Choosing the right school for your kids isn’t a hot topic in the Financial Independence/Financial Freedom community, but it probably should be. Public, private or home schooling, each comes with its own financial implications that need to be factored into your overall plan in achieving FF.
For anyone planning on having kids, or with young children approaching school age, the decision on where to send your kids to school is a big one. Whether you are a fan of good old fashioned public school, gunning for the elite status of a private school, or thinking about trying your hand at home schooling, each option has its own merits along with some disadvantages worth considering.
The difficult part in making a choice like that, is that it is extremely difficult to forecast what you will choose BEFORE you have kids. We all like to think we know what we will choose for them, but somehow when those tiny humans come along, they have a way of shaking our priorities to the very core of our being. Sometimes turning our life perspectives directly on their head.
If you don’t have kids, but plan to have them, you’re probably shaking your head right now. Thinking: “Nope, I know exactly how I’m going to raise my kids, and nothings gonna change when they do come along.” I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. I know this, because I had the same thoughts, and I learned very quickly just how wrong I was.
If you are a parent reading this, you’re probably nodding along right now, reminiscing about your pre-kid life views.
No where was I more wrong than when it comes to how I would want to school our kids.
When our youngest started school, the thought about where he should go to school wasn’t really a question to me. As two full time working parents, we picked our home in a public school catchment that we liked, and outside of looking at the possibility of a French Immersion School, we didn’t give it much further thought.
To me, it all made sense. The public school was highly ranked, in close proximity to our home. I had visions of us walking him to and from school, with him reaching a point where he could make that journey independently, and making long lasting friendships with kids who not only went to the same school, but also lived in our immediate neighbourhood. No crazy commutes, no driving extended distances for arranged playdates, the kiddo’s could play out in our neighbourhood, it all seemed very idyllic.
At least it did, until last year…….when suddenly, with my focus no longer on achieving FF, I suddenly began to question every aspect of our decision. Without work, driving our kids to a private school was well within our grasp, doing home schooling was also completely feasible, and now that public school wasn’t just the default option, we started really asking ourselves if it was what we wanted for our kids.
Around that same time our son started showing the signs of not wanting to go to school. Yes I know, that’s very typical, the majority of of kids don’t LOVE school. But as a former homeschooler myself, his complaints struck a chord with me. He hated how much time they spent doing nothing in class, he constantly told us how much he wished that his teacher would just tell him how much work he needed to do, and he could do it and leave. He told us about the regular fights (physical fights) kids would have in class and on the playground when they were supposedly being “supervised”. (Keep in mind, he was 8 at that time….we’re not even talking about middle school here).
As much as we felt, and do feel, that our son was going to a considerably above average school (when compared to other public schools), but there was still so much about what he was learning, how he was learning it, AND the social environment, that left us questioning if it was really the best use of nearly 50% of his weekday waking hours.
There’s no doubt, that from an FI perspective, public school is the most cost effective option for parents. But, the more Mike and I researched the topic, the more apparent it became that this was an area where the financial scope took a backseat. Not to say it wasn’t a consideration, financial feasibility should always be a consideration, but in this instance, we felt that it should be leading the way.
When we started to examine things more closely, it was clear that the public school curriculum was consistently lacking and regularly behind the times. With such a large beaurocracy, and major costs associated to curriculum changes, it’s difficult for public systems to keep their content and delivery methods current. One of the major cons is also the fact that when you have such large class sizes, content is delivered to the average, and likely not in a format that best suits your own child’s interests or learning style. And really, what more is a teacher to do? It’s pretty difficult to tailor the delivery to each individual child, as well as to challenge the brightest students but also adequately address students who are struggling or falling behind.
In general what we saw, and what I thin most people see, is that public school caters to the average. It molds kids to be average employees, obtain average jobs, and lead average lives. So if average is what any of us parents are shooting for, then the public school system is ideal.
Everything else aside, my biggest complaint with the public school system, is that it consistently fails to teach kids how to learn independently. It teaches them how to be spoon fed, and how to be shown what to do and when to do it.
All of these factors led us to begin examining private school options. I know many people who send their people to private schools, from faith-based to non-secular, even boarding schools. There is no doubt that private schools offer a lot that the public system can’t hold a candle too. But the higher up the chain you go in terms of curriculum, quality of staff, infrastructure, and class size, the bigger the price tag that comes with it. Even though we didn’t want to lead with the financial implications, it’s difficult to ignore the reality of annual tuition costs at private schools.
Here in Vancouver, that annual price tag ranges anywhere from $4000 (generally for faith based schools), all the way up to $50,000 for the elite of the elite. And that’s just tuition. Books, field trips, sports costs, bus fee’s, uniforms, are all added on top of that. After some hefty research, the school that caught my attention the most was $32,000 annually. Yikes! Times that by two kids, and either Mike or I would have to go back to work to swing it, or we would need to make some major lifestyle adjustments to make it happen. Definitely something that plays a major factor in anyone’s plan for Financial Freedom.
