Downscaling Your Upscale Life

By Stephanie Berenbaum – Updated September 18, 2013

Taking Your Kids Out of Private School

In today’s world, choosing to live in a city often means your kids won’t have access to a good public school education nearby.  And for the LA moms I know, the cost of private school is a constant topic of conversation.  In fact, last week a few of us were sitting around talking with our friend Kim about her decision to (gasp) transfer her children out of private school and into their neighborhood public school.  As Kim put it, she is giving up on the dream of her kids having the same  ”upper middle class” urban childhood that she had…

Kim isn’t alone.  A lot of our friends empathized – they, too, felt they had failed at recreating what they had growing up – namely a privileged life of private schools, gracious homes, and prestigious colleges.  So why does it seem so impossible to recreate the “good life” for our own kids?  Is the cost of living really so much more than it was when were kids?

The Price Of Private School

In Los Angeles, the cost of kindergarten at a private school is roughly $17 to $25,ooo  per year – per child.  Costs go north from there as the kids get older, but for the sake of argument let’s just say it’s about  $20,000 per child.  Let’s say for the average two kid family, that is $40,000 in tuition per year right off the bat. Plus, each family is also expected to donate additional funds to the school, and of course pay for your child’s other extra activities.  All this can easily come to about $50,000 for two kids under age six!

To put this in perspective, the median household income in the US is about the same – $49,000 per year. Shocking, right?  Are all of these parents doing that well in this economy?

Save Now, Splurge Later?

Kim is wondering if it might work for her to send her kids to public elementary school and then transfer them to private for middle and upper.  The tuition cost savings for elementary school would be significant: a whopping $300,000!  A no brainer, right?  The problem is, if she pulls them out of the private school system now,  will they be able to successfully get into an uber-competitive  private school later?  There is no guarantee if they leave…  How are all these other families able to swing it?

Family Money

Although many of her friends are quite successful, after talking to them in depth, Kim realized a large percentage of them were actually being supplemented by their families in some way.  Either grandparents were helping with tuition, or they had trust funds or some other form of “family money” to help pay for private school.  And to be honest, when she thought about it,  Kim herself wasn’t really sure what had gone on in her household growing up – money was rarely discussed. For all she knew her grandparents had been helping out with her tuition too – the subject just never came up.

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3 Responses to “Downscaling Your Upscale Life”

  1. Gail says:

    Private school is not only expensive (BTW, in NYC, it’s about 50k per year/ per child), it breeds (no pun intended) a certain kind of child with a certain focus. It is not the most well-rounded of perspectives gleaned, in that your child fraternizes with the same type of other children for as long as 12 years. It is somewhat narrow in its appreciation of other lifestyles and backgrounds. And, going to public school certainly doesn’t preclude one from getting into Ivy schools. Here is an alternative – switch into a private high school after the primary years

  2. Dana says:

    Having gone both routes with my two children (a five year age difference), I have often wondered this myself. I live in Los Angeles and 0ne went to private from Pre K(girl) through high school and is in college now on full scholarship due to grades and my financial situation (including a divorce). So I would consider that a total wash, $200k spent for 200k in aid but that it not the normal family. The other is in a public high school and doing very well, getting great grades and will also get into a good college and receive assistance. I think back over the 18 years and both my children are garden variety children with smarts. The private school was extremely nuturing for my daughter and has put her on a wonderful path for her future. My son in high school is doing well but needs the push (not academically) to do more which has to come from the home. The elementary years would be the exact same so if one were considering private vs public, it would be my opinion to go public in the beginning and later to switch to private. Having a good college counselor (usually presumed to be better at private) is most helpful, but today I do see that counselors come and go so there is no guarantee that that will help your child. Either way if you want your child to get into a good school it would be helpful to have an advocate on your side regardless of private or public education.

  3. CelloMom says:

    Ditch the Joneses!
    Minimise the mortgage, let go the Lexus lease, have a local holiday – this is a fabulous country full of treasures and adventure everywhere. See which friends stay with you after that: those are your true friends. Invite them for a backyard barbecue.
    Use the money you save for the things that really matter to *you* – and sometimes that IS a private education for your children. Find your own way – it is not easy, but crucially important, to ignore the Joneses.

Any Thoughts?