The Gift of Barter

As I look back on my life as a young mom, I often think about how lucky I was to have been born with an ability to work creatively to get my kids the things they needed (and I needed) in this life. Because we were broke on and off through all of those child rearing years I had to think ‘outside of the box’ before that phrase became popular.

It all really started when I was in college.

I had an efficiency apartment (fancy term for one room with a bath and a hot plate) in Hartford and I didn’t have the rent money. The landlord knew I was an artist so I went to him and made him a deal. He LOVED Spanish women! Okay, I painted him a made up portrait of a beautiful Spanish lady complete with mantia an all! It was worth $130 plus heat and hot water. I was off and running!

Then, when I was freelancing advertising work for a furniture store when my first daughter was born and I worked from home, the guy who owned the store was short on cash and I was short on furniture. So we made a deal and as I am typing this blog tonight nearly 30 years later, I am actually sitting at my solid cherry dining room table typing on my laptop looking at the six beautiful chairs an a solid cherry hutch! Best deal of the century.

That’s how it started. In the 80’s my kids started parochial elementary school. You have to know that you are paying double for your kid’s education when you do this because you still have to pay the taxes for the public schools and then pay tuition on top of that for your kids to go to private school. We weren’t rich, and I wasn’t pleased with the performance of the public schools in my town. So we scraped together the tuition for the oldest and got her through the first two years. But when the second kid was going to go it pretty much was out of our reach.

I went to the nun and the parish priest and begged them to let my kids go to the school and I would do all of their graphic and advertising work! And guess what? They agreed! This was great! It went on through all the years that four of my daughters went through that school! Of course there was one thing I had to do other than the advertising work… I attended 17, yes 17, identical Christmas Pageants! It was okay though; all four children had lead rolls or sang solos in the story of the Nativity. Guess I could do that!

But then the oldest one graduated 8th Grade.

She wanted to go to an all girl parochial high school where the tuition was more than going to your local community college! So what did I do? I sat down and wrote the letter of my life as I call it. (Just make a note… I wrote many of these over the years when it came to financial aid in colleges, which I will share with you all later on.) I wrote to the principal, and since I had done such a great job for the elementary school, the principal of the school wrote an endorsement letter to the principal of the high school also. (It didn’t hurt that both these nuns were best friends either.)

Consequently, three of my four daughters attended that high school. As I said before, my second oldest needed special education help and because the high school was in another town I couldn’t get the remedial services for her there. She went to a trade school at which I sat on an advisory board for her department.

When it came to college, all bets were off. But I did learn enough about the financial aid gig to get all four through college with way less debt than most poor kids. I learned to play the game so well that I wrote a book about it!

I guess what I’m putting out there for all working parents who are behind the eight ball financially with whatever they dream for their kids is this….

Be creative.

Think of all the talents you have and how they can work for you. Who could use these talents and how much are they worth. By thinking outside of the box I got my kids through a lot. I furnished my house, I fixed my cars, and I even picked up some oriental rugs along the way!  Some things work better than money.

Just plant the seed.

7 thoughts on “The Gift of Barter

  1. Chris, you are a pistol! Such a zest for life comes through in all your posts. You probably don’t realize how special you are. I would never have the guts to barter the way you do — it takes a lot of confidence and moxie. I loved reading about your adventures!

    I too had to be creative about money matters and somehow got two kids through private elementary school and then college. I think the challenge of making things happen without a lot of easy money around makes life so much more interesting and the benefits of the creative hunt that much more satisfying. My kids are second-generation financial aid recipients and (along with me) are paying off their college loans. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Builds character!

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