Finance | Students

Going to Private School Affected My Financial Life

Private School, Yes I attended and it’s a different view from the inside. Money…..It was just something we never talked about. We never had to talk about it but it was everywhere. It was a presence when I went to public school filled with kids from the underprivileged mill community and it was an even bigger monster at the private school I attended later on.

I’m not trying to paint with a broad brush and say that all private schools are like mine, but based on the popular novel “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfield and my experience I can tell you that a lot of the time was spent grouping kids into the “Haves” and the “Have- Nots”.

My Dad was a successful optometrist and we always had plenty but not the kind of wealth the kids at my school had. I never had the name-brand clothes or the designer purses or the glitzy vacations to ski-resorts and yacht clubs. 

 I considered myself normal, lucky even to have basic needs met and then some-but at school guess which group I was in? It wasn’t as blatant as I’m making it out to be-but I believe a lot of my insecurity that manifested itself in college came from those middle-school years being the new kid at a fancy private school having to wear last year’s shoes.

I wasn’t alone. A lot of kids came from middle-class families, and a lot of the kids who went to the school had parents who taught at the school and received tuition breaks. It’s not like I was just one in a floating sea of wealthy youngsters. It was something in my personality that made me want to try and compete, who surrounded myself with friends at an early age that had wealth and flaunted it, and made my soft heart so sensitive to our differences.

 If I had gone to public school I probably would have been able to have a nicer car, clothes, more opportunities for travel-but my parents were shelling out 20,000 dollars a year on a decent education for my brother and me. The ultimate question is–Was the money worth it? I received countless opportunities to develop my artistic talent I would not have gotten at the public school system in my town.

I learned from some of the best teachers and was truly prepared for college. I watched during my freshman year of college as some of my friend struggled with basic study skills and writing term papers after I had done that for four years. I also made a great group of friends I still keep in touch with and had a chorus and drama teacher who really believed in me and fostered my talent.

I’m not an actor now, but I’m happy I had people who encouraged me to hunt down the dreams I had back then. They taught me tenacity-which served me later on while I was finding my groove professionally. This lesson was priceless and is something I will always be grateful for. In a roundabout way I suppose I am saying the money was worth it-but being there gradually poked holes in my self-esteem, especially in regards to money. I literally shudder to think how much debt I’d be in if they allowed middle-school girls to have credit cards. Perhaps they don’t for a reason.

I remember there was a dance in 7th grade and I found a really great top at the Wal-Mart. It was only 7.00 and my mother, who usually never bought me a top “just to wear to a party” agreed since it was such a great price. I got dozens on compliments on it at the dance, but then when I (stupidly) confided in Amber in the bathroom where it came from. I was excited everyone thought my top was an excellent find. At the information she wrinkled up her pretty nose in disgust and told everyone I was wearing “Wal-Mart Clothes”. Shamed, I called my Mom and went home early and banished the top I loved to the back of my closet.

My freshman year of High School a guy wouldn’t date me because he said it made his mother “nervous” I didn’t live on the most prestigious street in our neighborhood. Like, really? Even if that wasn’t true, you could’ve just said I had bad breath. I was a doctor’s daughter-and suddenly I’m from the wrong side of the tracks?

I detail these anecdotes to give you some clue about how elitist and money conscious some kids (and more likely their parents) were at my school. Gossip Girl is a gross exaggeration of private school life, but the truth behind it comes from somewhere and it is very, very, real.

There were absolutely happy times in school. It’s just that the older you get you tend to examine things through the lens of time. Especially since I now blog about finance and money in my life. I have often wondered who I would be and what I would be doing if I hadn’t learnt from such an early age that so many people equate status with wealth and wealth with self-worth. 

My parents did their best, and they are definitely not materialistic people but when you are twelve or thirteen you tend to listen more to what is happening in your social circle than what is happening at home.

Eventually I tired of trying to keep up with mean Amber and quit the cheerleading squad. I found solace in my quirky new friends from the theater department and received town-wide recognition for playing the lead role in the big musical we did each year. I poured my soul into the choir and drama departments and felt I’d found a place where I was judged on my talents instead of how much my family made in a year. I feel I left a great legacy.

