Single Mom and I Can't Afford Living in a Good Neighborhood- Any Tips?

Updated on June 06, 2014
V.L. asks from Montgomery, AL
23 answers

My ex and I separated two years ago. My daughter will be starting school next year and I am panicking because all of the good schools in my city are in neighborhoods that are far out of my price range. I do get child support, but my ex doesn't work, just collects veterans disability so it's not much. I have a good job and all that, and I can take care of us just fine. I was even considering private school because I found a couple that cost about the same as I currently pay for daycare, so it was doable. But just recently I realized that in order to LIVE near the good schools, you better have $$$$$! Most of the schools I like don't even have apartment complexes in the district, and there are also no rental homes at all. The few that have them- the rents are so high I could just buy a house and pay less.

Are any of you out there single moms who managed to get your kids in a good school? How did you do it? I live in San Antonio, and it's growing so fast that even though the cost of living is alright, many areas are quickly becoming "posh" and hiking prices accordingly. There used to be a blend in most areas, but now it's very right-and-wrong-side of the tracks, so to speak. I realize there is probably no magic answer to this, but just thought I would see if there was a solution I hadn't thought of yet. Thanks!

Edit: Sorry, I typed something and deleted it about private schools/location: there is really only one private school I could easily afford, and it's 15 miles off of my 20 miles drive to work. That would total driving 100 miles a day and that's not feasible. I was trying to move to an area where the school would just be on my way to work but that wasn't happening so I started looking at the public schools but ran into the same $$ problem, only with the added bonus of having to live in very specific tiny areas to be in the district boundaries.

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answers from Beaumont on

Some of the nicer neighborhoods have "guest houses". Perhaps you could rent one and offer some sort of service (babysitting on weekends, occasional evenings for the people) as a bonus to them??

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Cumberland on

Many private schools offer need based scholarships-pick a school and see if they can work with you-good luck

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answers from Killeen on

So, I dont have any tips on helping you to afford a better neighborhood, but I do have another perspective. My daughter was just starting Kindergarten when I separated from my husband. I moved from Houston to Austin and had to pull my daughter out of her private school and put her in a low income public school that I was not thrilled about. It ended up being a great school and a huge asset to her educational experience.To make a long story short, my daughter is 15 now and hasn't gone to school in that area since 2nd grade(when we moved to a more posh neighborhood and I hated that school and so did she). The low income school had awesome teachers who cared about the kids and a lot of resources for single parents. To this day she still brings up that school. So maybe don't judge the schools you can afford so harshly. Give them a chance.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Your child will get out of his/her education what he/she/you put into it. Many exceptionally bright and talented people went to elementary schools that were not in the best neighborhoods. If your child WANTS to learn, and applies himself/herself to that end, then he/she will do just fine. If you are concerned that they won't get a good educational foundation, then supplement with Kumon or Sylvan.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

The area of Maryland we live in can be considered low-income, at least the specific district for our elementary school. I moved my kids to my parents school, they live 10 minutes north of me, and they HATED the school, so we moved them back.

At their Title 1 school, they get so many benefits the "higher income" schools don't get. My kids also do harder work than many of the "higher testing" schools in the area as well. I have friends who moved just to get in to those schools and now they are unhappy.

I agree with those who say your child will get what you and you child make out of the education they are provided. No need to spend a fortune on private education unless it's what you WANT to do. My mom is a college professor and I ask her on a regular basis if she can tell where her students come from (publich, private, or homeschool). Her answer is often NO. NOt always, but often enough for me to know that my kids will get the best education offered to them because of the dedication we all put in to it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I live in San Antonio. I have done a lot of research on schools because we chose to live near downtown, and our neighborhood school has suffered from very low test scores. It is getting better, but still only ranks a 3/10 on

Currently our kids are in private school, but the only one we can afford is the one at our church because we get the church member discount. Our kids will eventually age out.

