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How to save money on private school fees

Melanie Wegener

Paying for a private school education is something that many parents prioritise. They are not always high-income earners but choose to sacrifice in other areas to afford this. They may live in a smaller house or cheaper suburb, delay house improvements, holiday locally and rarely eat out. Education is important to them so they make it work.

Parents choose to send their children to private schools for a variety of reasons. Factors they consider are wanting:

  • A quality education
  • Teaching good values and morals 
  • Firm discipline
  • Higher standards
  • Committed teachers
  • Clientele of students and their families 
  • Bully free environment
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Continuity of teaching staff
  • Well-kept grounds 
  • Providing them the educational opportunities that they never had
  • Continuing traditions of sending them to the same school that they attended
  • Alumni
  • Reputation 
  • Location 
  • Boarding facilities
  • Sporting opportunities
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Interstate and international camps
  • Subject choices
  • Career options

There are simple ways that parents can save money on schooling costs, such as:

  • Purchasing second hand uniforms or getting hand me downs from friends
  • Buying fewer uniform items and washing more often
  • Buying school shoes on sale
  • Shopping around for school books

These will save cash in the short term. For families considering private schooling or looking for ways to reduce the larger financial burden, here are six tips that might help reduce your fees:

1.School card. This is accessible for low-income earners. This is not widely advertised but private schools are required to take a percentage of school card families. This creates opportunities for disadvantaged students to access high quality education that they might otherwise not be able to. Families are able to enrol their children for a fraction of the cost of the normal fee rate. This could save you tens of thousands of dollars over the schooling journey. If you think you may be eligible or would like to read more, here is some information for South Australians. 

2. Sibling discount. In most schools, the more children you have enrolled, the cheaper each subsequent child’s fees are. Often this means the fourth child (and any others) are free. This is a huge saving for large families and can be an appealing factor when considering where to send your children.  For those with multiples, this could be a handy tip because they will all be attending at once. Making use of the sibling discount will save you money but obviously having multiple children in private school will add up.

3. Paying in full. Most schools offer a discount if you pay the full years’ worth of fees upfront. This is normally 4- 5% off which equates to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of savings. It is important to weigh this up against the interest you might save if this is kept in a mortgage offset account, or the loss of compound interest accumulated if this was invested in the stock market. One needs to consider if having the whole year paid would be a weight off your shoulder. The reduction in stress and not having bill reminders may prove to be more valuable than any financial gain in keeping it somewhere else.

4. Scholarship. Consider whether your child could apply for one. This could be academic, musical, or sporting. Most private schools offer scholarships and can be a way of getting in the door, especially into the top prestigious ones.

Before accepting a position, parents should take time to consider how suitable the location is for logistics, how the expectations of richer families might affect your child’s ability to fit in, the cost of uniforms and camps and the ability for your child to make new friendships. The child may feel stress when sitting the test and it can be difficult if you want siblings to attend but they don’t qualify for a scholarship too. 

5. Pastors discount. This is applicable for Christian schools and may be for other independent ones too. Our local school offers a 50% discount if the main income earner is a pastor at the local church. I imagine this is because typically pastors were paid lower and it helps bring students into the school from the congregation.

This is a huge saving, equating to tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. It might be worth considering a career change and looking into study if you are passionate about theology and want to save cash on private school. 

6. Opt to send them later. There is no rule that says you have to send them to private school from the start. Typically families feel pressure to enrol their children when they are babies, sometimes even before conception to book a place. It is the preference of schools that children begin in ELC, Reception or Foundation.  

This means that you spend more money, students have continuity of education and are long term families, but it’s not necessary. We are sending our boys to the local, fabulous public school and they are enrolled in private for middle school. If things go south, we have the option of sending them earlier. The ball is in your court. Decide what is most important to your family and make decisions that align with those choices. 

These six tips are ways that many parents make private schooling work when on a tight budget, or free up cash for other things if money isn’t an issue. 

An alternative is to enrol your children in public school and choose instead to:

  • Pay off consumer debt (credit cards, car loans, Buy now Pay Later)
  • Pay off university debt
  • Pay off the mortgage early
  • Invest in shares
  • Buy investment properties 
  • Save or invest towards your child’s future higher education costs, car or house deposit

Take time to think about your options and talk about this with your spouse. It may be worth chatting with friends and family members who have gone before and already have children at school. Talk with those from both sides. Write a list of the pros and cons of each. In the end, only you can decide what is most important to you and will work with your family.

Remember, you can always change your mind and enrol them somewhere else if things aren’t working, it is not what you expected or if your financial situation changes.

If you have children, are you going the public or private route? What led you to this decision?

[Disclaimer: I’m not trained in finance so don’t take it from me. Feel free to grab ideas from this post but always see a professional for advice that is relevant and personal to your situation .] 

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