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Making Catholic School Affordable {Yes, It’s Possible}

To read all the posts from this week:  HDYDI: Choose, Afford and Love Catholic SchoolApplying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should AskCatholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the Convert).

If you’re like us, when you began considering Catholic schooling for your children, you probably asked this all-important question…

Where in the HECK is that money tree?

Actually, I say that about many things in life. While no money tree exists (sadly) there are so many things you can do to make Catholic schooling affordable, doable and manageable. Two summers ago, I invited three Catholic moms to blog about the educational system they each chose for their family: Catholic school, home school and public school.

I loved that series.

You should totally check it out. It’s a reminder that every family is called to something different, but no path is greater, holier or more Catholic than another. Yes, our family has chosen Catholic school because it’s right for us, but I honor and admire those families that choose something different.

Now, back to our regular programming, making Catholic school affordable. Here are a few things we do, along with ideas I’ve stolen from friends and blog readers. I’m nothing if not resourceful. Tomorrow, I share the love and why we adore Catholic schools.Catholic school affordability, blog

TUITION
The biggest fee of them all sometimes scares folks away. Don’t let it.

  1. As I mentioned all week on the blog (and many blog readers reiterated), ASK FOR HELP. There should be zero shame in asking for assistance if you need it. This is why diocesan offices and generous donors pour money into assistance, so as many children as possible can receive a Catholic education if they want it. If you school doesn’t offer any assistance in the form of sibling discounts, parishioner rates or scholarships, call your diocesan superintendent. Maybe there’s a program you can utilize and, if not, maybe by asking you’ll be encouraging the Catholic schools office to funnel resources into assistance.
  2. Check into different schools. In Austin, one of our high schools operates on the Corporate Internship Program, where students go to school four days and work one day a week. Their employer helps offset the cost of tuition, while the student gains invaluable work experience. It’s brilliant.
  3. Ask to pay your fees over a period of time. Either consult with the principal or business manager and talk about financing options that are available. Don’t assume something has to be a certain way. Ask before you give up.
  4. Reach out to relatives or close friends. Perhaps they would prefer to give your children monetary assistance rather than a tangible gift for events like birthdays or Christmas? I don’t see it as charity. Quite honestly, I’d rather see that money go into something life-changing than yet another Lego set.

UNIFORMS
Let’s be honest, the biggest benefit of uniforms? No arguments about what to wear during the morning routine! That right there is worth it.

  1. Reuse, resell and recycle. Because we have multiple children you can darn well bet those things get recycled to the next kid. The school offers a uniform resale, typically toward the end of the school year. It’s win-win because you can buy used and sell your old if you’re done passing them down.
  2. Buy them used. Nobody said your kid has to have brand-new clothes.
  3. Check the sales. We buy our uniforms in June when the uniform company sells them for 10% off. I typically buy the pants a little long to be sure they still fit come August.
  4. Amazon is your friend. Because shoes tend to be from a big-box manufacturer, I check out the Amazon prices via Prime and buy the girls’ saddle shoes and the boys dress shoes there. Not only are they shipped fast, but the cost is lower than our local sporting goods store.
  5. One major benefit of my children wearing uniforms is we spend less on their overall wardrobes for each season. My children have fewer “play clothes” than their friends and just a handful of items to wear to Sunday Mass. And, the boys use their school dress pants as Sunday attire, as well.

FUND RAISERS
Anyone that’s been in Catholic schools knows there are always fund raisers to offset the cost of running the school. It’s one question we hear often: Why doesn’t the school just charge what it really costs? Well, because if you’re trying to make it affordable to as many people as possible, that cost difference may prevent someone from applying. If you can give to the school financially, in great amounts, then you should be doing it. If you can’t, then here’s some food for thought:

  1. For us, giving to the school is the same as tithing to the parish. We give from the fruits, not from what’s left. Right now, our funding priority is to our children’s school. Select those charities you want to support and stick to it.
  2. Don’t feel guilted into giving to every school fund raiser. If the annual fund is your gig, give to it. And if the golf tournament isn’t, then don’t. Support what you love and brush away the guilt. Easier said than done for Catholics, right?!
  3. Choose to give of your time and talent. I’m a graphic designer, so the school receives the gift of my time and talent as I offer my services, pro-bono, for anything they choose. I love doing it. Maybe you’re a master planner, a great organizer, a stellar photographer or an IT whiz. Or, perhaps your company can gift something in-kind to the school. Find the connection and give freely of the gifts God has bestowed upon you.
  4. See if your company participates in a matching gifts program. You might be able to double, even triple, your gift to the school. All kinds of awesome.

