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Loudoun mom’s diary: The sock, the fears, the tears

Crystal Owens and her sons, Sam, 5, and Owen, 8 months old, wait for the bus in Stone Ridge on the first day of school.
Early August

It all started with those darn chair socks. There they were. The one item on the school supply list for my soon-to-be-kindergartener that I found myself searching for on Google. Chair sock? Really?

Turns out, it's just like it sounds. Socks for chairs … and no where to be found in any store in Northern Virginia. Sure, I could have searched Amazon, but, like any good journalist and full-time working mother, I procrastinated.

Thus began the start of my back-to-school anxiety.

No one wants to be the mom of the kid who doesn't have all he needs for class.

After a month on the hunt, I gave up. No chair socks for my 5-year-old. I draw the line at knitting for inanimate objects.

He also went to school without five packs of eight-count crayons – because the 24-pack wasn't enough – and four pens (black, flair, fine tip). And, trust me on this, there's none of those to be found in Loudoun County and parts of Fairfax, either.


Two days prior to kindergarten orientation at Pinebrook Elementary School, my husband and I found ourselves debating what all the schedules we got meant. I'm sure for most, it's elementary (no pun intended), but we were clueless.

Once we figured out our child was to go with us (no, I'm not kidding, we honestly didn't know that) the staff at the school eased our tensions.

Then came the dreaded bus practice. Getting my child on the bus in the morning … no problem. But what happens when school lets out for the day? My husband and I are at work. We're transplants via four different states, so family help is not an option. This was a problem I had put out of my mind for years, hoping that by the time Sam was 5-years-old, Loudoun County would have full-day kindergarten. And my family would be saving nearly $14,000 a year in daycare costs (yes, that's just one child.) No such luck.

The countdown

I knew Sept. 2 would come one day. I was prepared. My son, Sam, has been in daycare since he was 10-months-old. I spent two weeks crying on my way to work each day when I started with the Loudoun Times-Mirror almost five years ago.

I've got this, I thought. Wrong. So wrong. As Sept. 2 drew closer, my stomach knotted each time someone asked me if Sam was excited about school.

All the questions that go through every mother's mind began to take over … well maybe not every mother. Thoughts of children flying through the air in a seatbelt-less bus crash, a stray chair sock hitting the driver in the head, invaded my dreams.

See, after more than a decade in journalism, most of it working as a public safety reporter, I've covered just about every possible scenario involving crimes against children. Let's just say I'm paranoid.

The hustle and bustle

So here we are. Hustling one kid to the bus stop, our 8-month-old to daycare. From elementary school, my child must get on another bus to take him to a taekwondo studio. There we pay to continue the second half of his kindergarten education and an hour of taekwondo lessons.

Did I forget to say he also plays hockey three days a week? I honestly, after this week, will have the utmost respect for all Loudoun County parents. I can't imagine they're not as stressed as I am.

My smiling face

With all my anxiety and complaining about Sam's first day – did I mention my eyes welled with tears four times during orientation – my brave little guy on Sept. 2 strapped on his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack, walked to the bus stop with us and, without even so much as a flinch, hopped on the bus. He was so excited he barely told me and his father good-bye. I stood and watched the bus drive away with my no-longer baby inside.

Next stop – high school graduation (at least in this mother's mind.)


...and Everett only buys cheap beer on sale to further extend his disposable income.

Ah! Everett is a trust fund baby! No wonder he doesn’t have any debt like us regular people do. Must be nice to be born into money.

Crystal / Audra-

I do not abide by this budget. However,  I am 1 of 3 children, and 2 of my siblings (younger) currently live with my parents who make the aforementioned salary and live under the aforementioned expenses as I manage their finances due to their health. Additionally, as mentioned in my earlier post I have spoken to MANY people in my neighborhood who fit right into this scenario. In summary, it has been done, therefore “my estimates are not way off the mark” per your reference.

Groceries: you must be eating from the organic section of Wegmans or very overweight to blow $1,000 a month on groceries.

Gas- I have a mustang and actually commute 50 miles roundtrip 4 days per week. Trade in your SUVs and get a prius if you blow $800 on gas.

Utilities- Cut out the extreme package cable with high speed internet , and $250 will cover water, electric, and gas. I have cell phone, but it is paid by my lady friend.