Here is what I've found:
There are many free options that are good. There are many free public charters. We may eventually apply to Hawthorne, which is k-8. Bonham is K-8, but very competitive to get into if you don't live in the neighborhood. My neighborhood school is becoming a k-8 charter next year but I'm giving it a few years to see how it goes. KippAcademy is tuition-free. Carver is now tuition-free. Higgs-Carter-King Gifted and Talented Charter is tuition-free. Those of us who live in SAISD have learned that there are actually many options.

The problem you may have is that if your daughter starts K next year, it may be too late to get her into these schools, but you can start her in K in a neighborhood school and then apply around for the next year. I am not sure if the School of Science and Technology is tuition -free, but it might be.

I assume you've moved here recently, as it says you're writing from AL?
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

What's a "good " neighborhood? Columbine, Colorado was a "Good" neighborhood.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You might want to consider contacting a realtor to see if they might be able to guide you. Oftentimes there are units/houses that aren't even listed, but they know of--lots of realtors own rental properties, and you never know what kinds of vacancies they might have.

We own 3 rental homes and on 1 of our homes we decided to rent it out well below market value to help give a fresh start to a newly divorced parent who needed a little help getting life back on track. Our best tenant yet--we don't plan on raising that rent any time soon, even though we could easily get at least $200/mo more if we wanted.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Have you thought about a charter school? I am sure there are several in San Antonio.

Some charter schools do expect a supplemental payment, but it wouldn't be as much as a private school. That way you could live in your current neighborhood (with lower costs) and drive her to the charter school.

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


You need to contact a real estate agent. Either see what you can qualify for for a mortgage or rental.

Then start talking to schools, they might have a family at the school that is leaving and doesn't want to sell their home - believe it or not - many parents do talk to the school about stuff like this.

If you are considering private schools - talk to them about scholarships.

What about jobs? If the area is growing, have you asked your boss for a raise? Or a better paying job?

I don't live in San Antonio. I wouldn't know the neighborhoods there. I don't know what your idea of "Good" is either. Are you looking at ratings on "" or going on some other tidbit of information.

Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

How exactly do you define a "good" school. There are always great teachers in "not so great" schools and "not so great" teachers in "good" schools.

I used to be all about reputation and test scores but these assessments are grossly unfair and has nothing to do with how educationally successful your child would become.

We have a very reputable elementary school in our district. Their scores are always at the top of every testing. But then again every graduate of that school has started there from kindergarten, most from preschool. They don't have to account for the foreign speaking students who came into this country at 4th grade.

Set up a visit with your local school. Meet up with the principal and set up a tour. Look at their website. Peek at their newsletters. Things like this can give you flavor of what the school climate is like.

My older daughter's school is a title one school (I don't know if that is the same for all other states but in MI it means that more that half of the student body qualifies for free lunch.) I do not know if it means that they are from the wrong side of the track but a great number of kids who excel are trailer park kids. That seems to be a right track type of kids to me. These kids are excelling not because the standards are low but because the principal,the teachers, the parents and the kids themselves are extremely committed. My daughter was new at this school this year and although she missed her old school she has been happy and very successful at this school as well.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

School is not the be all and end all of education. We moved a year ago away from the excellent private school my children attended. They now attend the local public school. I was worried like you, but I made the decision that my children's education did not depend only on the school. It was the same decision my own parents made for me. In fact, my own children attend the same school now that I did. I have ended up with a postgraduate degree and a fantastic career.

The key was what my parents did with me. We read at home, we had discussions about history, politics, current affairs - everything. I learned piano (I think music is a great part of education), I learned Japanese and Bahasa Indonesia. We watched documentaries. We debated and learned to think for ourselves and to have our own opinions. Just having education and learning as an ongoing part of your everyday life will benefit your children so much. My parents were also invested in the curriculum at our school. None of this cost much, if anything - but it certainly made a huge difference to my life.

