see what I could do to make it work. Yes, it seems daunting, but there
    may be a social worker available to help.

    Don't give up yet.

  13. I'm sorry to hear that. I would feel the same way if I was in your shoes. 
    Is it really impossible to move? Maybe downsize for a few years and make some sacrifice? Sorry, I don't know your whole financial situation. Can you get a loan for tuition? 

    • Rent alone in Lexington would be more than I used to bring home in a month. It's just such a huge difference from what things cost over on this side of the state. Even if I went back to a full time job, I just wouldn't be able to make enough to cover everything.

  14. Andrea,
    Your feelings are understandable and valid.  Thanks for sharing.  I have no ideas to offer since others have done that already.  I do know that your post is making you sound defeated and that is not you.  You have a fire that I am sure will allow you to figure something out.  Hang in there.

  15. This post breaks my heart. I have a post going up tomorrow about financial readiness and kids – and this is what scares me. That I will have a kid, that kid will need something, and I will not be able to provide for them. I would encourage you not to despair – there are lots of way to get to your goal, and a lot can happen in a year. You've already accomplished so much, have faith. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, you might be able to get there yet. I would think your readers would even be happy to help you out if you put up a PayPal donation button for Jayden's schooling.

    • Oh gosh, there's no way I'm putting up a donation button. It would be different if he had a life-threatening illness or something, but it is definitely NOT someone else's responsibility to help pay for private school. Especially when the reason I can't pay for it is because I've been busy spending like an idiot. I do appreciate the sentiment though.

  16. Oh, Andrea 🙁

    I second the not giving up – there may be scholarships, perhaps some
    kind of state funding you could access, or maybe going to the regular
    high school and perhaps doing one or two days a week at Montessori? Just
    trying to throw some ideas out there. 

  17. I'm relatively new, so you may have covered this before now. Does your son have an IEP? Individualized Education Plan? Does he receive special services at the school he attends now? Are they not working? If he doesn't have those things, you need to speak to someone at the school now. Those things can make all the difference.

    Please don't fret over things that can't be changed now, as in the decisions you made years ago. You're working toward a better future each day that you make good decisions now. Every day that you're given (each day IS a gift, that's why it's called the present) simply continue to work toward the future that you envision. 

  18. I can see how there would be feelings of frustration, wanting to do something that could help your kid and make him happy, but having past money issues be a roadblock. Sorry this is upsetting you.

    Maybe there are scholarships and other options? Just trying to offer hopeful ideas.  Regardless, I think that sometimes we are really tough on ourselves for past decisions, but we can use those feelings to help us do great things in the future. 

    • Totally agree with you re: being tough on myself. If I'm not, I won't stay motivated to stop doing stupid stuff. Remembering things like this will remind me why I'm working so hard to do things differently.

  19. I echo the people who asked about scholarships and other creative ways of paying for it. And I'm probably going to lose my PF Blogger Card for saying this, but if you visit the school and see that it really could work for him…would you consider getting a loan for the tuition? Yes, it puts you in more debt, but it sounds like this is important to both of you.

    Thank you for sharing an honest and enlightening post. It does make me want to plan to be in the best financial position that I can. 

  20. I’m sorry to hear that. I would feel the same way if I was in your shoes. 
    Is it really impossible to move? Maybe downsize for a few years and make some sacrifice? Sorry, I don’t know your whole financial situation. Can you get a loan for tuition? 

  21. We've all been there and done that at one point in our lives.  I'm glad you were able to realize your mistakes so it never happens again. 

    I don't have kids, but I can only imagine how torn you feel inside.  Don't give up though, you have until next winter to create opportunities.  You never know what can happen from now till then!

  22. Andrea,

    This is a very touching post. Like others have said, please don't write off the possibility of this just yet. I agree with Bridget in that your blog is taking off. I see people linking to you and talking about you, your blog and your posts almost everywhere. You're on your way up and I wouldn't be surprised if you were able to afford this in a year or two. You're on a path to unstoppable success by being motivated and working hard at something you're passionate about. Don't write it off just yet. Anything is possible.

    I also believe there are probably scholarships and assistance you could find. I know it will be a lot of work though, but it would probably be worth it. The situation you're in is NOT easy and almost everyone recognizes it, therefore I would bet there is help. Heck, this post alone makes me want to break out my checkbook and help. It breaks mine and I'd bet most of your readers' hearts as well to not be able to do everything possible to help your son in school and life, growing up.

    Keep up all of your hard work, dedication and outstanding parenting. You'll figure this out, get through it and succeed as a parent. I'm sure of that.


    • Thanks for the encouragement, Kraig. It's not hopeless, but it sure feels that way right now. The good thing about these posts is that I can go back later and see how I felt at the time vs. how I feel later. It always helps.

  23. Thank you for sharing this story. Real experiences really hit the message home. I agree with April – you should check for Scholarships – there are always ways – stay positive 🙂

  24. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with public school system.  Your kids will be fine attending public school.  No need to send them to private school.  In the end, they will do just fine…  Good luck.