Auto and House Insurance- $150 for 2 cars and 1 house. I have a 1 fun car and 1 commuting car.

Medical Insurance- If you are paying $800 for medical insurance your getting ripped off royally.  If you had skills that were lucrative and your employer valued that they would pay 100% as in my case.

As for all the other nonsense you posted did I not allocate $1,000 a year on repairs of house and cars in my previous post?  Also did I not allocate $1,000 for miscellaneous expenses which “haircuts” would fall under ?

And for CC debt, I don’t have any nor have any desire to. My income covers my expenses, and if I go in the red due to so called “emergencies” , I have a trust fund that my grandparent’s set up that I can tap into. Sometimes when I am in the mood I will take a distribution from the Trust and go on a nice vacation.

Two thumbs up to Audra!

I don’t have small children. It’s just me and my college-age son. With coupons/sales/cooking from scratch, I spend an average of $400 in groceries per month. My utilities are $180 currently and I’m on budget plans, don’t watch TV and use low energy lighting in my 2BR apartment. We practically sit in the dark at night. I’m sure it could be less, but Mr. Landlord isn’t interested in replacing the crappy windows. Then again, I’m not interested in him raising my rent either. I pay $50/month for medications not covered by insurance. My son pays more for his asthma & allergy medications. I have 50 cents in my savings account. Why? I moved to VA 8 years with $600 in cash to my name. Do you have any idea how hard it is to pay off student loans at 8.125% interest (37 payments left!), a single credit card (18 months if things go my way), loans from family for moving/divorce expenses (you didn’t think that was free money, did you?), medical expenses for getting cancer, and oh yeah: 2 of the 3 vehicles we’ve owned since moving here have died. I’m lucky I can walk to work and my son takes the bus to class, so I can put off getting a car of my own until next spring (though I’d be THRILLED if I could find one of those majikal free cars that need no repairs).

I’ve run the numbers and sure, I’d be sitting pretty if I had no debt, but alas, I live in the real world where most people do.

Ms. Owens, you might try http://www.nancyprotectz.com/ as a source of the mysterious item that we schooled without for so many generations (or cheap baby socks may work, too!)

From one mom to another, don’t mourn the babies they were. Celebrate the people they’re growing up to be: what will they do next?! I cried the day my son left home for his first real job in another state, but they were tears of joy because I’d finally done it: I’d raised a confident, self-sufficient, empathetic young man. My heart burst with pride that day. I still can’t wait to see what he does next :)

*Editors note: This comment was posted on behalf of Audra as our website is having technical difficulties in allowing readers to register to post.

I believe you are way off the mark on your estimates.  Are you just trying to play the devil’s advocate or do you actually live and abide by this budget?  I have identified a few flaws in your math.

Groceries – $400 a month?  Where are you shopping and for how many people?  I just spent $190 for groceries for a family of 5 that will last less than 1 week, and that is with buying items on sale and bargain shopping.  If you think you can buy groceries to feed a growing family and sundries such as toilet paper and other necessities for only $100 per week, you’re dreaming.

Gas - $150 a month?  Are you serious?  Where do you work, like 2 miles down the road from your house?  In the Northern VA area, it is not unrealistic for commuters to drive 80+ miles to AND from work per day.  In my household, we spend close to $800 on fuel for our vehicles, just so we can get to and from work.  If you want to make at least $60K a year, you’ve got to drive closer to the city where jobs actually pay that much. 

Utilities - $250/mo?  If you are living in a house that is selling for around $440K like you indicate, there’s no way you are heating and cooling and supplying water to your home for $250 per month.  And I’m not even including phone, internet, or cable, which I am sure you don’t have given that you don’t live beyond your means (oh wait, you did post online, didn’t you).  $250 a month for basic utilities is unrealistic.  I am also assuming you don’t have a cell phone.

Auto Insurance - $150 per month?  How many cars do you have?  Assuming you only have 1 car since only 1 of your family members works and the rest probably sit around the house all day (but not watching cable TV or using the internet, of course).

Health insurance 100% paid by the company for the ENTIRE family?  What company do you work for because I’d love to know if they are hiring.  My family currently pays over $800 per month in medical insurance coverage, and that’s WITH the employer contributing a fair share.  Most employers pay even less or none at all.  Get your head out of the sand, please.

