Cathy Filardo knows the value of a good education; she is, after all, a teacher.
Cathy works at a government high school in Melbourne, which she says is a terrific school.
But she and her husband send their 13-year-old daughter, Siena, to a local Catholic school near their home in Brunswick. Several girls from Cathy's extended family, including Cathy herself, have attended the school.
Their son Massimo, 5, will attend a Catholic school next year.
Like most families, the Filardos fund the school fees out of cash flow rather than savings.
"We sit down with our accountant once a year and plan for the following year," Cathy says.
"I can change how many days I work according to what bills we know we are going to be paying over the year."
More than half of the parents who responded to a recent survey indicated they wanted to send their children to private schools. But only one in 10 had planned for this when their children were young.
ANZ commissioned the survey as part of the launch of its School Ready website that helps parents forecast the true costs of sending children to private school.
There is a huge range of fees across the various school systems.
Although many Catholic schools have relatively low fees, the most expensive schools in Sydney and Melbourne charge more than $30,000 a year.
The true cost is much higher after the costs of books and uniforms, laptops and extracurricular activities are included.
Even with public education, there's the cost of extracurricular activities, voluntary contributions, uniforms and shoes. And then there is university.
The idea behind the School Ready site is that by starting early, parents have more time to save and can use investments with higher risk but higher rewards, such as shares.
Of course, it's not always possible.
Cathy says it would have been good to start a savings fund when the children were born. Instead she chose to stay at home full time when the children were very young. With the family on a single income it would have been impossible to save, she says.
Public v private
Whether a private school education is worth the fees and other costs has no simple answer.
It very much depends on the individual child, says Peter Goss, school education program director at think-tank the Grattan Institute.
While his research released this year showed the brightest students at disadvantaged schools lag 2½ years behind their peers at wealthier schools, the gap is not necessarily a reflection on the schools themselves.
"Many schools across the country are achieving remarkable results with students from low-education backgrounds," Dr Goss says.
John Velegrinis, the chief executive of Australian Scholarships Group, says education is broader than curriculum-based outcomes.
"What's most important in choosing a school is focusing on the 'right' school for your child," he says.
"Those are the schools that match as closely as possible both your child's needs and your education preferences."
Financial planner Tim Mackay of Quantum Financial Services in Sydney has clients who choose to not send their children to private schools.
"They use the money they would have spent on fees on tutoring for their children and extra-curricular activities and on holidays for the family," Mackay says.
He says expensive schools are not necessarily better and there is little point in stretching the family finances to such an extent that your standard of living is radically compromised.
Sometimes the school-fee burden can mean parents fail to make voluntary contributions to their superannuation or pay off the mortgage before retirement.
"You may feel like you are doing the best thing for your children, but if they have to help support you in retirement that's not putting them in the best position," Mackay says.
For all but the wealthiest parents, paying for school fees and other education costs is most likely going to be achieved through a combination of strategies.
Parents who have their children attend public primary schools have more time to save.
Perhaps one of the parents will increase their hours of paid work if and when the children start private secondary school.
There are a couple of education savings plans available, of which Australian Scholarships Group is the oldest.
The not-for-profit organisation has a number of savings programs, which help parents save for private primary, secondary and tertiary education and training costs.
Quantum's Mackay says where both parents are on high incomes and have long investment timeframes, insurance bonds could be an option.
Tax is paid at the 30 per cent corporate tax rate and the money can be withdrawn after 10 years with no further tax paid.
That's a lower tax rate than the highest marginal income tax rate of higher-earning parents.
The underlying investment options range from the more aggressive with high exposures to shares to conservative options.
Another strategy is to substantially pay down the mortgage before the big years of paying school fees for multiple children hit.