file0001594812160“Public education is an investment in our future,” said Matt Blunt, ex-Governor of Missouri. But public education can be expensive. Ideally, we have a free education but unfortunately a free education comes with a few costs.  A conflict in terms I know. And costs, well, cost! So, how can you cope with the money going out while your child heads to school?

This article is aimed at dads whose kids are going through the formal school system covering primary and secondary schools.  Your child/ren will go through four stages of education; early childhood education, which includes kindergartens, day-care centres and Kōhanga Reo aimed at children from birth to age 5. At 5 children join primary school starting in year 1 and stay there usually to year 6.  Usually around 11- 12 the child moves into intermediate for years 7 and 8, before moving onto secondary school until they finish in year 13.  This is the typical education flow for a child. (If you are home-schooling your kids, you may be entitled to receive a supervising allowance to help with associated costs.  For more detail on home schooling as an option, check out

Many schools have a maximum cost per family – the cost for one child might be a set price but the family contribution is usually a capped price. One of the first decisions made regarding your child’s education is whether to send them to public school or a private school.  There are many arguments about which is better, but let’s keep our eye on the wallet here.  Private schools are more expensive than public schools. They charge an operational fee which they are entitled to enforce.  It’s a little-known fact, but many children at private school are currently paying a less-than-full whack. Either because they’re getting some kind of grant or scholarship, or, more likely, because the school is giving them a bursary. A bursary is a monetary award or fee waiver on the discretion of the school to individuals who cannot afford to pay full fees. It all depends on the school. The other option is to negotiate a part payment and paying monthly spreading the cost over the year. This would need to be discussed with the principal.

Fees are increasing as most schools are feeling the pinch. All schools have limited financial resources and public schools are being especially hard-hit. Public schools ask for a donation which you are under no obligation to pay.  Whoopee! I hear you cry, but let me remind you that the more resources a public school has, the best the resources available to your child and their education. Even a part payment as a donation helps. Talk to the principal of the school about arrangements that can be made in these circumstances.

So how much money is a so called “free education” really going to cost?  Private schools can cost up to $30,000 annually but average around $15,000.  Before you have a heart attack, let’s look at the public schools systems.

There are two types of public schools: “State Integrated” delivers a specific style of education, such as Steiner schools or performing arts schools. Then there are “State” schools.  Both charge a donation, State Integrated schools average out at $1,500 and State schools range from $250 – $500 depending on the deciles your school falls in (deciles mean the demographic profile of the school students attending the school, lower deciles lead to lower value donation requests).

Covering the donation is just the start of the money you need for your child’s education.  Schools are entitled to charge fees for excursions or incursions to help cover the cost of the learning activity. Sometimes the excursion is not directly related to the curriculum but an opportunity will appear to enhance the child’s education, like a visit to a zoo or seeing a concert. Costs will vary depending on the nature of the activity.  In my experience, (my “dynamic duo” goes to a state school) this has averaged out at around $50 a year per child. As the child goes through the system, these costs increase, and not just because of inflation but because of the complexity and quality of the excursions.  My son starts attending a secondary integrated school next year and we have been made aware that there will be extended excursions requiring overnight stay and/or transport costs to be considered.

You may be asked to contribute towards the cost of textbooks.  Some private schools will have you buying them outright.  Integrated State schools may charge an additional fee to cover the costs of specific non-curriculum extras.  In high school most books are purchased by the parents but again, if there are problems with this cost discuss with the individual teacher or headmaster as they usually have spare books for just such a situation. Some schools have a second hand book shop usually open only in the beginning of the new year.  This cost is hard to estimate so it is best to approach your kids’ school for details.


