My son asked me how much his education cost. I cracked my head to explain it to him. Let me tell you the story.

One evening, when we were walking towards an MRT station, I was chatting with my son about his education in Taipei.

“Do you like your school so far?”

My son said, “I feel that I am really doing something productive here. Academically, I have never felt so engaged with schoolwork. I like it here, much better than when we were in Portland and Malaysia.”

I felt a sense of relief when I heard that my son enjoys his new school.

I said, “So the school fees we paid is worth it.”

My son then asked, “How much is my school fee?”

Now we got his attention about how much we spent on his education. He is our only child. So he is kind of lucky that we can afford to provide him with above-average private education that money can buy.

For this semester, we paid NT$500,000. That’s equivalent to roughly US$18,000. 

Then he asked again, “Is that a lot of money?”

Okay. My son is undoubtedly the biggest spender in our household due to the school fees, not how much he eats, even though he is quite a big eater.

So at that moment, I was thinking about how I could put the monetary figure in a context that he could see clearly. He knows that US$36,000 a year is a lot of money to many people. Moreover, this is my son’s first year in high school at Grade 9. He will spend four years in high school before going to college. 

Subsequently, I told him these few examples:

#1. US$36,000 is approximately RM150,000, working out to be RM12,000/month. That’s a five-figure monthly income for Malaysians. If you make that kind of money in your household, that puts your family in Malaysia’s top 20% earners. So to many people, we are spending a fortune on you, my son.

#2. Then as we were waiting for the pedestrian traffic lights to turn green, I saw a Tesla passing by. My son is a big Tesla fan, and frankly, I am too. A Tesla Model X with the highest specification cost NT$4.6 million. Assuming a 10% depreciation rate, that is about the same we pay to his school each semester. I told him, “If you go to public school, we can use that money to buy two Tesla Model X, one for your mom and one for me. We will drive more instead of taking the MRT, trains, the HSR, and public buses.” 

I could see his face lit up at that time. Who wouldn’t want to ride on a Tesla, everyday?

#3. As we crossed the road and walked towards the MRT station entrance, I asked him another question, “What’s the most expensive item in our house right now?”

He thought for a while and said, “Is it the piano?”

Yes, he’s right. I bought a Yamaha digital grand piano when I got to Portland. I paid slightly less than US$6000 for it. That is the most expensive item I’ve ever bought for myself after houses and cars. 

I elaborate a little more, “Imagine being able to buy three grand pianos every semester. That’s how much we are spending for your education, my dear son.” 

Why explain this to our children?

I told you this story not to brag that we send our kid to good schools. We only have one kid and our burden of raising a kid is much less than you if you have two children or more. Furthermore, my son used to study in a public school too back in Portland, which cost nothing. The purpose is to share how we deal with the situation. 

I genuinely believe that most parents would like to provide the best for their children. 

We sent him to an international school because his command of the Chinese language is not up to the standard to study in the public school here in Taiwan. 

Think about your household. If you are a parent, think of what you are providing for your children. I believe it is a lot. 

For example, 

  • I have a friend who moved to Australia for the sake of her children’s education. 
  • My parents didn’t earn much. Nevertheless, they sent me to piano lessons. At one point, my music lesson fee was close to RM200 a month at higher grades, which was a lot of money for them at that time. 
  • I have known many mothers who gave up their careers to stay home so that they could focus on their kids’ well-being. Sometimes you feel like you are a designated cook, driver, and lack a better word– “kakak“. It is always a big sacrifice being a parent

However, we are happily and willingly sacrificing a part of ourselves just for them. And that’s the same as what our parents had provided us. 

I remember there was one time when I was in Piano Grade 5. I felt so bored with classical music that I wanted to quit. When I told my parents about my intention, there was one thing they said that changed my mind to resume the lessons. My father said this, “If you give up now, all the thousands of ringgit we spent on your lesson will go down the drain. And there was a lot of my sweat and blood in exchange for that.”

So the whole point of elaborating this is to educate our children on how much we care about them. 

From me to my son, what I did shows that “I would rather spend that money on you than paying for a Tesla.”

In my parents’ case, they indirectly expressed that they would like to see me play music rather than spending the money on vacation. I think of this because they never had a passport until I brought them to the United States for a month-long vacation.

As for the mothers who gave up their careers — they wanted to give as much care as possible during the critical period when their kids are growing up fast.

Hopefully, our children will be motivated to do well in their life. For me, I illustrated the price we pay for his education, so he can treasure the teaching and mentorship he receives in school. Then he will get much more value, and hopefully much more than the price we pay. I want to see him enjoying the process, be a high performer, and expand his capability.

When I was still in school, my mother once told me that knowledge and education are permanent. That’s something that we own and get to use for our whole life. 

So I told my son, “We are not going to leave much money to you. We will spend it in our lifetime. But while you are acquiring education, skills and knowledge, you better make the best use of this period. We will do our best to give you the proper education. When you grow up, you will be on your own. So you better make the best use of your time while you can still depend on us.

As we get on the MRT train, we realise that we are perfectly fine without a Tesla. 

Be smarter with money! 


KCLau
KCLau

Personal finance author and trainer

    4 replies to "Expensive Private Education: Worth it?"

    • Kinna

      I read every details of your story and I found one similar view that you and my grandfather pass on me, its education. When my grandfather came to Tanah Melayu, he left everything he owned in Xiamen. He worked extra hard just to make sure my father and his siblings got access to proper education. By acquiring education, one can lift his poverty life (during that time- for now i think better have extra skill for a living). Thanks for the inspiring story.

      • KCLau

        Great observations! We achieve new heights because of the provision and sacrifice of our previous generations.

    • Lisa

      Such a good read! Very true indeed! As parents, the most invaluable gift that we can give our children is education.

      • KCLau

        There is great satisfaction when we see our children do well in school.

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