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Is preschool worth the cost?

Consider factors such as your child's development and the effect of more financial pressure on your lives.

By Karen Datko Jan 14, 2010 11:16AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


Marjorie writes in with a very interesting question:

I'm a single mom with a 4-year-old daughter. Each weekday, I take my daughter to stay with one of my aunts so that I can work to earn a living and keep food on the table. After Christmas, my mom sat down with my aunt and me and gave us a bunch of information about a few great preschools in the area. My aunt told me later on that she's supportive, no matter what I choose. So, for me, the real question is whether or not my daughter would get enough benefit from preschool compared to days with my aunt to make the extra costs worthwhile.

I live next door to a single mother, and I see time and time again how she is forced into making difficult choices about the time devoted to her children. Does she make a nutritious home-cooked meal or does she spend an extra half-hour with her girls? Does she spend some time in the yard with them or does she get some of the never-ending household chores taken care of? This comes on top of the prerequisite day of work for single parents, after which they're exhausted but also wanting a strong connection with their children. On top of that, there are money concerns -- a single-income household in the modern world is never easy.

When it comes to a choice between a good preschool and other child care options, I don’t think there’s a simple cut-and-dried answer because there are so many factors involved.


The first one -- and the most important one -- is your child. Is your child outgoing when she's around others her age? Is she intellectually on par with other children her age? Is she capable of holding a writing utensil? Can she count to 20 or so? Is she curious about the world around her? If these things are all true, preschool likely doesn't have a great deal of value for your daughter.


Things get murkier -- in my opinion -- when several of those questions have negative answers. This can indicate a lot of things, from something as simple as social anxiety to a learning disorder or simply the need for more focused one-on-one time. If you're witnessing these issues and you genuinely feel concern about your daughter's intellectual growth, I would lean more toward preschool. If not, I would lean more toward maintaining the care-giving situation with your aunt.


What about the money, though? Is the extra cost of a good preschool worth it when compared with a normal day care if your child is socially thriving and developmentally on pace?


In a word -- in my opinion -- it's not, unless the difference in cost makes no difference in your life. Here’s why:


If you spend that extra money to send your child to a top preschool, you're putting an extra financial burden on yourself. This has several effects on your life. You're more tied to your job than ever before, which means your boss has more power than before and your job is more stressful. You also have less money to spread around in other areas of your life, such as an emergency fund or on something as simple as a stop at the ice cream shop with your child. On some level, these things are given up to afford that preschool -- and these things have a negative impact on your child's home life.

This basic idea is true no matter what you're looking at in life. When you bump up the financial cost for something to get higher quality, you're paying an additional price beyond the dollars and cents. You pay the personal costs that go along with maintaining that higher level of income. If you can’t see the benefit in doing so, don't do it.


To me, that’s an exchange not worth making unless there's a clear and dramatic benefit from the preschool. Never forget that early on, you're the biggest impact and influence on your child, and if sending your child to a preschool will put stressful burdens on you and disrupt that in any way, there had better be a big reward. If your child is doing fine, I don't see the benefit.


No matter what you choose, however, do not let others make you feel guilty about it. Simply by asking questions like this and seriously considering the answer, you're looking at the unique situations, gifts and opportunities in your life to make the right decision for your daughter. You obviously love her. You obviously want what's best for her. Never let other people attempt to use guilt or shame to guide your choice.


Related reading at The Simple Dollar:

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