The next cost of education is the uniform.  Some primary schools and most secondary schools require uniforms.  And you don’t have just one uniform; there is a summer uniform, a winter uniform, and a sports uniform (summer and winter). Uniforms consist of trousers, shirts, jumpers, skirts, shoes, socks, hats and jocks.  Not really jocks, I threw that in to make the sentence rhyme.  Oh, and I forgot shorts. And you need more than one of each to make it through the week.  If you’re lucky, the school’s PTA (Parents and Teachers Association) will run a uniform shop at the school, offering discounted new uniform items or perhaps used ones.  Allow for around $250 for each child for a year.  Yes, you read that right children have this horrible problem of growing and just won’t stop. How inconsiderate! And they tend to be rough on their clothes for example my active boy likes to slide down the corridor in his long pants on his knees, hence holes and other rips, tears and gouges.

Finally, you’ll need a stock of stationery: pens, pencils, erasers, etc.  My kids burn through our stationery cupboard with an alarming regularity.  Yes, the school insists they have their own pens etc, but my kids are expert at losing things, they could teach me a few lessons.  Stationery comes to $50 a year.

Have I finished yet?  The answer is NO!  There are other costs, not directly attributed to the school but are necessary as part of school life.  These include lunches, transport, and school-fundraising.

Kids eat and eat and eat and eat! Where it all goes I have no idea. Be prepared, that’s the tip. One suggestion is to make all the lunches for the week at once, freeze them, and then pull them out the night before for defrosting.  Buy snack foods in bulk like nuts, dried fruits etc and measure and zip lock them. Have the kids’ help – good for measuring lessons and a nice way to get them involved. Don’t underestimate chopped carrot and celery in bulk too, healthy and quick. If that’s too difficult or it’s just mad-rush-around-haven’t got-time –to make-lunch sort of a day, your school may be lucky enough to run a canteen.  Prices for lunch may run around the $10 mark for a sandwich and a drink.  Check your school for details.  Remember, you have better nutritional and cost control if you choose to make your own lunches.

You also need to get your child to and from school It might be cheapest to drive them on the way to work but that may not be practical.  You could walk, scooter, roller blade or ride bikes to school which makes it fun for kids and gives and opportunity for physical activity and a chance to learn about road rules. Car pooling might help reduce costs too, but having set rules like no teenage or learner drivers and all kids must be buckled up with avoid problems later down the track. Having a “Walking Bus”, where a group of children with some parents walk to school together picking up kids on the way, is a nice opportunity too. However there might be public transport like a specific school bus and you might want to try it with your child until you are confident they know which bus and when to get off! For transport, the government provides a transport allowance; but it is not available to all.  Check out this link for more details:

School fundraising is a big hit on your wallet.  You may decide not to be involved in this however it is frequent and aimed to break down your resistance.  The PTA will organise fund-raising activities; like book clubs (where you can buy cheap books for the kiddies), or Mother/Father’s day stalls (so you can pay the kids to give you presents) or a regular event, like a fete or a dance. The PTA isn’t the only fund-raising body in school.  In my kids’ school there is a fairly active student representative committee that likes to organise fund-raising days for different charities.  These seems to occur two to three times a term and sets me back about $2 (minimum) a child each time. It’s up to you to decide how much money you want to give the school and I suggest to set some aside so you’re seen as an active parent in school life and because the kids love to be involved – maybe even scoring some sort of reward for donation like a wrist band or sticker.

2 comments… add one

  • Kyle Gray August 15, 2014, 1:29 pm

    What can we expect to be the repurcussions of NOT paying the DONATION?

    • Simon Lenthen August 16, 2014, 2:21 pm

      Officially, Schools are not allowed to make any repercussions against students if a donation is not paid. A recent article in the New Zealand Herald said:

      “Katrina Casey of the ministry said schools would be breaking the law if they tried to enforce payment of donations.

      Schools are legally allowed to ask for whatever amount they think appropriate but it’s up to parents how much – or little – they paid.

      The only instance when state schools can charge a “fee” is when a parent or caregiver agrees to purchase goods or services directly from a school. This might include a field trip, sports or uniform.”


      If anyone is having trouble with their school, then one should approach the Ministry of Education, or PTA to see what actions can be taken.

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