The Middle Class Parent Dilemma: What to Do if You Can’t Afford Private School

by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach on October 24, 2012

in Personal Finance


As parents, we drive ourselves nuts – and often into the poorhouse, too – when it comes to the trying to afford private school for our children.

 

I know – because I was one of those parents.

 

When my two oldest children – who are now in 10th and 7th grades, were just five and three years old, I enrolled them in an expensive private school in New Jersey.

 

Tuition was about $20,000 annually for each of them – and we’re talking for kids who were in kindergarten and pre-school!

 

The truth is: I couldn’t really afford it, at least not then.

 

So what did I do? I scrimped together every dollar I could to make sure my kids got to go to private school anyway. I was convinced I was doing the right thing by providing them with the best schooling that money could buy.

 

The problem, however, was that I mainly used borrowed money – courtesy of my generous credit lines – and I paid for most of their school expenses with credit cards.

 

In retrospect, it was a totally dumb move.

 

Now admittedly, my kids got a great start and a good, solid education in their younger years in private school.

 

But it’s also true that my kids have thrived in ways I never imagined, and done extraordinarily well in public school for the past five years.

 

Even my little one — my third child, who is now in first grade – never ceases to amaze me with how poised, intelligent and self-assured she is, and much of it is thanks to her good public school education. Unlike her older siblings, my youngest child has never stepped foot into a private school – and she’s none the worse for it.

 

That’s just one reason why I can now readily admit that going into debt to pay for my older kids’ early childhood education was a big mistake – financially, and in other ways too.

 

You see, I grew up in a household where my Mom made tremendous sacrifices for my sisters and me. So I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought that parents should sacrifice for their children – no matter how much it hurts.

 

Unfortunately, sometimes when we parents get an idea in our heads, we cling to it (consciously or unconsciously) as if our lives depended on it.

 

In my case, I now realize that instead of sinking my family deeper into debt and helping to create additional financial tensions in my previous marriage, I should’ve looked into other options, thought more creatively about school choices, or simply faced the fact that private school, financially speaking, was out of our reach.

 

So in the spirit of helping some of you middle class Moms and Dads out there who may be grappling with the private school dilemma, I want to share a few ideas I think could be wonderful and eye-opening in terms of re-considering public schooling.

 

Depending on your own situation, such as your exact finances, the number of children you have, your particular city or town, and other personal circumstances, one or more of the tactics below may help you and your children do just fine – even if you can’t afford to send your kids to private school.

 

After many discussions in our family on this topic, my husband – who’s the true brains in our family – came up with these ideas. We call them:

 

10 Ideas If You Can’t Afford Private School

 

1. Move into the cheapest home or rental in a town with a great public school system.

 

2. Move into an average school district and become a hyper involved parent. To have a good school you certainly need good teachers. But many educators say school districts also thrive or fall based on the willingness of parents to take an active role.

 

3. Make private school an early childhood option only. In other words, don’t plan on sending your kids to private school from kindergarten through high school. If your budget allows it, tough out private school only in the first few years, to build your kids’ foundation until a certain grade, then switch to public school.

 

4. Seek out alternative options, such as Catholic, Magnet, or Charter schools.

 

5. Find out if you can pay to send your child to a different public school district. This may be appealing if you consider you own school district a poor educational option.  Chances are paying to send your kids to a good public school will be cheaper than a private school.

 

6. Before you write off a public school, visit the school yourself; maybe most of what you’ve heard is rumor. Talk to other parents in the school. Check out a school’s test scores, and ask teachers, administrators and current students for their input too.

 

7. Prepare to supplement a public school’s deficiencies by investing heavily in tutors, extra curricular activities, enhanced learning options and other outside educational avenues for your child.

 

8. Got time for home schooling? Look into this option, and think realistically about if you would be up for home schooling your kids. Alternatively, consider whether it’s financially feasible to pay someone to home school your children. For example, if you have two or more children, you may be able to find a qualified educator for homeschooling at a price that would be cheaper than paying for private school for two or three separate kids.

 

9. Pool resources with relatives or another close family and buy or rent a huge single family or two-family home in a neighborhood with better public schools.

 

10. Clearly assess what is wrong with the public school in your town and determine what steps you and a coalition of concerned parents can do to fix it.

 

These 10 ideas are mere conversation starters. Think of them as a list of possibilities to get you to think creatively about alternatives to private school and how to enrich life for you and your child(ren) should public school become a reality.

