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.
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?
17 thoughts on “Public Versus Private School for Your Kids”
I went to private school (my dad was also a dentist) and my husband did not. We discussed it quite a bit and came to the agreement that we would enroll them in public schools till we were unhappy and then send them to private if we needed to.
At age 16, our oldest child needed to go to a private school. He is quite intelligent and needed both the intellectual challenge and the structure that the private school provided.
Unfortunately due to where we lived, the only good option was boarding school, which was expensive, and, well, we miss him. Our other child is still in public school, but wants to go to the private school as well. We can hardly deny him the opportunity we gave his brother, but we were certainly not planning for this expense- or to see our children leave the house so early. Fortunately we over-saved for retirement, and can afford it. The boarding school part is still hard, but the change in our oldest son has been worth every penny of the exorbitant fee.
You get one shot at educating your children. The impact education has on their lives is forever. Don’t dismiss a private school choice because it wasn’t what you experienced. Schools are changing and are not the same as when you were were there.
There is no point having a 529 college fund if your child does not have the preparation (which comes from K-12) to graduate.
As yourself what is school for?
My son graduated with 49 college credits taken at the college level, not AP. My daughter spent time honing her skills putting her way ahead.
Check out this material from Seth Godin.
It’s not public or private, it’s about what are they really teaching. 99% have it wrong.
Great Nochebeuna article for the dinner table.
So many ways to skin the education cat.
Financials may play a role, but more often it is the mind set of the parents on the Ws (who/what/why/when/where) that drive these decisions of home school/private/public schooling.
Financials usually come in last in the decision to ‘can we afford to do xxx’.
For me the choice was private school starting in grade 6.
I wrote a post justifying my decision and how overall this was still a financial win for me. My forever home is located in a fairly rural location (I actually have cows across my driveway that watch me leave for work in the morning). The schooling system in this part of the state is so so. Fortunately there is a highly ranked private school that is 25 min from my house and on the way to work.
Tuition for middle school was around 18k/yr and has since bumped up to around 21k/yr for high school. The amount of money I spent for my home (3150 Sq feet, 7.67 acres and 2 natural waterfalls) was a pittance compared to what I would have paid where I used to live near Cleveland Ohio and easily half what I would pay for a cookie cutter doctors house in the city where I work. That alone offsets the added expense of private school.
I went to a private school in California growing up. I figured I could at least pass it forward to my daughter and have no regrets financial or otherwise
Homeschooling is like outlawing TV or video games and does run the risk of making ones children “weird” whatever the educational benefits might be. So while I appreciate the sentiment and tremendous effort involved, it wasn’t something I was willing to risk.
My 4 came out fine with private school until 9th grade, then switch to a public school to get to meet children whose parents weren’t affluent, as well as enjoy better sports experiences.
All will have masters and two earn over 400k per year.
It was the right compromise for us, both financially and in terms of getting the academics right early on, while avoiding raising overly sheltered children.
Are they engineers?
Yes, both boys work for hedge funds. Good guess!
The biggest thing I see missing in all of these FI articles when it comes to private vs public school, is no blog seems to address parents wanting their children in private schools because it aligns with their values. Maybe because it’s spiritually and politically charged and no one wants to touch it. Especially on the subreddits related to FI, everyone seems to think it’s purely a mathematical problem.
The best school isn’t so important because most learning takes place at home under the assistance of loving parents who hold kids accountable. Homework is where real learning occurs, not in the classroom, for the most part. Every kid that succeeds was home schooled, they may also attend an out of the home classroom, but the schooling that matters most still occurred at home. My kids went to the lowest income schools in the district, they got to experience being the minority race in their classrooms. They made diverse friendships and were so better off by learning to handle themselves in unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable circumstances. All three got completely free rides through college even though we were millionaire parents. All are compassionate self sufficient adults now. They also tutored private school grads in college. I don’t think the quality of the school has much impact on the quality of the student, but the parents have a huge impact.
I strongly agree that parents have a huge impact, but I think school can also have a huge impact. Just to give an example, a single teacher or a single friend from school can change a person’s life in a positive way. The more great people and positive influence you have around you, the better.
Great article. Love your blog. I wasn’t aware that your father was a dentist. Did that exposure ever make you consider that as a possible career choice? I am a 38 year old pediatric dentist who has luckily been able to achieve FI, but still like what I do professionally (although enjoy my days off more;)
It’s funny that I chose a profession that occasionally damages teeth.
There was a time that my older brother thought he might become the dentist, so I decided to go the medical school route and keep my options open to a broader range of specialties. I don’t regret the decision, but dentistry would have had me in my career 4 years sooner.
A third option is homeschooling, although I know it’s not for everyone. I decided to homeschool my kids starting 3.5 years ago and went down to part time. I specialized in Emergency Medicine which actually ended up being a great choice to combine with homeschooling. I still make plenty of money and am able to save almost half my income every month since we live below our means. I have a lot of control over my schedule. My husband helps with homeschooling too and worked part time until COVID. Now he stays home but has some minor side hustles. I do realize the financial impact of me not working full time but homeschooling is important to me and the trade off is worth it for our family. Also, only working part-time has helped decrease feelings of burnout, especially during this pandemic.
That’s what we’ve been doing — started a year before it became necessary for so many.
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My approach was based on not knowing the answer. Moved to one of the best public districts in the state before kids started school and sent them to public school with the understanding that I wouldn’t hesitate at all to pull them out and postpone FI a bit and go to a private school if any problems occurred, academic, social, etc. Very happy with that decision and now have three public school grads, two at a prominent state university and one Ivy League and all thriving.
Thanks for sharing your experience Dave. For those of us who are still taking the journey, it is always useful to know how a decision ended up working in the long run.