Can I Afford Private School Tuition for My Children?

For a middle class family like mine, sending our kids to private schools is a decision that can't be made lightly.

There's no disputing that private school is an investment in our kid's future, both academically and career wise. The class sizes tend to be smaller, the expectations higher, and education taken more seriously. However, the cost of sending kids to private school can put a significant crimp in a modest middle class budget.

How can I afford private school tuition for my children?

When we first enrolled our kids in private schools 14 years ago, the projected costs were high enough to give us second thoughts. It wasn't until we sat down with the finance office that we discovered that these tuition costs were somewhat flexible. Private schools recognize that not everyone can afford the full tuition costs with many offering need based scholarships and others forms of financial aid for families that need assistance.

If you are considering a move to private schools for your children, here are a few of the many ways that my friends and I have discovered that can make the costs more affordable.

Ask for the parish discount. In the Catholic school system, sending your kids to the parish school means discounted tuition. If your family actively participates in a local church that supports a faith based private school, you may be entitled to a church discount. Parish discounts can easily knock down the price of private school tuition by as much as 50%.

Apply for financial aid. Most private schools are supported through private foundations that set aside a certain percentage of funds for tuition assistance. This assistance is determined on a sliding scale basis, which means that almost everyone can get some degree of help if needed. Over the years, we've had to apply for aid a time or two, and have never been turned down.

Volunteer. Our parish school discounts tuition for parents that actively volunteer. While there are limits to the hours one can volunteer (typically 20-40 a year), the money saved by volunteering in the school is usually enough to cover student activity costs.

Work study. Some private high schools offer work study programs for students which can also offset the cost of tuition. Work study programs include everything from serving in the cafeteria to tutoring, light maintenance work, and after-hours grounds keeping.

Set up an affordable payment plan. Unlike college tuition which has to be paid at the beginning of the semester, private school tuition can be set up on an assortment of interest free payment plans. The most affordable option spreads tuition payments over 10 months which is much easier to manage.

Get help from your family. If your parents are as passionate about private school education as you are, they might be willing to help underwrite some of the tuition costs as well. Many of the families we know get a little extra help from parents and grandparents.

Change your lifestyle. Even with all these discounts, private school tuition will still impact your family's budget to the tune of several hundred dollars a month. Our family drives older model cars (as in vintage 70s) to offset the cost of private school tuition. Other families we know change their lifestyles by working an extra job, living in smaller homes, or living a more modest lifestyle.

When the goal is a better education for your children, the high cost of private school tuition doesn't need to be a deterrent. A introductory meeting with the school's finance office can help you discover the many ways that private school can be affordable for even middle income families.