The Hidden Costs of Private Preschools


I am familiar with meltdowns in Target. I have two small children, after all, so I expect to leave Target in a blur of tears, whining, crying, and threats to never, ever return. When I got an unexpected opportunity to go to Target by myself, however, I wasn’t prepared for the meltdown that ensued.

preschool kids

Credit Image: pixzamillion on Flickr

Mine, that is.

My mission was simple: Buy Nathan a present for his fourth birthday. My daughter would be attending his bouncy house party the next morning, so all I had to do was get a gift and enjoy every blessed second of being alone with my big red cart.

But I couldn’t enjoy it. Mostly because I was having a gigantic anxiety attack in the toy aisle. My daughter goes to a preschool that serves lots of affluent families, one of whom is Nathan’s. When I got the toy aisle, I was paralyzed. How much am I supposed to spend? was my first thought. The question was loaded, because what I meant was, How much can I spend without highlighting that we are not one of the more affluent members of the community? We are blessed to have enough, but let’s just say that we aren’t building a custom house on the lake or driving cars favored by South American dictators.

Suddenly, spending $9.99 or even $5.99 didn’t seem like enough. But how much was enough?

The panic really soared when I realized that the week after Nathan’s birthday, we will attend both Ava’s and Jax’s parties, both of whom are also in my daughter’s class. Was I going to panic before each party? If so, it was going to be a long year, because there are 12 more kids in the class who will celebrate their birthdays throughout the spring and summer.

This birthday party angst was just the tip of the very expensive iceberg known as “preschool.”

For us, educating our three-year-old daughter has turned out to be more expensive than advertised. My husband and I had done the math -— we knew we could afford tuition, so when we got accepted to the school, we took on the financial burden.

But as soon as school started, we began receiving calls about the school’s “annual giving” campaign, and then its “capital campaign,” following by the long-term “building project.” The requests for money were coming fast and furious. We wanted to do our part, but it felt excessive.

In addition the big ticket school fundraising drives, there were near-weekly requests to contribute to the classroom funds or the teacher appreciation funds. Then, there was an all-school book fair at Barnes & Noble, where each family was asked to contribute (hardback) books for the library. I adore my daughter’s teacher and want to contribute resources wherever possible, but the costs were started to add up and stress me out.

Then, the birthday party circuit started, and what should have been a blissful night of solo shopping turned into an anxiety fest about all the hidden costs of preschool education.

Once I calmed down, I selected a present for Nathan ($12.99) and accepted that my husband and I would need to rework our budget with these new costs in mind. While I want to support the school and our daughter’s wonderful teacher, we have financial limits, and we need to live within them.

I just wish someone would have told me about all the requests for money that would pour in after we had written that sizable tuition check.

Did you get requests from your child’s preschool for money? Did you feel pressure to contribute? Did you feel resentful about all the requests that were on top of tuition? How did you handle these requests and hidden costs?


Christie O. Tate,



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