    • It's not that I just want him to go to a private school. He is autistic and the public school system is not providing what he needs to be able to learn. After years of fighting them, I'm just exhausted. The idea of a school that could meet his needs is like a miracle, but unfortunately it's one that's out of my reach.

  25. If someone has not made a mistake then he/she has not tried anything in life. I like your honesty. It's not bad to make mistake, it's bad not to learn from it. 

  26. that is heartbreaking!  Are you sure there aren't other options near where you live?  We have a lot of private schools around me that are very good for kids with learning challenges like Autism, aspbergers, ADHD, etc.  They aren't montessori, but they are still good.  I would keep looking.  Also, is he on an IEP?  Have you talked with the school about the situation and what they can offer to help him?  I have a child with Aspberger's and it is very hard, but the schools do help (sometimes, anyway.).

  27. Andrea, I think I live in that town you are talking about. We just had a new Montessori High School open. A few years ago I tried to transfer my daughter to the Montessori Middle School here because she was being bullied so badly as a 6th grader in a public middle school. She also has Asperger's. The folks at the Montessori Middle School wouldn't even look at her application because she had not grown up in Montessori and they didn't think she could make the switch to their curriculum. I was crushed. So don't kick yourself too much, I don't know for sure but they might not even consider your son if he has no Montessori experience.

    • Thanks for the input – that makes me feel a little better! I sent an email through the school's website to ask if they thought he would be appropriate, and no one even bothered to respond. So maybe it's not a great tragedy if he can't go, though it still doesn't do much toward solving the problem. So frustrating!

  28.  One thing to consider Andrea, if you do think about homeschooling. He can do a lot of learning on the computer through state charter schools. But it will be at his own pace. Even if it does take him 2 hours to do what would normally take another child 5minutes. That's ok with homeschooling. Check around for homeschooling groups, esp. those homeschooling kids on the spectrum and I bet you could find a ton of resources.

    • I've looked into online options. The problem is getting him to actually do it. It's not that he needs 2 hours to do the work – that's how much time it takes to force him to stop stalling and get started. I just feel like I would lose it and strangle him – he's SO unmotivated.

  29. I would call the school and explain the situation. Sometimes they have private donors. 

  30. Andrea, I couldn't help but notice that you put all the blame on yourself concerning financial choices.  Judging from what you've written in previous posts, your ex is a bigger financial screw-up than you've ever been! 
    Did he ever put money aside for Jayden's future?  I'm guessing it never even occurred to him.  Half of the responsibility for this situation goes to your ex.  Alright?  Alright.

  31. CentsToSave says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I think all suggestions have been made already, and they are all thoughtful and considerate.  I don't have much to offer in the form of suggestions, but I want to thank you for sharing.  As a mom ( and my kids are grown) I still cringe at times that I am not able to help them out when they really need it.  And your son probably has more in his savings account than I do…. as of late I have a hard time hanging on to money and it seems jobs as well. 

    Please don't be so hard on yourself.  You are a great mother!!   We all make choices that will haunt us FOREVER.  You are not alone. 

  32. Don't give up hope or right off the chance. Keep your head up, your heart in it and your eyes open.

    Everyone has given you advice and options. All I can tell you is not to write off the chance. Definitely keep your eyes open. A year is a lot of time for change. Leave the mistakes of the past in the past and focus on the future. You've learnt from them(the mistakes) and that is what they are for.

    Thank you for the advice and for sharing.

  33. Carrie Starr says:

    Facing the pain of our mistakes is torture- especially when it comes to our kids.  Thanks for your honesty at what we all have to lose with our financial choices.  Your vulnerability is so appreciated!

  34. Andrea, I have tears in my eyes because you so aptly convey your despair. I've read the other comments, and have found excellent advice so I won't bother to try to offer any except maybe looking into other public schools which might have better programs for your son's needs. Anyway, you are obviously a highly intelligent woman, and I would expect that you have thought about all the possible options.

    I would like to say that I think you are way too hard on yourself. There isn't a person alive who hasn't made serious mistakes (and hundreds of minor mistakes) in their life. Subconsciously, we always compare ourselves to what we think is the ideal, perfect person, and so of course we fall short, thereby causing ourselves all kinds of guilt and grief. From your posts, I'd say that Jayden is lucky to have you as a mom. I've heard it stated that if a kid has at least one person who is crazy about him that he will be fine. I think your son will be fine. And if you're worried about him being shunned at school, tell him that many successful people hated high school because they felt like outcasts among their classmates, including Lady Gaga and Anthony Hopkins.

    But perhaps most importantly is the fact that, for every glowing review of a Montessoril school, you will probably find as many negative reviews. There are no guarantees that he will love it there, and there are certainly no guarantees that a school like that will prepare him for adulthood ( where you can't work at your own pace or do whatever you want when you want to).

    In summation, the most important thing to realize is that you are loving and caring for your son, so don't beat yourself up so much.

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