Every time I talk about my school days my voice catches a little bit, and I loved taking my boyfriend on campus-so eager and proud to relive those days. Ultimately I’m thankful I attended especially because now that I am old I understand just how much my parents sacrificed to send me there because they thought it would give me an advantage they never had. Now that I am older I understand, and I am proud of it because it is my school and holds so many sweet memories for me. I’m not proud because it’s fancy and private and has a hefty price tag.

Guest Post By: Lauren Bee is a freelance writer living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the creator of the popular personal finance blog “L Bee and the Money Tree” in which she details her triumphs and struggles with the ever elusive tree of wealth. In addition to writing Lauren enjoys musical theater, wine, annoying her boyfriend and snuggling with her puppy, Murray.

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  1. Interesting read!! The school system in the USA is so warped. It’s sad that you have to pay for private school to get a decent education — it’s really not fair to those who cannot afford it. Sounds like you turned out alright 😉 and I bet the Walmart shirt was AWESOME.

  2. Great post! I never went to private school, or knew anyone that did until I got to University. I will say that when I was in my first year of my Bachelor’s, the kids who had gone to private school definitely were more ready for the grind of first year.

  3. Thanks for sharing. It is interesting to see that some things seem quite similar between public and private schools. Looks like kids still judge others based on money and social status regardless of what kind of school you go to. I remember as a pre-teen going with my dad to K-mart or Bi-ways to shop for clothes. As a child it was embarrassing but it was what my dad could afford being a single parent with 4 kids. Didn’t understand it then, but sure understand now. Was nice to hear your point of view. Thanks

    1. Thank you for your reply! It is interesting that this happens in public schools too-I thought it was just my uber-rich classmates who were being elitist. It almost makes me sad how embarassing it all was at the time and now it seems unimportant.

  4. Thanks for the great post! I see this day in and day out. I work in a public highschool that has vocational students and IB students. It’s quite a mix. Even among each education level there are still “have” and “have nots”. I hope we help to make our students able to handle their financial future. 🙂

      1. I went to Catholic school growing up, Lauren, but the uniforms didn’t help alleviate any stress…at least for me! I’ve been 5’8″ since 7th grade, so I always had these long legs that used to resemble those of the feathered variety. I got made fun of for that, and wished I could have just worn jeans in the winter…like other normal kids. I was also only one of 3 brunettes in my entire grade. It was like Village Of The Damned; everyone had blonde hair, blue eyes, and tons of money. My parents weren’t rich at all, and I only recently began considering the giant sacrifice they must have made to send me to a good school. Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed it….takes me back a bit. 🙂

        1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment on this post. It’s nice to know I wasn’t the only one feeling insecure and left out, even if this comfort does come some 13 years later. 🙂

  5. Great post! I remember the mean girls from my middle school making fun of me because one of them had donated the top I was wearing. I didn’t care-it was a nice top but it was kind of weird to be wearing the top that a classmate I didn’t like had donated. I eventually got over it but it took a while.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story with us. There are always going to be people with more than us & with it, financial prejudice. It certainly helps me realize that the more you have, the more you have to lose & for some people that brings out the need to kick others down so they can feel superior. Sad really but it tends to be the nouveau riche that are the worst…really old, centuries old, money in Europe has no need to prove anything. I had the chance to experience the class and privacy with which multi-billionaires move. There’s no need to criticize, no need to flaunt, no need to even express their wealth – it simply is. Never was I made to feel less than because with true acceptance of their station in life, there is no need to go on the attack to defend something never in question – they have more and always will.

    1. I agree-all of the multi-million dollar men I worked for on wall street often wore clothes from the Gap and were really down to earth. Looking back I find it so funny that as children we were so classist.

  7. My sister went to a private Catholic school for high school, but it was almost 100% middle class and scholarship students (including a lot of inner-city first-gen Latinas who took the train in). She got a really great education there– she’s the kind of person who does the minimum to get an A, and the min to get an A is much higher at that school than at the local public.

    1. I think private schools have a lot to offer education wise-I know I got my moneys worth. I’m not so sure it did anything to teach me about life, finances, or self-esteem.

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