Yes, You Can Afford Private School

Here at The Motley Fool, we're celebrating back-to-school days with financial advice for parents, kids, and students of all ages. Check out the entire curriculum right here.

Does the thought of writing a five-figure tuition check make you feel a little light-headed and queasy, like a nervous teenager on Mountain Dew taking a college entrance exam? If so, just imagine paying for a dozen years of private schooling before the college bills come due.

Thousands of parents do it, and they're not all millionaires or trust-fund heirs. I asked several members of our Fool Community how they do it. Many pay for private schools by the sheer force of persistence and determined budgeting. So, sharpen your pencil and pay attention. Here's how to get your kids to private school.

Financial aid. Pursue every penny of financial aid the school offers. If the first offer doesn't meet your needs, don't assume it's set in stone. According to one parent, spending five minutes writing a gracious letter asking for more help has netted thousands in extra assistance.

If you're appealing a financial aid offer, be sure to mention any unusual circumstances that could make your finances tighter than they appear, like another child attending college or a health issue. The worst they can do is turn you down.

Scholarships. Find them and apply. Cast your net widely if you're committed to private schooling and you expect you'll need a scholarship to make it happen. Look beyond the school, too. There might be a community or civic group offering scholarships to bright students whose families can't afford tuition.

Discounts. If you work for the school, or you have more than one child attending, you might get a discount on tuition. You might also check with your church, if it has an affiliation with a private school. It may offer lower tuition for church members or discounts based on tithing or a church letter of recommendation.

Go to work. If one spouse stays home, he or she might consider sprucing up that resume. Consider this message from Phillips Exeter Academy, where tuition exceeds that of many private colleges: "We have the expectation that each parent in a family will work. When a parent of a financial aid applicant is not working, it will be important for the family to provide a complete explanation of why that is the case."

Live cheap. There are plenty of ways to tighten up on other costs. One family decided to stay in their townhouse and forgo fancy vacations, instead tracking their expenses and living frugally. Another family has cut their expenses to the bone to send their four young children to private school on one income. They never dine out, don't go on vacation, don't go to the movies, drive 10-year-old cars, clip coupons, hunt for sales, avoid magazine subscriptions, and hang out at the library. They don't spend a penny they don't have to. If this is your strategy, take a free 30-day peek at Motley Fool Green Light and see if the money-saving tips can help you trim your spending.

Skip college savings. What's more important: a dozen years of foundational schooling or four years pursuing a specialized degree? Several Fools have decided that the early years matter more. They're paying for primary and secondary school tuition and sacrificing the college savings account in the process. They reason that their children may have a better chance at getting college scholarships. Some plan on sending their children to community college for the first two years. There are also many ways, including financial aid and loans, to pay for college.

If you're planning ahead, you might also be able to take advantage of tax breaks offered through dependent care accounts or Coverdell ESA accounts to cover some of your private school costs.

If you're trying to assemble a strategy to pay for tuition, for a primary school or for college, you might be interested in these related articles:

Financing your kids' education is within your grasp with help from our personal finance newsletter, Green Light. Learn how to save on tuition, fees, and other school expenses, and find ways to squeeze more value from your money. A free 30-day trial is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. The Motley Fool has an A+ disclosure policy.

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