What to Do if You Can’t Afford Private School Anymore

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.

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