The school letter
If your little one is off to primary school next year, you should have received a letter or info pack with next year's school fees. Going through this information is the first step – make sure you read it top to bottom, and that you understand exactly what's included and what's not included in the school fees.
If the school has a website, go through it to make sure you haven't missed any potential costs. The letter you received will include school fees, but may be less clear on other costs like stationery, outings, fundraising and uniforms.
Here are some of the major costs to consider.
School (or tuition) fees vary greatly from school to school. Government schools can range between free (at certain non-fee paying schools in low-income areas) to over R30,000 a year. If you're joining a government school in a middle-class area, you'll likely pay around R20,000 to R25,000 for the year (tuition only).
Grade R tends to be slightly more expensive, because these preschools are often run as a private venture even if linked to a government primary school. Expect to pay around R20,000 to R30,000 per year.
Private school fees vary even more: from around R20,000 per year to over R400,000 for the most expensive.
It's important to know what these fees include and exclude, how often you need to pay, and whether you can get any discounts. Some questions to ask:
What is the school's payment schedules? In other words, can I pay per month, per term or per year?
If I pay monthly, how many instalments are there: 10, 11, or 12?
Are there any discounts if I pay the full year's fees in advance? Some schools, including government schools, offer a 5-10% discount, but you have to pay the full cost before a certain date. This cut-off might even be 31 December, so make sure you don't miss out!
Are there any discounts for siblings?
Did you pay a registration or enrolment fee? While government schools are legally not allowed to charge admin fees, many private schools (and that includes Grade R classes run by government schools) do charge a fee for applications. The schools may deduct this from next year's school fees, but not all schools do.
Do the tuition fees include textbooks, the use of computers or tablets, stationery and school activities?
Other compulsory costs
Some compulsory costs are clearly stated in the fees letters, such as a mandatory fundraising or a stationery fee. But there may be other, hidden costs throughout the year. Here are some questions to ask:
Does the school provide stationery, or do you have to supply your own? If they do provide it, is there an extra fee? Do you have the option to buy it yourself and possibly save money?
Do you have to provide any other supplies? For example, in Grade R kids may have to bring toiletries and plasters each term. Some requirement lists even include things like all-purpose cleaner and reams of A4 paper.
How much will outings cost, and are they compulsory? For example, a Cape Town primary explains that their outings cost between R10 and R150, and that attendance is mandatory.
Are school camps mandatory, and how much will they cost?
What is the school's policy on fundraising? Is there a once-off fundraising fee, or will your child have to sell raffle tickets, get golf day sponsorships or donate cake for bake sales? Are all of these mandatory?
Do the school fees include any extra-curriculars? Some schools include basic activities such as school sports, choir and musicals. But even then, you may be expected to buy uniforms or costumes, pay participation fees in eisteddfods, or for transport to and from competitions and matches. One private school expects every student to take individual music lessons at the school, but the parents have to pay extra.
If your child's school has a more generic school uniform (like grey pants and black skirts with white shirts), you can shop around at major retail clothing stores. However, many schools have very specific uniforms which only one or two suppliers stock.
If you have a limited budget, you can buy second-hand clothes. Children often grow so fast that their school uniform gets too small long before it becomes threadbare! Ask the school if they run a shop for used uniforms in good condition – many schools do.
Also find out which items are absolute must-haves, and which ones you can do without. Just because the school has expensive blazers, doesn't mean you have to buy one. And don’t buy all the sport gear before you know what your kid will participate in.
Aftercare and holiday care
The school day is very short – by the time our little darlings finish their lessons, we haven't even thought of lunch! So if you work full-time (or even half-day), you'll have to find somebody to look after your kids in the afternoons. Aftercare is a great option and may include lunch, help with homework and lifts from school (if the aftercare programme is not run by the school itself). Some things to keep in mind:
Schools often run their own aftercare programmes, as do many nursery schools or preschools. Full-day aftercare can cost anywhere between R500 to R2,000 a month, so it's worth shopping around! Often, half-day care (up to, say, 2.30pm) is also available.
Your school may also offer a casual aftercare fee, which means you pay only for the days when your child stays after school. If it's only now and then, it could work out cheaper (between R50 and R200 an afternoon).
If you work, you'll also need holiday care during the school holidays. Expect to pay a minimum of R500 per week.
Also read: 10 things you need to ask about your child’s afterschool care
Your child might need extra classes at some point. Some schools offer remedial classes: this can range between R400 per term to R200 per individual lesson.
If your child has a disability or special needs, there might also be other costs, such as a facilitator. Bear in mind that if your child does have a disability, you may be able to deduct some of these costs from your taxable income!
Even with the most careful planning, you'll run into many unplanned costs over the next year. It's a good idea to add a little bit extra to your budget, whether it's for a special class T-shirt, a teacher's gift or a new outfit for the school concert.