It’s time for another school year to begin. And, as kids prepare to fill up their brains with knowledge, parents may feel like they’re dumping their wallets out at the school doors. Are you looking to cut school expenses? We’ve got some tips for you!
Of course, there’s the cost of school supplies -- which can add up to hundreds of dollars per family, depending on the number of kids and whether they simply need crayons and pencils or a sophisticated graphing calculator.
But, as all parents know, the out-of-pocket expenses don’t end there, even if your children attend public school. Throughout the year, the order forms come home for everything from school pictures to field trips, PTA fundraisers, school festivals, book fairs, school dances, yearbooks, pizza parties and more.
It can be overwhelming for budgets, especially for penny-pinching families. And it can be especially stressful for parents, who want to make sure their kids don’t miss out on anything.
What’s a parent to do? Prepare.
1. Look at last year’s costs
If your child attended the same school last year, pull out your checkbook register, calendar and credit card statements and take a look at the events and expenses from the previous year. It’s a good bet that school pictures, the fall festival, and the winter book fair, for instance, will happen at roughly the same time this year.
Make a month-by-month list of events and expenses, based on last year’s, so that, this year, you can plan accordingly. You won’t capture every expense, but it will give you a baseline to work from. This year, note each expense and the date so you have an even better list to work from next year.
2. Ask your children’s teachers
At the start of the school year, ask your children’s teachers what activities and celebrations are planned that might require a fee or other expense. Get the schedule of field trips and their costs so you can make sure you have enough saved up to ensure your child gets on that bus. Also, find out what classroom celebrations are planned and if the teacher knows what needs he or she might have.
3. Find out if there are other needs besides money
Parent-Teacher Associations help fill in the gaps for schools that are facing tightening budgets, staff cuts and more. But, they don’t just need cash. They also could use your help. If you are looking to cut school expenses, and you’re not able to donate money to your school’s PTA, donating your time can be just as helpful. Find out if they have other needs that you can help with -- from simply cutting out fundraising Box Tops for Education at home, for instance, to packaging goodie bags for a teacher appreciation lunch.
4. Set expectations with your kids
School T-shirts, school photos, yearbooks, school dance tickets, books from the book drive. Your child doesn’t need to have one of everything. At the start of the year, decide what you’re willing to buy for your children -- the school photo and yearbook, for instance.
Then, give them a budget. Tell them that they have $50 or $10, for instance, to spend on anything else they want at school during the year. If they want to spend more than you’ve budgeted, tell them they’ll need to use their own money. Let them make the tricky decisions. You might be surprised just how frugal your children become when they have to start spending their own money.
5. Ask for help if you need it
If your budget just can’t cover a field trip or other school activity, talk to your children’s teacher, school principal or PTA about school scholarships to help families who need a boost. There is often a pool of money available to help families with these types of expenses.
It is possible to cut school expenses by making a plan and setting expectations this school year. This will ensure there are no surprises -- and no disappointments for anyone involved!
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