Q: My daughter’s private school at our church is closing this year. To keep her in private school we will need to pay double the tuition costs we are currently paying. I am not comfortable with this as we are trying to become debt-free and this will hinder the process. Is there a general debt-to-income ratio related to tuition costs that might aid my decision?
A: No, there’s no general rule of thumb regarding how much school-related debt a parent should take on relative to his or her income. But frankly, you don’t need broad guidelines or even specific rules of thumb to decide what’s best here from an economic standpoint.
Private school is already relatively costly, certainly compared to getting a free public education. If you had to pay twice the amount for a new private school that would no doubt crimp your budget and set your family back in numerous ways.
Think honestly about what you’ve already said: namely that you’re in debt, trying earnestly to get out of your financial bind, and that paying double what you’re accustomed to for your daughter’s schooling would be a financial hardship that would derail your efforts to become debt-free. I applaud you, of course, for wanting the best possible education for your child. As parents, we all want that. But sometimes you have to make tough choices because it’s in the entire family’s long-term best interest.
It sounds like you’re grappling essentially with the decision to sacrifice an awful lot of money by sending your child to private school versus sending her to public school. Obviously, I can’t make that decision for you. But I can share with you my own story, because I’ve dealt with this very issue.
To make a long story short, I had my two older children in private school – at a time when I was in debt, as you are – at a cost of about $20,000 per year. This was when my kids were only 3 and 5 years old, mind you. Ultimately, I made the choice to take them out of that school. They transferred into a different private school that was about 1/3rd of the cost. They continued to do outstanding in school. And now, for the past couple of years, they’ve been in public school.
My kids remain pretty much straight-A students and they are thriving in public school — doing far better than I’d imagined they would through these two transitions. Thank God that everything actually went very smoothly.
I say all this because so often as parents we worry about all the “what if” scenarios and think that we might be “harming” our children by “not giving them the very best.” In my case, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I had to “get real” about my finances, and that the “best” that I could offer my kids was to be honest about what our family could realistically afford.
Also, by not spending so much money on private school now, our family is able to better save for my kids’ college education, which we all know will be outrageously expensive. My older two children are now 12 and 10 and again, they’re doing very well. I also have a four-year-old who will start public school in the fall.
So generally speaking, I’d recommend that you not over-extend yourself by sending your daughter to a new private school when you know that financially, you simply can’t afford it at this time. There’s no shame in that. And that decision certainly wouldn’t preclude you from letting your child do extra curricular activities, having academic tutors, etc., if you felt it was necessary.
But again, the decision is best left to you and your family after you carefully consider all your options, as well as the short and long-term impact that private or public school would have on everyone involved. Good luck!