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5 Ways to Save Money on School Expenses for Kids


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You probably expect to pay for some parts of your child’s education, even if your child goes to public school. At the beginning of the school year, there’s the obligatory back-to-school shopping trip, PTA fees, and monthly lunch money.

But it’s the unexpected little fees and donations  for class trips, fundraisers, parties, and the like that really add up over time. The question is: How much is too much? And how do you rein in school spending so that it doesn’t completely break your budget?

How to Manage Your Kids’ School Costs

Unfortunately, some school expenses are completely mandatory. If you want your child to participate in extracurricular activities or have the same supplies as the rest of the kids in class, you’re going to have to spend a bit. But a lot of school expenses are completely voluntary. In fact, there are several ways you can save your money without sacrificing your child’s school experience.

1. Choose Your Cause
Recently, I was asked to give donations to two different charities at school. Both were great causes, but I decided that I would leave it up to my daughter to choose which one she wanted to support. I gave her the facts on each and talked about why each charity needed donations. After weighing the options, she told me which one she’d rather support.

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It was an excellent opportunity to teach a lesson about giving and charity, while providing my daughter a chance to exercise a little control in the matter. We were happy with our choice, and I wasn’t stressed out from having to track both expenses.

2. Make Costs Chore-Based
Does your child want to play soccer? If your child shows interest in various extracurricular activities, ask that the fees associated are earned around the house. Instead of just handing over the cash, make sure your child learns the value of hard work to earn the privilege of taking part. Assigning a few chores, some extra babysitting, or outdoor work can help relieve the burden from your shoulders while helping your child to learn the importance of earning things that cost money.

3. Find Alternative Ways to Help
Sure, a donation of $20 would really help during the school supply drive, but is that the only way that you can help? If you’re short on funds one month and can’t contribute financially, perhaps you can help in other ways. Ask the donation organizers if they can accept volunteer hours, or if you can help put together boxes at home. They’ll appreciate the help, and you can enlist the assistance of your school-aged child, which is another opportunity to teach volunteerism and hard work.

Other ways to help out could include volunteering as a tutor in your child’s class, joining the PTA, or donating items that you already have for the school to use, such as sports equipment or art supplies.

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4. Find Out What’s Optional
Sometimes, the papers sent home with my daughter make it seem as though the donations and money that the school is asking for are mandatory when, in fact, they are not. For instance, a call for money to buy all of the kids school t-shirts at the end of the year is a nice idea, but unnecessary if your child still fits into his or her shirt from the previous year.

When in doubt, send an email to your child’s teacher and ask if an expense is completely mandatory or if it’s optional. Then, have a talk with your child about priorities and picking and choosing the expenses that you can manage.

5. Ditch the Guilt
Trust me, I know too well the feelings that come along with saying no. But if you want your experience with a school to be a positive one, it’s important that you prioritize and stay stress-free. Sometimes, that simply means politely declining a PTA assignment, a call for donations, or an activity offered through the school.

If you like, offer an alternative that you’re more comfortable with. But don’t feel guilty that you don’t have the money for every little activity, drive, and expense at school.

Final Word

Remember that your child can still get an amazing education without all of the extras. Whether you consolidate your donations, lend an extra hand, or try field trips at home, your child’s school experience probably isn’t diminished or enhanced because you paid a couple extra PTA dues. Besides, is the matching school spirit shirt really worth the strain on your bank account?

What’s your strategy when it comes to paying for school-related expenses?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.