The hidden costs of free education

  • Emily Doran
  • 17th of January 2018
  • Family
  • kids
  • school

Most parents with school age children will already know this, but as a parent with my first child heading off to school, I’m discovering that my daughters ‘free’ education is actually going to cost me a bit of money. For those, like me, who are new to the school system, here are some hidden costs you may encounter.

  • School fees (also known as ‘donations’ or voluntary contributions) – These vary wildly from school to school, city to city. You don’t HAVE to pay them (in theory) but your child may miss out on opportunities that kids who pay them get if you don’t. Under the Labour Government schools are likely to get additional funding which may see many schools drop school fees – fingers crossed. Some specialist classes (in High School) may incur class fees as well or you may have to buy specialist items over and above the ordinary stationery requirements.
  • Stationery – You need to provide your child with a set of stationery as prescribed by the the school. In primary school it’s not too bad (we’re being asked for $35 which seems pretty reasonable for a year) but it can start getting up there once you get to High School, into the hundreds of dollars – ouch!
  • Uniforms – we don’t have to deal with this yet as the primary school my daughter is going doesn’t have a uniform but Intermediate and High School we’ll definitely have to. Not only is it the normal uniform you need but also a set of PE uniform and some schools even have a ‘formal’ uniform or different sets of uniforms for the junior and senior schools as well. A friend was telling me they had to pay $290 for a school blazer for their child! Yowzers – I think I might have to start saving now.
  • Trips and Excursions – many schools plan extra activities and trips for the kids and these do cost extra for parents / famillies.
  • School Holidays – Depending on what level of schooling your child is in depends on how many weeks of holidays they have each year. For us, we’re looking at about 13 weeks of school holidays. Even if we both use our 4 weeks annual leave at separate times we’re still short by 5 weeks! No idea what we’ll do yet but we’ll either be faced with the cost of taking leave without pay (if our employers will allow it) or putting her in a school holiday programme. Either way, school holidays are going to cost us money.
  • Technology – we’re not at the high school stage yet but without a doubt by the time my kids are in high school there will be some sort of technology requirement whether it be a tablet or laptop, so I’m mentally preparing myself for this in advance.
  • Sports / After school activities – if your child wishes to participate in any sports teams or after / before school activities (eg Music lessons) there will likely be fees and equipment associated with this.
  • Before school / after school care – if you’re in a job that is not school-hours or does not have a lot of flexibility you’ll likely need to figure out what to do with the kid(s) before or after school. If you don’t have family on hand to help out then you may need to look at a before and/or after school programme. More money. Sigh.

All-in-all, school and school aged kids are expensive. The amount of sighs I’ve let out while writing this is a rather large number brought on by the fact that I really should have starting saving for this before my kids were born as I’m starting to realise that it’s going to cost us an arm and a leg to have kids in school!


The information contained in this article is of a general nature and should not be taken as advice. It reflects the opinions of the writer only and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of New Zealand Home Loans (NZHL).

  • Emily Doran Author

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