What about other necessities like medical copays, prescriptions, and haircuts?  Or should we get a flowbee?  Do you go to church?  If you do, I am guessing you don’t contribute when they pass around the offering plate, do you?

And as you said, your example assumes no cc debt, car debt, medical debt, or student loan debt.  That is just unfortunately not a reality for most people.  If you don’t have any money to put into savings as in your example, how do you save up for stuff like a vehicle or emergency expenses?  God forbid your roof should start leaking – then what?

Lastly, and most importantly, I believe you missed the entire point and spirit of this article.  I do not believe the author was complaining about having to pay for daycare or that Loudoun County Public Schools can’t get with the times and offer full day kindergarten like every other county in the area.  She was simply writing a lighthearted piece that only a mother whose child is growing up and starting kindergarten would understand.  Something you, obviously, can’t relate.

Stifer Mom,

There is plenty of people in my neighborhood where 1 parent works and other stays home. Therefore, there is no need for after school care (a supposedly $14,000 expense / per year).

Regarding your assertion ...” $60K isn’t a reality for a family of 4 in Loudoun County.” I have spoken with plenty of people in my neighborhood (families of 3 and up) who make that much or even less. I don’t live in a poor neighborhood either (TH’s are selling for $440K).

Let me educate you on some basic math:

$60,000 salary after taxes is about $48,000
Mortgage = 12 months at $2,000/ month = $24,000/yr
Real Estate taxes = 12 mo. at $350 month =4,200/yr
Personal Property tax= 100 a month = $1,200/ yr
House and Car Insurance = $1,500 year
Food= $400 a month . $4,800 per year
Gas = $150 month.  $1,800 per year
Utilities = $250 a month . $3,000 a year
Clothing and Gifts = $2,000 a year
Repairs (house and car- EST.)  $1,000 a year
Kids Activities = $1,000 a year
Miscellaneous = $1,000 a year
Vacation = $1,000 a year

Grand Total = $46,500 .  Stifer Mom- Figure out what to do with the rest of the $1,500. Maybe enroll in a course at NVCC to improve your math skills ?

My example also assumes NO CC Debt, Car debt, Medical debt, and student loan debt.  Also this scenario is pay check to pay check with little to no savings.  Also,  Employer pays medical, dental, vision, and parking ( a reality for many).

Perhaps your family needs way more money because you live beyond your means and you have to work so don’t complain on the LTM boards about your poor choices in life .

With respect, your opinion is completely out of line and offensive. Allow me to educate you, there is NOTHING free about LCPS. Our taxes, including the LTM reporters are the highest out of nearly 3,300+ counties in the entire Commonwealth. The LCPS budget is near $1B ($897M) and guess who funds the LCPS…it’s the tax payers.
For 2014/5 school year enrollment was north of 79K students. Loudoun has been reported as the wealthiest County in the entire USA, yet Loudoun doesn’t offer Full Day Kindergarten.

Half Day is 2.40 hours per day, but equals less than 2 hours of instructional time, when you factor in recess, snack time and settling in for class. Yes 2 hours to teach 5-6 year olds, many oh whom have 28+ classmates and only 1 Teacher with a part time teachers aide.

So what Ms. Owens spends $16k in after school care for her son. That’s $16K of her family’s hard earned money being pumped back in it Loudoun’s Business Economy. She’s not asking for a government subsidy, she and her husband (who’s a veteran) worked hard, but are forced to spend $1,250 a month to supplement their child’s education, because of the lack of FDK.
And $60K isn’t a reality for a family of 4 in Loudoun County. The median household income in Loudoun is $109K, so by your logic you’re saying her family could make it work with 40% less income.
To the Author, Reporter and mom…this was a great piece, it was peppered with humor, startling facts and shared thoughts of thousands of other Loudoun County parents. On the chair sock thing, use baby/toddler socks :)

But shouldn’t Day Care (paid by taxpayers) be a right?  LOL!

$14,000 daycare? Hopefully comes with gourmet meals.

Perhaps live within your means so BOTH parents don’t have to work !!!  $60,000 income per year is more than enough (yes, even Loudoun) if you have no credit card debt , car debt, student loans, and medical debt.  Mortgage debt is okay.

I guess everyone has to live above their means. Then don’t complain on LTM about how both parents have to work and how the school system failed you by not giving you free full day Kindergarten.

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