Rather than spending money on private schools, I'd save up the daycare money and take your children travelling to new places and different countries.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

There is no need of proof of residence for private schools. Confused?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I am currently driving 120 miles a day (before noon) just to take and pick up my son from wrestling practice. We live about 30 miles from the middle and high school in our county.
And this is sort of a cut back--their first 2 years in public school, I drove them to school and picked them up at the end of the day, and the elementary school was further out of the way than just going to the high school/middle school in one trip. I easily drove 750 miles a week, just going to and from the schools.
And why? Because the bus route required my elementary kid and 6th grader to board a bus full of high school kids at 6:15 a.m. if they wanted to ride it to school in the morning.

Everything is relative.
Figure out what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do, and go from there. If moving to a high rent school district isn't an option, then look at your other options and make some decisions. If you try the school she is currently zoned for, and don't like it, you can always consider other options later. But if you don't try it, then you won't know if it is not a real and good option. There's no rule that says you and she are stuck in your current home for the duration of her educational career.

For us, getting the kids up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the school bus at 6:15 (when school doesn't start until 8:00 a.m.) was not something we were willing to do. So we had to be willing to make that drive. I did that for 2 years. Then we did online school from home for a year. Then, I figured out a workaround for the morning bus route, and I drive my kids to another stop, where they don't have to board the bus until 6: 50 a.m. Still pretty early in my book, but it is where we are in our choices/decisions. The kids are older, too, and no longer the "little" kids on the bus.

As life goes on, things change and can BE changed. Nothing is set in stone. Don't make yourself crazy feeling like this one decision now is going to make or break your child's life. It won't.
Just a thought.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

What my friend has done is rent a room to someone so that she gets a little help with the bills and that person gets a place to stay. Where she lives, there are servicemembers who may be single or living apart from their families on a short assignment and it's win-win for both of them. A friend of mine in college rented a room from an older couple her freshman year. It was cheaper than the dorm because she wasn't forced to use the meal plan.

RE: the private school, I lived many places and still attended the same school. What mattered was if my parents could pay and I was able to get there (either via car or one of the buses they provided). Would she be able to get a bus or carpool?

ETA: I also agree to talk to the school near you and parents whose kids attend that school. I was leery of our local school but as it turned out, DD got two of the best teachers I could ever have hoped for. She has not been bullied. Teachers are not fighting with the principal. I talked to parents about another school, too, and heard things like "intense" and "not warm" and "industrial". When I toured that school, I really tried to like it, but...didn't. The program looked really good on paper and other people have been happy, but was it right for MY kid? I'm actually glad she didn't get in. Remember, too, it matters how YOU are involved and if you and your ex are involved in her education, she will do well wherever she is.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

Is there a magnet program in your community that your daughter might qualify for? I lived in the ghetto because that was the only place where I could afford the rent, but my daughter was G/T, and I was able to decide which public school's G/T program I wanted her in. It meant a little extra driving on my part to get her there and I had to arrange for someone to pick her up, but it was worth it to not have her attend a school where police had found the burned body of a drug dealer on the roof.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Richland on

If you are considering a private school what does it matter where you live? I know a lot of people who live in bad districts and just drive their kids to private schools.

It is usually cheaper than moving.

Per your edit, The preschool my kids went to was 20 miles from my house, 18 miles past my work and I drove it every day because that was the best preschool. I passed my work twice a day going to and from!

I am saying this because you need to except that you will not get everything you want, you are going to have to make sacrifices. It that means driving 70 miles a day then that is your sacrifice. You do what you have to do for your kids.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

we live in a moderate income area.. and send our kids to a "better" school in a better district.. but ... our kids do exactly the same school work in the better district as the kids that live in our moderate neighborhood and go to the neighborhood school.

Schools that achieve a great rating.. are not necessarily better.. it just means that they have a bunch of high income kids attending that are tutored on weekends and after school.. take after school lessons and have college educated high income parents. The teachers work just as hard in a bad school district...

I would not move to a better neighborhood just for a school. then your child will be the poor kid in a rich district that doesn't have the cool clothes and isn't picked up in a shiney new car.. and isn't taking piano with the top rated piano teacher.. better to stay where you are ...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

As fun as it is all schools have standards they have to meet or they can't legally be a school. I'd say you need to consider where you work and start planning on finding something closer to your job. That's a lot of driving.

