How much does it cost to educate your children?
27 November 2006

Educating your children can cost as much as a new house or a flash sports car, new figures show.

Research has found that it is likely to cost a modern family with two children at least $200,000 to educate them from primary school through to the end of a bachelor's degree. That could buy a new Porsche 911 or a two-bedroom house in a Christchurch suburb.

Australian Scholarships Group (ASG), a not-for-profit organisation that runs educational bursaries and savings schemes, estimates the figure could run as high as $350,000 ? more than the average cost of a house in New Zealand. If parents choose a private education, it can rocket to as much as $600,000.

Members of ASG schemes were asked how much they spent on secondary education in a year, including school fees, uniform, trips, stationery and sports equipment. ASG then made projections based on those figures to estimate the cost of each year of primary and secondary education, taking inflation into account.

Projections based on a family of two with a six-month-old baby and an 18-month-old showed that by the time the children reach school age in 2011 a year of primary school could cost about $1300 a child, while secondary school could cost $1700 a year. This cost would increase annually with inflation.

A bachelor's degree contributed a large chunk of the total, with the cost of three years estimated at $70,000. ASG's managing director Terry O'Connell said many parents didn't realise how many incidental costs were associated with education.

Tui Wagstaff and her husband, Ian, already save money every month for their two sons, Ben, five, and Jack, three. "The figure looks scary, but when you actually think it is spread over at least 12 years it isn't so bad," Tui Wagstaff said.

"We are not too badly off, but we only have one income because we think it is important for our children for me to stay at home with them. We save money for our children every month. It soon adds up. You just have to be a bit organised about it." There was a lot of pressure on parents to pay for extracurricular activities, she said.

"We've already started with gym and swimming. Sometimes there is indirect pressure. When you hear parents talking about what their kids are doing, you don't want your own kids to feel like they are missing out. But you have to be firm in your decisions."

Wagstaff believed youngsters should take some responsibility for the cost of their university courses. "I don't think parents should be expected to pay for it all. I remember when I was at university I had part-time jobs to help pay for it. It helps to teach kids responsibility, respect and organisation as well."

Cashmere Primary School principal Jacqui Duncan said: "I think the estimates are a bit on the high side but it does add up. Schools do need the annual donations but they are voluntary. We never chase parents if they don't pay it.

"We ask parents to pay for trips and camps because they are over and above the school curriculum, but I think most parents can afford state-school education. It is tertiary they need to save for."

Cashmere High School principal Dave Turnbull said estimating such high figures verged on scaremongering. "Running through the costs at our school, I can't imagine it would cost nearly $2000 a year." He said there were uniform costs and some classes had equipment costs, but "they have gone for a worst-case scenario".

"I think that would scare parents. It is useful for parents to save a little though."

- The Press