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Don’t play Morabaraba over school fees

Parents often fail to count the cost of sending their children to schools that just end up costing too much and forcing them into debt

Using credit to live, and only paying the minimum payment before spending again leads you into a vicious cycle of living beyond your means.
credit card, bank card, debt, money Using credit to live, and only paying the minimum payment before spending again leads you into a vicious cycle of living beyond your means.
Image: 123RF/ kritchanut

The cost of education will continue to increase, and affordability and financial management should be the guide parents use when deciding on a school for their children.

Eunice Sibiya, an independent financial coach, says most parents skip the affordability part when they go hunting for a school, commit, and then later realise school fees and ancillary costs are above their means.

They did not ask the critical question: “On my budget, how much am I able and comfortable to part with every month?” According to Old Mutual estimates, the average annual school fee of a pupil at a government primary or high school is R37,700 in 2019 and will rise to R63,300 in six years’ time.

For private education, you are looking at parting with R92,400 at a primary school and R148,300 at a highs chool, which will be up to R154,900 and R248,700 respectively in the year 2025.

Financial experts are unanimous that there is no formula or prescribed spending on education costs, but one should do thorough research about schools, understand their financial position, and above all, start saving and investing for education much earlier. Sue Torr, managing director at Crue Invest, says there is no rule of thumb on the percentage of income to spend on school fees, but parents should prioritise education in their budget and not let entertainment, branded clothing, alcohol and cigarettes take precedence.

“Most people fund school fees from their monthly income ... a healthy budget means you are able to cover all your monthly expenses and save at least 15% of your income.”

Noluntu Bam, founder and managing director of Y’mani, a company that specialises in financial literacy, says decisions made by parents about their children’s education, are not necessarily about personal finances but are influenced by emotions. “Choices are made to improve the lot of their children... and expose them to the haves and the have-nots.’’

Bam says while they should check their pocket first, parents are prepared to go broke for their children, but she warns that school fees and uniforms are not the only things to decide affordability.

Sibiya says parents forget that most schools, and especially private schools, have extra-mural activities which can push up the costs significantly. “Your child gets to the school and gets excited about playing tennis, you sign them up for it, then it’s hockey next season and choir, each activity needing its own equipment or attire. The excitement makes you forget that all these activities burn a hole in your pocket.”

Sibiya says overlooking financial management leads to over-indebtedness which leaves parents playing “Morabaraba’' with their expenses. (Morabaraba is a traditional African board game meaning going around in circles).

Describing the vicious cycle of debt, he says they’d pay the minimum on their credit or store card, then withdraw it the next day or make a purchase on the same account. They then borrow to survive, skip payments ... which take you deeper in debt and you’re now living beyond your means.

“As a parent, you should ask yourself: ‘Am I looking for a good education or status?’ There are good schools in the townships and a status attached to going to private schools.”

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