Then start putting money back for a down payment. Once you have some money saved from not having to pay child care, just after care, you can find a modest home in many areas.

School is school, especially the first few years.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

I do know some moms who send their kids to charter schools. Other people in some areas can do a district transfer. A few parents who did the transfer have decided the 'good school' was not a god fit (driving, feeling they did not fit in) and opted for their neighborhood school.

Renting a small guest house sounds like a nice idea . If you only have one child it could work. You can look at craigslist.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

***Added Gamma G is right. For the first few years, just save money toward better school for middle school and up. Basic kindergarten and first and even second grade will be OK for all kids pretty much unless you're in a TERRIBLE place. Even fancy early grades here in U.S. aren't going to teach a second language or anything...Get yourself a little house in a better area in a few years as a goal***

I'm a single mom too with same problem. All the schools around us are mediocre at best and our local public school is "bad". By bad I mean the teachers and school are fine for an average American school, and it's safe, but the curriculum is the low standard of regular American schools, and the population is mainly low income working class with very few parents with "time" to get involved with school stuff. So you've got very large classes full of kids whose parents have not read to them much and treat school as daycare and there are lots of behavior issues. Therefore, there are LOTS of kids keeping the classes back to pretty slow levels.

My daughter is in 2nd grade and advanced with good behavior. We homeschooled until recently with advanced classical materials. She's pretty much ignored in class because she knows the material and has no behavior issues. The teacher has to focus on the kids who DON'T get the material and who are causing trouble. There is no teachers aid for 28 students. It is frustrating to know that my daughter could be pushed to learn more, instead of biding time while others catch up. There are no AP classes in the school.

So that's probably what you're looking at for a "not so good school". But if your child is "in the mix" and not ahead, they will be pushed to learn whatever is being taught, it's just not advanced enough imo.

We're actually trying to move to France for fall, but if we are unable to, I'm going to either homeschool again OR try augmenting learning at home big time. To be honest I don't see how that will work since my kids already have so much to do after school..They're burned out after school and need a break weekends, I can't imagine being all like, "OK now kids, let's do some REALLY hard work that they don't teach in school"..but I will not be happy with the learning standards if I just send them off and don't stay very involved.

On the BRIGHT SIDE, even the "good schools" you want to be near are probably not much BETTER, it's just that they probably have the parent base that's more into keeping their own kids educated so the whole environment is better.

You can achieve that extra learning somewhat no matter where your kid goes to school. I'm unhappy with our school, BUT, the kids love it, and the rest of our life is GREAT in this area. Nice big house, safe beautiful area, lots of nature, affordable music and martial arts lessons, safe environment, lots of friends, lots of activities....we would NOT be able to afford this quality of life elsewhere, ESPECIALLY not near fancy "excellent" schools. So. That's the good old USA. You've got to be loaded to easily and automatically get the great education and the great future income...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

You've already received a lot of good advice so I don't know how helpful my input will be, but I can tell you that I am from SA and my children went to a fantastic elementary school in the NEISD. It is called Oak Meadow and it is on Northwest Military Hwy. There are a ton of apartment communities in the area. I'm not sure what your price range is, but I think it is possible to find a small apartment for around $600-$800/month in that area. There also may be some small homes for rent in areas like Castle Hills Forest.

Growing up, I lived in the 281/1604 area; we were zoned to Thousand Oaks Elementary which I believe is still a good school. There are also lots of apartments in that area.

Keep in mind that a school doesn't have to be 'Exemplary' to be good. Oak Meadow is 'Recognized,' but a big reason for that is that it is also the hub of the district for Special Ed. This brings down their test scores a bit, which is why they haven't (to my knowledge) reached 'Exemplary' status, but it is still an awesome school and my daughters really benefited from learning alongside their special ed classmates. It is really a fantastic atmosphere.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

You can look into financial aid for a private school near you.

Does your school district have magnet schools?

What about a zone variance or perhaps they have openings at some of the better schools where you can place your child. Call your school district and ask them what your options are.

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