But while private schools offer some of the best facilities and equipment money can buy, it begs the question is it really the best option when it comes to educating your kids? Because many private schools receiving government funding in order to offset their tuition fee’s, the vast majority of them comply with the provincial curriculum where they are located. Which means that despite being in a fancier class room, with a smaller class size, and cooler gadgets, your kids are essentially learning the same content. Albeit with some nifty, gimmicky add-on content to draw parents in.
Even with all their upgrades, private schools still suffer from a lot of the same con’s of public school. Arguably, despite the uniforms, they have significantly higher potential for social pressures and undesirable influences when it comes to stuff (particularly if you are a middle class family sending your child to a school with a considerably wealthier clientele.) And they still suffer from the same problems as public school in that kids aren’t taught how to learn independently.
As someone who was homeschooled for the entirety of my education, long before it was “cool” to homeschool your kids, I have a somewhat unique experience and perspective to draw on when it comes to the homeschooling alternative. Ironically, even though I was homeschooled, I never thought I would homeschool my own kids. Selfishly, I recognized it as a ton of work, and I always thought I would be in a career that I wanted to heavily pursue.
I also had strong memories of regularly feeling like an outsider, like other kids thought I was weird because I was homeschooled. In hindsight, these concerns were likely more in my head than the other kids, but they were feelings I didn’t want my own children to experience.
In spite of those feelings, I will be forever grateful to my parents for making the decision to school my siblings and I at home. It’s given me some major advantages throughout my life.
When I was a kid, it was the awesome advantage of being able to sleep in, work for only a couple hours, and still get way more done than my friends in the public system. As a total night owl, I loved it.
As I got older, it was learning that because I controlled my time, if I finished all my work early, I got a much longer summer than my public school compadres. Often twice as long, or even more.
And as I got into my teens, it was the ability to pursue my aspirations of playing competitive hockey, moving away from home at 15, even being able to go and live in Australia and play hockey when I was just 17. Not to mention that because I could control my own school hours, I regularly had multiple jobs from the time I was 12 and up. These opportunities, and the experiences I drew from them, gave me a huge leg up when it came to developing work ethic, savings habits, and building independence.
I diligently saved my waitressing paycheques, bought my first condo, and took possession of it the day I turned 18 years old. And from there, my hunger for financial knowledge and independence only grew.
I credit all of this to my parents. To their courage in breaking the mold and doing things differently, even under the scrutiny and judgement of many around them. It wasn’t easy for them. It was a major undertaking to keep three kids at home and do all the schooling. Not only did it mean sacrificing a second income for many years, it also meant my mother committing to being at home all the time with three little hellions. Doing all the regular heavy lifting a stay at home mom does, groceries, cooking, cleaning, yard work, laundry, (I could go on and on) WITHOUT that 6-7 hour break of the kids being in school. Yikes – makes me tired just thinking about it!
It also meant additional work for my Dad. He already had a full time job, and I can’t remember a day from my childhood where he didn’t regularly go above and beyond in putting in a full days work. Getting up at 5AM, heading out to work, and not getting off work until 5PM. But in spite of those long hours, he would regularly come home and help us out with our math lessons, patiently guiding us through any areas where we’d gotten stuck.
Aside from all the opportunities home schooling provided for me, my biggest takeaway will always be that it taught me how to learn and teach myself. The confidence to know that I don’t need to be shown, I can just figure it out. There have been so many times in my career where that single skill set has paid off in dividends. It’s a skill set I absolutely want to foster in my kids.
For anyone pursuing Financial Freedom, homeschooling can be a difficult option when you are still pursuing the dream. It likely translates to giving up a secondary income, and it’s major responsibility for any parent to undertake. For us in BC, it also doesn’t result in any type of government funding or tax credit, so purchasing curriculum content does result in additional costs. But it does allow you to have the leeway to build your own curriculum, and focus on the area’s that you feel are important, or that your child has particular interests in. The flexibility it offers from an individual learning standpoint are immense. Not to mention the quality time you get to spend with your kids, developing your relationship and instilling the values and skills that are important to your family. Like financial literacy for instance.
Even as I write this post, I’m struck by how on paper, homeschooling seems like the obvious choice for us, and yet I’m still hesitant to make the decision. I attribute that largely to a recognition of just how much work it is, and a nervousness of doing a good job! But really, if it’s such an important piece of my children’s foundation in life, why would I want to hand it over to someone else who won’t take nearly as much interest or ownership of the task?
For now, I plan to remain in the information gathering phase, identifying the pro’s and con’s of what’s out there, and weighing those factors against what is most important for our family. If you have your own thoughts or comments on this topic, or resources that you have found useful, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail!
For anyone in the FI world, I encourage you to heavily evaluate what you want for your kids education, and what aligns with your family values. Whatever the decision, it will factor in to any successful plan for Financial Freedom.