Fees Rates & Cost

Parent balking at tuition

Amy L., California

I received a phone call from a mom whose daughter had her first lesson with me last week. She clearly wants to “try out” piano lessons for her daughter and she is not committed to continuing if it becomes a huge struggle to get her daughter to practice. At the moment her daughter loved her one lesson and is excited about playing piano.

I have just moved to a tuition schedule of flat monthly payments. The schedule is “front loaded” in the sense that there is a full payment for August but only two lessons, and a full payment for September but only two lessons (I take time off for the Jewish high holidays). That being said, there is no June payment but there will be one or two lessons in June (depending on the lesson day). And obviously there will be upcoming months with 4 and even 5 lessons in a month. This mom understands all this intellectually but is still unhappy paying so much money for only two lessons right now. As the conversation progressed she asked if I would give the first four lessons for free “because other teachers offer that” and later still she asked if her months could run mid-month to mid-month (this way her first payment would get her four lessons).

The whole situation is bugging me. I really like the mom and think it’s possible that she will stick with lessons for her daughter (especially as I continue to improve in how I handle these issues) but in the meantime, I’m feeling disrespected. Part of me wants to just stick with my policies as written, and another part wants to offer something so she feels that her concerns are taken seriously. I would like to find something that I can offer that still feels fair to me.

I have one idea of what I might offer. If she does not continue past October (and I will ask for a commitment to at least “try it out” through the end of October), I agree to refund the difference between what she’s paid and what she would have paid had she been paying per lesson rather than the flat monthly rate. I would stipulate that I will not calculate any pro-rated refunds beyond that point.

I feel like she’s searching for a way to minimize what she perceives as the financial risk. I know she briefly considered also enrolling her middle child but then decided not to because of the cost; I’m certainly sympathetic to the realities of her situation.

How might you respond if you were in this situation?

Leeanne I., Australia

I think you have answered your own questions. This parent is not prepared for a long-term commitment or to adhere to your policies, which will only cause you grief in the long run. Unless you really need the money from then, I wouldn’t take them on.

Kim B., Indiana

If you have to change your policies for each family, why do you have policies? I would ask her if she didn’t read the policies before starting. Do you have them sign a paper that says they read and understand the policies? It’s tough, I know, but stick to your guns. It isn’t worth it to have people who are always scrutinizing and nit-picking every little thing. It will drive you crazy in the end.

Susan M., Canada

I think there are many other activities that parents enroll their kids in that have similar policies of flat monthly fee for a term or a period of time, and those fees are not likely questioned when a lesson is missed for holidays etc. You are providing an education that builds over time and you spend a lot of time at the beginning setting up. Do you explain that fees are not only for the lesson time, but for studio, license fees, etc? I’d keep your policies and be confident.

Joanne D., Australia

Keep firm to your policies. You don’t want someone starting off with one foot already out the door.

Felicity E., Australia

Ideally, sticking with your policies is the way to go. My students don’t pay for lessons they aren’t going to get. I don’t really understand this concept either, charging for lessons you are not going to deliver. Morally I find it a stretch.

That aside, you could offer a month free in October or November if she sticks at it. That way you’d have time to prove yourself (as you said) and also the mother won’t feel ripped off paying for something she’s not receiving.

Kim B., Indiana

Amy is not charging her for lessons she won’t receive. In the year she gets so many lessons and it is divided into equal monthly payments. Makes it easier for everyone. If parents are constantly questioning, it just saps you of emotional energy. At least it does me and it is not worth having that family stick around. It always amazes me how emotional conflict can make us physically tired. I try to keep those people who suck my energy dry at a minimum.

