Let's compare three actual nursery schools: School A is in Constantia, Cape Town. Fees are about R9,950 a term (3 months), and for an extra R525 a month your little one will also get lunch and a snack. There's a R300 application fee, a R1,750 placement fee if you're accepted, and a R5,000 refundable deposit. Then there's also an annual events fee of R250 and a security levy of R535 a term.
School B is only a few kilometres away. The monthly fee is R2,550 (for a half day) or R3,100 (full day) and includes breakfast, lunch and two snacks. Apart from the R100 application fee and a R1,200 non-refundable deposit, there are no compulsory admin charges.
School C’s fee is R2,295 per month but only from February to November, for a half day, not including any food or snacks but including all stationary and supplies.
Head spinning yet? Let's break it down.
These vary greatly from crèche to crèche. You may have to pay 10, 11, or 12 monthly instalments a year, or you could be charged per annual or term instead. When you're comparing schools, calculate each crèche's fee over the full year.
Many schools will offer you choices between sending your child for a half-, full or even three-quarter day. Some are only open in the morning. Make sure you know how these different options affect the fees and how much you’ll pay for occasional aftercare should you need it.
Check if there's a discount for paying the whole year's fees in advance. If there are different instalment options (for example 11 or 12 monthly payments), work out if one's cheaper. And ask about sibling discounts: is there a lower fee for your second child?
Also read: How to choose childcare
Most schools charge some sort of administration fee when you register. This registration, application or enrolment fee is mostly a once-off charge per family, though some schools do charge an annual admin fee per child. On top of that, some schools ask for deposits upon acceptance of placement.
These can range from R500 to R5,000 and are usually (but not always) non-refundable. This means you can't get the money back, even if you decide to send your child elsewhere. The deposit also won't be deducted from your first month's school fees.
Some schools have extra admin fees and levies: from annual "mattress fees" to "hygiene levies" or, as seen in the example above, a "security levy" that adds up to R2,140 a year.
Meals and snacks
Meals are often included in the school fees, but that's not always the case. Even if it is, a school may still ask that you send a piece of fruit or a tub of yoghurt.
Supply lists and stationery fees
Some schools charge an annual stationery fee, but most nursery schools will give you a list of supplies you need to send each month, term or year. Again, this varies greatly: one school will expect nothing more than bum cream and wet wipes, while another will ask for tissues, toilet paper and stationery.
One crèche in Pietermaritzburg expects a monthly donation of, among other things, 4 litres of Oros. One in Randburg requires that you buy compulsory school clothing items. And another private preschool requires of every child to bring their own iPad to school.
While one box of tissues per term is unlikely to break the bank, a long list of required items can add up to a lot more than you’d bargained for.
Also be prepared for daily backpack supplies to run out a bit quicker than they might at home – your baby's carers may change nappies more often or apply bum cream more liberally than you do.
Also read: Off to nursery school
Extramural activities are often offered during school hours, on the school’s premises. These may include Playball, ballet, drama or even swimming. Because these classes are usually given by outsider service providers, it will cost extra (roughly around R500 a term). There are however schools that offer a small selection of extracurriculars within school hours and as part of the school fee.
Don't assume that a nursery school is open year-round. Some schools are closed during every school holiday, while others only close over December. Some crèches offer holiday care but for an extra fee.
Baker's Day is a favourite feature at many crèches. This could entail a parent sending treats for the whole class on a Friday. Elaborately decorated cupcakes for 24 children can cost a pretty penny, but packets of homemade popcorn can be just as popular and far less costly. At some schools children have to buy these treats for a small amount (about R2 to R5 per week). This money then goes to the school’s fundraising chest.
Baker’s Day could also mean kids create something fun to eat at school, and in some cases every parent needs to send the ingredients weekly.
Be prepared for fundraising projects. This could mean buying raffle tickets once a year, or hotdogs and ice-cream every Friday, for example. It could also mean supporting special events like market days, sport days or Christmas concerts. One nursery school in Johannesburg even has a R200 fundraising levy per month.
The funds raised often go towards bigger projects, like a new jungle gym, laying synthetic lawn or painting the roof. Though it's usually optional, not taking part may be frowned upon – so make sure you know what the expectations are.
There may be special outings to the park, beach or aquarium, or a petting zoo or educational drama troupe may visit the school. These events usually don't cost too much, but even R20 or R30 there can catch you unawares (especially if you have to pay in cash).
Those little extras
On top of the official school charges, there can be lots of other little expenses: donating a book to the school library, contributing towards teachers' gifts or sending cookies on your child's birthday. There may be a social expectation that you invite the whole class to birthday parties. And of course, every time your child is invited to a party, you'll have to buy a gift. Since these things aren't always possible to predict, it's a good idea to put away some money for these not-so-little extras.
How much do you pay for your child's nursery school or crèche, and what is included? Send your comments to email@example.com.