Public versus private school — it’s a highly-charged faceoff that is heavily influenced by our own past and biases.
What was good for the goose isn’t always best for the gander, and not all ganders are created equally. Our friend Doc Green sends one child to public school and another to private school. He’s got good reasons to do so.
Personally, I was in one public school system for K-12, and I got my B.S. and M.D. degrees from the same public university that granted my mother an R.N. degree and my a father a D.D.S. several decades earlier. That worked for me, but I know public schools aren’t for everyone, and the quality can vary greatly.
Andrew from Compounding.Works looks at the debate from an international perspective. The following is his take on the public versus private school debate, factoring in the role of financial independence.
Public Versus Private School for Your Kids
When you have children, providing the best education you believe in can make a big financial difference.
The best schools are often located in expensive areas, so owning a property in those areas can imply a bigger investment than in other areas. Also, in some cases, private schools offer a better education than free public schools.
Even within private schools, the annual fee range varies considerably, from virtually nothing to well over $100,000 per year at a few exclusive boarding schools.
With all this in mind, the education you choose for your children can significantly impact when you will achieve financial independence (FI).
It can also be a difficult choice: how much are you willing to invest in your children’s education if that has a direct impact on when you achieve FI? Should you choose the best school you believe in and consequently postpone FI? Or should you become FI and compromise on the school you choose?
Let’s dive further by seeing the pros of the two scenarios.
Postponing FI and Choosing the Best School
We, as parents, want to give the best to our children and education can have an enormous impact on their future. At school, we build our foundation, we learn to socialize, to build networks, to have a method to study and learn, to be resilient, to be independent, to respect others, and so forth.
Having a good or a bad teacher can be the difference between loving or hating math, for example. Having nice or bully colleagues can mean loving or hating going to school. We could continue with many other examples.
When you choose the best possible school you believe in for your children, you probably trust you will provide your children with the best experience they can get in school. It is possible that your children will build a good network of successful people and such a network can be useful throughout childhood and adulthood.
They are likely to build a strong foundation in hard skills such as presenting and analytical thinking. They are also likely to build soft skills, such as adaptability, creativity and teamwork. Not to mention core skills, such as math.
The best schools often provide high-quality after-school activities, so you might see this as another advantage for your children.
Above all, you can say to your child and yourself that he or she is in the best school you believe in which is within your budget. To the best of your abilities, you couldn’t offer any better. Parents often regret something they’ve done as parents, so choosing the best school you believe in would let you be in peace with yourself.
While you might not be able to achieve FI in the short term if you go for this option, it doesn’t mean you have to wait until your children finish school to achieve it. You can see it as an opportunity to build assets that generate more money while you are still in your accumulation phase. You might end up achieving FI a few years later, but with a more comfortable setup.
Choose FI and Compromise on the School?
The freedom of FI can be positively life-changing. Happy parents are a great influence on children. If you think you’ll be much happier by being FI, your children will benefit from your happiness.
Stress-free parents also contribute to a positive environment at home, for a few different reasons.
First of all, you won’t worry about work. If you decide to not choose an expensive private school, you don’t need to worry about the annual fees. Finally, if you decide to live in an affordable area rather than an expensive area with better schools, you also maximize your savings.
By choosing this path, you may have much more time for your children. When I say time, I mean not only free time without other commitments, but also mental headspace. You are more likely to be present at the moment when you are with your children, rather than distracted thinking about something else.
You might dedicate time looking for fun or educational places to go to. And go to those places! You might get more involved in their education and supporting them more than if you were working.
If you decide to move to a more affordable but nice area, you might also be able to provide a different experience for yourself and your family. New neighbors, new places to explore, new experiences, new opportunities. A new start.
Although the school can have a big impact on our lives, it certainly isn’t the only factor to success in life. With the right influence and stimulus, most people can be quite successful.
Also, it is quite possible that for many people, it doesn’t make much of a difference between going to one of the best schools or going to an average or even low rated school.
Finally, you might not give a lot of weight to school as a parent and that’s fine.
Questions to help you decide
As you might expect, there is no right or wrong answer. It very much depends on what you value in your road to FI, what you want for your own life and what you think will make a difference to your children.
You can ask yourself a few questions that might help you choose the best option for you:
- If you feel miserable, you might pass on that feeling to your children and it might harm their performance in school and life. How important is it for you to be FI now? Will you feel miserable if you decide to postpone FI at the cost of providing better education to your children?
- What will your children miss by going to one school or the other?
- If you need to move to a different location, what will you and your children miss by moving?
- If you decide to compromise on the education for your children, will you be able to balance that compromise with something else? For example, will you have more time to dedicate to them and is that something you want to do? Can you support them with some homeschooling to make up for that difference?
- In the different scenarios, what will your children do in their free time? Is the free time in one scenario much more enriching?
- If you live with your partner, are you both in agreement with the decision made?
- Are your children on board with the decision made?
- How flexible is the decision? Can you change to another school, if you regret your decision?
What we have done as parents
We have two young children, a three-year-old and a five-year-old. We live in a non-English speaking country, but our oldest son was born in the UK and lived there until he was two and a half years old. When we left the UK, he was bilingual, but his first language was English.
We decided it was important to keep his English skills. Also, we wanted to choose a school that values soft-skills as well as core skills. It would be nearly impossible to support his level of English if we chose a free public school, so we chose a private school where English is the primary language and where children work on their soft-skills.
The decision for our oldest son led to the same decision for the youngest. They are both in the same private school and bilingual.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Choosing this private school means we have to live in the city near the school, and we pay a high annual fee. We are huge fans of wild nature, so we could see ourselves in a completely different setup, in the middle of nowhere, next to a forest, with the kids going to a free public school. We could also be FI in this setup.
Our decision meant we had to postpone being FI and it somehow shaped the type of life we have. We are happy with our decision so far and we are quite focused on achieving FI roughly 8 years from now when our kids are still in school. We are enjoying the journey and taking the chance to be in a more comfortable financial situation when we achieve FI.
Deciding to go for the best education or giving priority to FI can be a difficult decision, but remember that there is no right or wrong decision.
You know your children, yourself and your family better than anyone, so after some brainstorming, you will find the best solution for you. Above all, once you decide, move on, don’t look back and give your best to make it work.
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What’s your position on the public versus private schools question? What did you have growing up, and are you making the same choice for your children?