Personal Finance: To board or not to board?

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, November 5, 2009; 11:31 AM

I really want to know what you think of a recent Post story, Private school families say boarding makes sense in Washington region (Nov. 3).

The story, by reporter Michael Birnbaum, highlights a growing trend of parents sending their children off to boarding schools close to home. Parents are paying nearly $50,000 to educate and board high school students.

Even if I had it like that, I wouldn't do it like that.

Here's what one parent said: "With kids' schedules and our work schedule, frankly, we're only missing each other at dinner. We talk to her every day. We see her two or four times a week."

Another parent said: "And where can you get 24-hour supervision, seven days a week, for just a nominal increase over the tuition?"

Parents argue they do it for the convenience, that they don't have the time to shuttle back and forth to school. I suspect they also see it as a way for their kids to excel and succeed.

But succeed at what price? What about the interaction and relationships with younger siblings? What about the intangible things that you expose them to while talking at dinner? Whose values will they be picking up and emulating if they're living away from you?

Maybe it's just me. There just seems something askew in the reasons these parents gave for their decision.

What do you think?

Here's the Color of Money Question of the Week: If you had the money, would you send your child off to boarding school? Send your answer to Put "To Board Or Not To Board" in the subject line.

Celebrity Cash: Someone Who's Getting it Right

Normally when I'm writing about celebrities and their cash, the topic is money they've wasted or lost to fraud or mismanagement. I highlight the financial foibles of the rich and famous to illustrate that it's not how much you make that matters, but how you make do with what you have. It's a lesson I learned from my grandmother, Big Mama.

But this week, I'm not chastising a celebrity but celebrating one who is more than making do with what he has.

Madieu Williams, a player for the Minnesota Vikings, has donated $2 million to my alma mater, University of Maryland. It is the largest gift to the school from an African American alumnus and the largest sum donated by someone so young, reports The Post's Daniel de Vise. The donation will help create a center that focuses on public health initiatives in both Prince George's County, Md. and his native country, Sierra Leone. Williams graduated from Maryland in 2003. I'm not telling what year I graduated, but I'm certainly proud that another Terp is being so charitable.

At only 28 years old, this incredible young man is making a big difference. Ask yourself how can you do the same with whatever money or talent you have.

On Success

One might argue that it's easy for Williams to be so generous when he earns so much. But one measure of success is someone who uses what has been given to him or her to help others.

What are other measures of success? How do you define success?

Debuting this week is a new feature from The Washington Post called "On Success." The page features a panel of experts, including some of the most accomplished people in Washington, who will debate all kinds of thought-provoking questions: Are successful people simply smarter than others? When does failure lead to success? Does the election of Barack Obama make it easier for minorities to succeed, or harder?

Please check out On Success. Read what others have to say and join in the debate or conversation. There's even a career coach who will be answering questions about how to achieve success in your own life. Plus, bloggers will be posting daily about their efforts to accomplish their goals.

I'm one of the On Success panelists. In one of my recent posts, I talk about my definition of success. Hint: Part of my definition includes having a fine, sexy, kind, gentle husband. We will be celebrating 18 years of a successful marriage next week.

Live Chat Today

If you want to jump in right away and talk about how you define success, join me today for an online discussion at noon ET. Or submit a personal finance question. If you can't join me live, read the transcript.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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