School’s expensive. That’s the case even if your send your little cherubs to the local state school.

Research commissioned by RaboDirect on the saving and spending habits of New Zealander’s reveals that schooling is the biggest child rearing expense parents will face. Nearly half of respondents (48%) rank schooling far ahead of all other costs.

It has been estimated that a 13-year state education costs over $37,676 PER CHILD*. New parents might be well advised to set up a new savings facility before their children start school.

Some of the per child costs of schooling include:

  • Annual school donations, which range from $0 to over $1,000 in state schools.
  • Activity fees, for activities that fall outside the curriculum.
  • Photocopying charges.
  • Stationery, which can easily be $200 to $300 a year if you buy everything on the list.
  • Bus, train or ferry fares, especially once they get to secondary school. Fares of $2-$4 a day add up to a lot over a year.
  • Project materials. Subjects such as woodwork and design often require additional fees for materials.
  • Exam fees. Schools can and do charge for every subject sat at NCEA, International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge, ICAS and other exams. That can be $70 or more per subject.

The costs are scary and the higher the decile of school the more you’ll be asked to put your hand in your pocket. A decile one or two school may be able to fund expenses such as the school camp or sports uniforms from government grants or other funding. Parents at other schools often have to pay hundreds of dollars a year for these, even if their income isn’t commensurate with the suburb they live in.

Being aware of education as a significant financial cost is a good first step for parents says Mel Templeton, General Manager of RaboDirect. “Recognising early that schooling is a financial commitment puts parents one step ahead when it comes to their children. With this understanding, it would be good to see more Kiwi families pre-planning for this major and inevitable expense” she says.

Core expenses parents should put some money away for are:

Scary school uniforms: Many state primary schools and most intermediate and secondary schools have uniforms, which can cost $500 to $900 for the full kit. At many schools each sport has a different uniform and you may have to pay for choir, theatre or other uniforms for cultural pursuits. Uniforms can set parents back two to three times the cost of the price of a similar quality piece of clothing from a shop such as Farmers. A cynic would say schools want uniforms because they take a cut from the overpriced regulation uniform items. Hand-me-downs and buying from Trade Me and Op Shops is an option. Schools, however, have a knack of changing their uniform requirements every few years forcing you to buy brand new. Whilst you can buy school shoes cheaply at certain chain stores, quality leather ones often cost $70 to $140 a pop, which is a lot for growing feet.

The BYOD horror. And does your school have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy? Chances are your children will be wanting an iPad mini at the very least and need it upgraded every two years if they don’t smash or lose it in the meantime.

Sports that suck your wallet dry: If your child is good at sport or cultural activities such as acting or ballroom dancing it’s likely they’ll go to interschool tournaments or shows. A sports or cultural zone day may set you back $10 to $15 for your share of the bus hire and entry fee and some children, such as mine, do these every second or third week. A week-long trip to the AIMs games or a New Zealand Secondary Schools tournament is likely to be $300 to $500 a time or more if it involves inter-island transport. Trust me, you can be up for two of those a year with a moderately ambitious child.

School camps and overseas trips: It’s not unusual for five day school camps to cost $400+. If that isn’t expensive enough there are also “co-curricular” overseas trips that start for many in intermediate school. For example Wellington Girls’ College offered three overseas trips this year for students: a classics trip to London/Italy/Greece, a music trip to Australia and a general trip to Nepal. Expect to pay $3,000 to $8,000 for overseas trips. Your children will feel left out if their friends go and they don’t. There’s nothing like a guilt trip to make parents squeeze the budget for their children.

Fundraising fun: Schools need to fundraise and it’s amazing how often a letter comes home wanting money for this and that. Maybe it’s personalised name labels you can buy through the school. Or it’s the annual child artwork calendar or school photo, which you will feel obliged to buy. At some point you’ll come across the concept of sponsoring your children for a something-athon. My latest was a general knowledge-athon and my son got all 50 questions correct. Come the school fair you’ll be coughing up money for your children to buy candyfloss and throw wet sponges at teachers locked in the stocks. I once spent more than $100 at a single school fair. It was fun, but my wallet groaned.

The moral of all of this is to set up a savings plan and start saving EARLY for school expense.

Every little bit parents can set aside goes a long way to contributing towards your children’s future education and unlocks the potential of the next generation of New Zealanders so the sooner you start the better.

The RaboDirect survey found:

  • The research found young families with children aged 0-12 years old feel the most pressure of paying for their children’s education (66%), compared to families with teenagers (25%).
  • Wellington parents lead, with the highest number of respondents (56%) identifying schooling as the major expense while raising a child, followed by Auckland (49%).
  • The research found concerns with education costs are felt irrespective of whether their children are sent to private or public schools.

And finally, this doesn’t of course cover university education, which leaves many young Kiwis tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they start their working lives. That’s double the reason to start saving now.

*ASG Education Programmes New Zealand survey 2015