 

Whatever happens, don’t feel guilty and beat yourself up if you can’t afford private school.

 

Just do the best you can, make decisions with both your heart and your mind, and trust that with your love and support, your children really will be fine no matter where they go to school.

This Article Answered The Following Questions:

  • If your income drops and you can no longer afford private school for your children you should
  • If your income drops and you can no longer afford private school for your children you should:
  • cant afford private school
  • 3 If your income drops and you can no longer afford private school for your children you should:
  • i have just moved from middle school to high school and from a private
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Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach

Personal Finance Expert and Co-Founder at Ask The Money Coach.com
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach is a personal finance expert, speaker, and author of numerous books on personal finance. She appears frequently as an expert commentator on television, radio and in print.

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Marjorie Desir

Hi Lynette,
You and your husband have made some very good points, and it seems have learned a great lesson too. I too thought that my sons would only go to “private” school before I had them, since I went to private school all my life, from pre-K (then called “nursery school”) through college, and even post-graduate study. But, when it was time for my eldest son to begin school, I was no longer working full-time, so public school it was. Our school district had a “dual language” pre-K program where he would begin learning Spanish at age 4, and he was accepted in. At that time–and even now for some people, our school district wasn’t considered great. What I found was that reputation was given by people who had preconceived notions about the schools, and didn’t really know; had children who had “issues” themselves and didn’t admit that maybe their child wasn’t really working up to their potential, or took infrequent “incidents” and repeated them as “pervasive” gospel truths applicable to everyone and all age groups, from elementary to H.S. As you now realize, your children are different in 7th and 10th grade than they were when they were just getting started!
That said, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve spent the past almost eight years working as a substitute teacher after having spent 20+ years as an editor and journalist. “Most” teachers work really hard at educating our children, no matter where the school is located. In fact, I would say that in districts where schools are “under-performing” most of those teachers and administrators work even harder. The “real deal” and difference in what happens to our children and how much success they have is– US! WE as PARENTS have to have certain standards and expectations of our children. When we do–and communicate that to OUR CHILDREN, and let their teachers know that we will make sure our kids complete and turn in their homework (even if you can’t help them, just check to make sure its done!) and let them know that you are open to– and welcome–regular communication with them, OUR CHILDREN WILL SUCCEED! Children want to “please” their parents, and most authorities, in general. They WANT to be successful, and they CAN DO it with our support. THEY DON’T NEED A PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION to get it done!
Believe me. My eldest son, Marcus, graduated high school, June 2012. He graduated in the Top 10 of his class, seventh (#7) in his class of 468!(Yes, I’m a really proud Mama!) Although, I’d sent him to an excellent private pre-school (primarily because I was working full-time and wanted him to spend time with other children his age), he struggled learning how to read until he was 2nd grade.
It didn’t matter that his father and I were trying to expose him to “the best” money could offer, sent him to a pre-reading library program for toddlers, and that I read to him every night, he still needed something we couldn’t offer. Nothing hurt more as a parent. He always had good grades and did his homework– yes, there is H.W. in kindergarten, but I couldn’t help him do something that came so-o-o naturally and easily for me.
Thank God he was in public school!!! There were resources available to him there that I would probably have had to fight to get from a private school, if they even had them! Generally, a few weeks into the school year, children are tested to see where they are so teachers can “customize” students’ lessons to their needs.
At that time, my son was about six months below grade level. His classroom teacher said, he didn’t have to go to “AIS”, but she thought it would be additional help to what she would be doing with him in class. My husband thought it would be a “stigma” and he would be labeled; and I must it admit, I thought about that too. Ten years ago, intervention services were not necessarily considered “a good thing.” But I said YES. What worried me more was my child getting to 6th, 7th or 8th grade, when the work begins to get more difficult and he would struggle just to read the material. So, I told her “send him”.
In one year, with the extra help that he went out-of-class to a reading specialist for, he finished 2nd grade reading almost on a 4th grade level!!! YEAH! Thank you God. I cried. I still sing the praises of those teachers that worked with him. I KNOW they all made the difference.
Fast forward to late September last year. It was time for his high school to rank the graduating class. Several weeks earlier, my son had said to me when we were looking over his academic schedule, “Mom, I’m probably NOT going to make the Top 10, so don’t pressure me.” I told him that I wasn’t concerned about him making the TOP 10, I just wanted him to “do his best;” to take the classes that he needed, which would help him get prepared for his desired career, Engineering. During his four years of high school, he took seven (7) AP Honors classes, including AP Physics A,B & C, AP Calculus, and several AP English and History classes. He did very well, but I had no idea how his grades compared to anyone else, nor did I need to. I ONLY needed to ENCOURAGE HIM; SUPPORT HIM, and periodically make my presence known to his teachers during Parent-Teacher Conferences, and by making comments on his report card.
As parents, sometimes it is difficult to accept our role and responsibility, especially when our lives are difficult and challenging. Along my son’s 14-year school journey (from pre-K to 12), I no longer had a full-time job working in my chosen profession, had another son, and my husband went from working as an IT professional in a quasi for-profit/govn’t transportation agency, to doing the same thing as a consultant who was downsized in the 2009 financial collapse. We are still struggling, like others, to keep our heads above water. But through the adversity, my SONS, have been our shining light. My child who struggled to read is now a freshman at a Polytechnic University studying Engineering, and the recipient of several academic scholarships. God is Good.
I miss my full-time job, but I got an opportunity to see what takes place in our schools, and provide the “emotional” support all children need and WANT from their parents.
We don’t have to be able to help them with their homework as much as encourage, cajole, and threaten– if necessary, to get them to do the work. If they need extra help, most schools offer “homework clubs”, or after school help. But it is up to the STUDENT to seek out the help, and they will, especially when we encourage and support them as parents.
Now, many schools have drama going on in them, including private schools, you just don’t hear about it! Many schools and/or school districts “cover-up” their problems, including drug use/abuse, fighting, and poor attendance. Make sure your child knows that YOU will not stand for ANY DRAMA from them! Children RISE to meet our expectations; they do not want to disappoint. And, when you withhold things they really want or want to do– play video games, keep their cellphone, play sports, etc., they will do what they MUST to get what they WANT! Believe it; it works!
IF you think your child will benefit from private school better, I THINK, doing so for the Middle school years, and maybe High School–if they don’t have the kind of academic courses you child needs at your local public h.s.–is probably the best time to spend the money. Yes, they need the base they are given in the beginning, but most parents are able to help with homework and basic requirements at those early stages and levels (K-6). The level of thinking and difficulty of subject matter is most critical during those middle stages (grades 5-8).
My youngest son is now 7th grade, and he never struggled with reading. With him, it’s forcing him to not be distracted by all the other things he loves to do–music, Boy Scouts, etc. His grades too, are excellent! (His interim report for this 1st quarter of 7th grade are all in the 90s– and he’s taking an accelerated 8/9th grade course level).
Children, like most people, will RISE to meet expectations, when given support and encouragement!
SAVE YOUR MONEY$$$$ You’re going to need it when they go to college!! Trust me. :-)