FEES
Oh, the fees, they are aplenty. But you know what? They abound everywhere, no matter the school path you choose. If you don’t watch the little things, they add up to big expenses. Here’s how we keep them in check:

  1. We pay them over time. When re-enrollment time hits, I can’t fork over that kind of cash all at once, so we space it out.
  2. Teachers receive homemade or inexpensive, but thoughtful gifts. We rarely contribute to class gifts. As a large family, those $10 and $15 donations for each child in each class really adds up, so we just don’t do it. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty {neither should you}. As the daughter of a public school teacher I can tell you it’s always the heartfelt gifts that mean the most: a handmade card, a crocheted scarf or a loaf of bread made with loving hands. There are ways to honor the teachers and staff you love without having buyer’s remorse.
  3. We think long and hard about our children’s extracurriculars. For us, music lessons outside of school are less expensive than the band and orchestra fees and summer art camp teaches them more than the after-school art program. It’s a choice we make and you’re likely to make a different one. But, knowing what fees you have makes for less financial stress down the road.
  4. You can opt out of the “extras.” That fund raiser t-shirt, that class party fee, the gala ticket and so many more. Again, just re-read that section on fund raisers.
  5. SCRIP. One of my blog readers, Sara, mentioned the SCRIP program that allows families to sell gift cards at discounted rates to earn money. Some schools do this as a school-wide fund raiser, while others allow families to do it on their own. Either way, it’s a great resource to have.

CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE
When we first began Catholic school, we had three children. Now, we have (almost) six. And darn it all if the kids don’t get more expensive as they get older! Over time we’ve learned to cut costs, be creative with our spending habits and most importantly, teach our children that the priority should always be God, not the stuff. With that in mind, here’s a few things we do:

  1. Cut cable. As long as I have Downton Abbey via our digital antenna, I’m good.
  2. Get crafty. I make our own laundry detergent and cleaning supplies. We buy generic on many things and we use coupons, discounts when buying all sorts of things.
  3. Consider extra income opportunities. I have my own freelance business to supplement the extras. It’s taken me ten years to build up my business, but every little bit helps.
  4. Move closer to the school. Rather than driving 45 minutes to our former school, we now live 1.5 miles from the kids’ school. Not only has that cut down on car time, but it also means my children can walk to school from time to time.
  5. Take frugal vacations. When we travel, we brown bag it, stay with friends/family and do things on the free and cheap. We want our children to see the world and so we save all year for one family vacation. Sometimes, it ends up being a trip to the children’s hospital for brain surgery. So, you know. That’s life. We’re not jet-setting off to Paris, nor are we belly dancing in Hawaii. Someday we will. You mark my words. But that day is not today.
  6. Carpool. This is no longer necessary, but in the early days we did this and it was a real cost saver.

If you have more to add to the list, please comment below!

22 Comments

  1. Andrea on January 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Kathryn – – I loved this! For your readers located in Arizona, our state is incredibly blessed to have a dollar for dollar state tax credit for up to $2000 (married, or $1000 single) that each family can take for a donation to a Catholic School (http://www.catholiceducationarizona.org/) and people can even recommend those dollars for a particular child! This has enabled us to send our children to Catholic school virtually for free. There are 4 or 5 other states that offer similar programs. So amazing. Now we just have to get the word out to all parishioners about it 😉

    • Kathryn on January 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      I’m sorry, could you hear me screaming AWESOME SAUCE all the way from Texas? What an awesome resource, Andrea!

      • Andrea on January 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm

        Girl – – I cannot even begin to tell you. My dad has even taken this on as what will most likely be his post-retirement project. With this resource, there is absolutely no reason why every single Catholic child could not attend Catholic school for free in the state of Arizona. All the schools should be bursting at the seams.

  2. Laura on January 29, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Hey, I didn’t mean to start something on your FB. I do all of that and we still can’t afford Catholic school. 🙁 Our parish is tithing based, so if you tithe your ten percent your kids can go there. That’s great but some of us don’t have the ten percent.

    Also, Catholic schools in our area cannot deal with special needs. My sons have a neurological speech problem that requires intense speech therapy. Right now, we are struggling to send one and hope to send the second this spring. Right now, he receives services through the district, as does his brother. Add in the tutoring for one and the other needs for another…. yeah. They all take one class outside of school. That’s it. Our vacations are spent with elderly relatives and I make everything that I can. There just isn’t money.

    When our son was in kindy, I offered my time to the school, helping in any way for tuition. They said no. I am thankful every day for the public school that is two blocks away and can help with my sons’ needs. I am thankful our priests and deacons are understanding, for the most part. I wish it was more afforable for all but for some of us, it isn’t.

    • Kathryn on January 29, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Girl, you didn’t start a thing. If you’re looking for moral and prayer support, you’ve found it here. You’re doing what you can and should the time arise that you can tithe and send your children to Catholic schools then YAY YOU. But if not, still YAY YOU for being such an advocate for your children. The therapy/special needs route sucks rotten eggs, but we do what we have to do to support our kids. Take it one year at a time and see what doors God can open. He’s mighty awesome that way. Have a blessed afternoon!

      • Laura on January 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm

        Right, I am thankful every day for the support from our public schools, from the priests and deacons who GET IT and the great RE program. I just subbed in my son’s class tonight and was impressed with everything they knew. You know 9 year old boys- they don’t tell you anything, lol! But, wow, did the kids know their stuff and I was so impressed when he explained Communion to his sister in the car.

        As for prayer and support- I dunno. I love your articles but felt like I needed to point out that it isn’t possible for everyone. 🙁 Sometimes you do everything you can and you need the public schools. And, hey, my five yo says he is going to be “the daddy in the church” (a priest) so who knows? God calls the most unique people on the least likely paths, right?