Christine W., Kansas

I think your idea of offering the partial refund if she discontinues at the end of October, and that this includes a commitment through that month, is a fair compromise. I have always had tuition set at a flat monthly rate, and when someone starts in December, I gauge their reaction to paying for the whole month when I only teach two lessons. If it seems like a big deal, I prorate those two lessons, then have them pay full tuition in January. But the way you prorate it is this: take monthly rate times 12, then divide by the number of lessons you provide per year; in my case it’s 46. Do not take your monthly rate and divide it by 4, as then you’re not being fair to yourself for your time. I tell my parents they are not paying for my time off, they are paying only for the lessons they will get in one year, just divided equally per month so we don’t mess with different payment amounts every month.

Joy O., Alabama

Listen to “The Dynamic of Claiming Territory” (Educator Support) and “Request vs. Requirement” (Studio Support) trainings. I ask parents to commit to at least two months to begin, and I charge an up-front registration fee that is non-refundable. But for families who start mid-month, I will–up front–offer a reduced month’s fee at first. Then I stick to the payment schedule of “pay by the first for the upcoming month”. With this mom, I would stick to your policy. Remind her that when she continues with you (use the word when, not if), she will reap the benefit in other months that have five lessons, and even in June with no payment but lessons offered. You are not offering a “try it out for free”. If mom wants to go with other teachers who offer that, then maybe that’s a better fit for her.

Starting out can be a lot on the family budget at first. They are also purchasing Foundation 1 materials, which will last them more than a month, but purchasing it up front. That is a financial reality. But mom sounds like she is not sold on the benefit of the lessons you are offering.

Maureen K., California

Tough one. If I sense that this person is disrespecting what I do and suspect that she will be a chronic nitpicker over my fees, I would stick to my guns and whatever happens, happens.

But if I feel she is a person of good will and is simply a cautious customer like me, which is usually the case, I am flexible in the beginning in order to create a happy client who will continue to be loyal. I would give her those first two months for the price of one, explaining that I do this because she is starting out and happening to hit the holidays right away. Once my clients have been with me for a few months they really get the value of lessons and never complain about the holidays after that.

Colleen B., Canada

I find that when I acknowledge their concerns and say things like “I can totally see where you are coming from”, it makes such a difference to the rest of whatever I have to say, even if it is simply to affirm my policies. Since you are asking opinions, I would absolutely give a prorated fee on the first month, especially since you have already established that a half a month lesson fee is what you are willing to invest in getting new enrollments (i.e. your referral policy).


[answer author="Laurie Richards, Nebraska"]

I also charge a flat monthly fee all 12 months. I teach year-round but take 10 weeks off throughout the year. I require a full month’s tuition up front at enrollment; however, if a brand new class begins mid-month, I credit their second month’s tuition. Thereafter it’s the flat monthly rate. I can understand a parent not wanting to pay a full month right out of the gate if their child wasn’t enrolled until mid-month.

Regarding the “trying it out” scenario: another option is to offer the 4-song Workshop as a try-it-out option. I used to do this when I was growing my studio. I offered 2 options: try it out with the Workshop, or commit to ongoing lessons. Then I was very clear that if they chose the Workshop option and subsequently chose to enroll in ongoing lessons, there would be some review of those 4 songs involved in a new class and that there would be the full materials purchase. Full disclosure of what they should expect goes a long way!

Use Neil’s new book! You might even consider asking her to download and read it before making a decision. Most parents must do not have the perspective offered in the book.

Sharlene H., Spain

I’d like to add something that I’ve been looking at recently. How you view what she said makes all the difference to how you feel and how you ultimately ‘handle’ the situation – what choices you make. If you see her as ‘disrespecting’ or ‘devaluing’ you, you will respond out of a reaction to that and I suspect that no matter what you decide to do, it will probably not end well. Peoples’ issues are their issues in these circumstances. If she has an issue with money, it’s not personal to you. If you were to view it as her issue, rather than that there is something wrong with you or that it’s personal to you, your response (no matter what you decide) will come from a different space. It’s not necessary to feel ‘disrespected’, even if it feels like that. Choose an interpretation of what she has asked that empowers you and you are more likely to choose an empowering response. She will either take it or leave it but will probably respect you either way. And you will feel good about yourself throughout the process, which is the most important thing!