Thanks for letting me vent. I’ve never responded to a post before! Hope what I’ve said helps someone.
–Marjorie

The Money Coach

Marjorie,

First of all, it’s sooo great to hear from you!!!! As soon as I saw your name I knew EXACTLY who you were! :-) We have to catch up. So please do message me privately (I won’t post my private contact here, but do message me via LinkedIn and we’ll swap info).

Next, what an amazing testimony you have to the power of great parenting. You are so correct that involved parenting, support and encouragement of our children makes all the difference their educational lives. You must be so proud of your boys, and with good reason.

You also raised an important point that I hadn’t considered: which is that in middle school and high school, that’s the time when we – as parents – cant really “hang” educationally with our kids rapid learning and advanced studies. So it’s at that time that many parents can’t help a kid with honors chemistry or AP calculus. As a result, you seem to suggest that private school then might be better, as opposed to the point I’d made, which is that private school might be better in the early phase, as your kids are getting their educational foundation.

I think both approaches have valid points. And I definitely agree with your overall point that a lot of the money people are spending for a “good” education would be better used saving for college. We are in college prep mode with our two oldest children right now. They are in 10th and 7th grades. And I never ceased to be amazed at the ever-growing price tag for higher education. It is absolutely astonishing – and practically criminal, in my mind – that colleges charge students and their families $20,000, $30,000 or even $50,000 to $60,000 PER YEAR just to get a college degree!

Little wonder then that older Americans are increasingly finding themselves in debt and forgoing retirement. Unfortunately, many people in their 50s and 60s have sacrificed so much for their kids, and signed college loans for them, etc. that they’ll never be able to enjoy a stress-free, comfortable retirement.

But that’s another topic.

Anyway, many thanks for your insights, observations and your comments on this topic. I really do think your feedback will help a lot of people.

Best to you and your family and I hope we can talk soon!

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