        • Kathryn on January 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm

          I’m glad you commented and shared your story. We’re all on a different path to holiness! And yes, kids always have the purest insight. It’s the best part of parenthood, I think.

  3. Jessica on January 30, 2014 at 4:55 am

    For years I believed that we could never afford Catholic school, so imagine my shock when I finally actually looked into it and found out that with tuition assistance we could easily swing it! Our school offers SCRIP and also breaks up your tuition payments into once monthly bank drafts, making it totally doable for large families like ours. As for uniforms, I’m always on the lookout for sales and plan to save by passing down what I can to the next kid. I’ve loved this series..keep it coming! 🙂

  4. Colleen Martin on January 30, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Kathryn,
    I hope I don’t come across as rude, but would you mind if I linked a post I wrote last year about Catholic Schools?

    http://martinfamilymoments.blogspot.com/2013/01/an-inside-peek-at-catholic-schools_28.html

    My husband and I went to Catholic schools, send our kids to Catholic schools and work in Catholic schools, so I feel like we have some good insights on why it’s so great and how to make it work.

    Thank you!!

    • Kathryn on January 30, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Not at all – so glad you shared! The more resources, the better.

  5. Meg on January 31, 2014 at 1:24 am

    When I was in a parochial school (this was more than twenty years ago), the administration changed the uniform requirements slightly every few years, and therefore no used items or hand-me-down clothes worked 🙁 I remember getting demerits because I was wearing a cotton blouse instead of a 60/40 poly/cotton blend, despite being from the same store & in the same style. (We were in CT with no air conditioning, my mother wanted as much cotton as possible.) I’m very glad to hear that other schools are much better about the uniform policies!

  6. Barbara C. on February 2, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Some Catholic schools have programs to off-set cost. For instance, at my daughter’s school you can work lunch duty for tuition credit.

    And most schools in our diocese (Joliet) participate in the Manna program where you buy gift cards for grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment and a certain percentage can be applied to school tuition, your parish fund, or specific ministries. So, I buy $150 of Wal-mart cards before I go grocery shopping and $4.50 went towards to tuition. It seems like a small amount, but with planning it can really add up.

  7. Mia on May 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Another awesome post! The school we will be sending or children is the our parish’s school. For parishioners who send their kids to the school get a bit of a discount. It is also the school that my husband went to. We have an “Angel Wings” program which sounds like that SCRIP program. We have been saving since we found out we were pregnant with our first. We put a certain amount out of each paycheck into an education savings account that we do not touch. By the time our son will start school we should have a few years of tuition saved up. We are saving now because we realize by the time we have multiple kids in school we may not be able to save at all. Thanks again for another great post!!

  8. […] billing? Scholarships? Uniform resales? There are so many options to make school affordable (here’s 23 practical tips!), but most important is your desire. Often, when a principal sees that a family really desires a […]

  9. 5 Myths About Catholic Schools - Team Whitaker on February 1, 2016 at 12:32 am

    […] I get the most, “How do you afford to send your kids to Catholic school?” For starters, here’s 23 tips on making it affordable. But, my best advice? Go talk to the school principal before you decide if you can make it work for […]

  10. Genevieve Cano on November 16, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you for your article. I plan to share it to our followers. We have the same theme…affording Catholic school and encouragement for families. We have a podcast and radio show that can be heard streaming on the internet. We are based out of the Chicago area, and feature schools from around there, but we have branched out to Iowa and Arizona and have special guests which everyone can learn from nationally. All the shows have stories parents will want to hear. Check out http://www.CatholicSchoolSpirit.org. Please contact me so I can connect and keep sharing your helpful articles. I love your blog! We need this in the world today!

    • Kathryn on November 16, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks for your kind words! You’re welcome to email me anytime at [email protected]

  11. Roger Middleton on October 26, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    My wife and I have been wanting to put our daughter through a Catholic school but we haven’t been sure about what we need to do in order to get that life for her. I liked that you had mentioned that it could be important to find cheaper uniforms online that will work and it can save a bit of money. We’ll have to start looking around for an all-girls Catholic school in our area and hopefully, we can find uniforms that will work online.

    • Kathryn on November 4, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Good luck!!

  12. Rebecca Carter on April 27, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    I am falling into frustration because vouchers are given for students to attend our Catholic schools but those of us on the cusp of qualifying are at a real risk of making hard sacrifices in order to pay tuition. We do all the steps you mentioned that we can do and yet…I pray that we will find a way but even I, a Catholic school teacher, have serious doubts about my ability to send 4 children to Catholic school in the future much less just two in the near future.

  13. Brandy Wolfgram on November 9, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    I so wish that there was a Catholic school in our area. My children attended one in our prior town and it truly was a blessing. When we moved to our current community there was talk of one being built but that has since been tabled.

    Our former school did what it could to help those with special needs, if the needs did not interfere with the day to day operation of the classroom environment. Kids with wheelchairs and speech issues were fine. Children with trauma disorders, autism and issues of that nature were not always welcomed with open arms.

  14. […] Making Catholic School Affordable (23 ways!) […]

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