July 3, 2015
Back-to-school spending isn't just about clothes and markers anymore.
In 2014, Forbes reported that Accenture estimated (http://newsroom.accenture.com/images/20020/Graphic.pdf) that nearly half of respondents reported they would spend $500 or more on back-to-school expenses, including not only clothes and desk supplies, but electronics as well.
Yet there's one more aspect of back-to-school spending that's growing and can add hundreds – and sometimes thousands – to a family's overall K-12 education budget. Since the 2008 economic crisis, many public school systems have tried to make up for funding shortfalls by adding first-time or expanded fees for sports, extracurricular activities and specialized academics.
This means that back-to-school budgeting, even for families with kids in public school, now requires a more holistic, year-round approach to all back-to-school expenses.
Given their potential dollar amounts, parents should examine school fees first. Public education has never been completely free of charge beyond local taxes – parents have traditionally paid extra money to support their kids' participation in sports, music or other extracurricular activities. However, many school systems are adding fees for a broader range of offerings including after-school activities, top-level courses, lab-based instruction and even Advanced Placement (AP) classes. So before you start spending money on clothes and supplies that can be bought off-season, on sale or possibly used, get a handle on how applicable instruction and activity fees might affect your budget. (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/ budgeting/). Parents in financial need may qualify for public aid or grants to cover such fees; if not, choices will need to be made.
Consider turning back-to-school shopping into a money lesson. Most kids like to have certain kinds of clothes, shoes or supplies. Those "wants" can be turned into a discussion about spending priorities, value, choice and comparison shopping. Using the Back to School Budget (http://practicalmoneyskills.com/resources/financial_calculators/education_college/back_to_school) calculator with your kids can help them learn how create a budget before shopping for essentials. As kids get older, the discussion can expand to cover bigger-ticket purchases like smartphones, computers and fees for special courses and activities they want to pursue. Some of these issues might evolve into a discussion about earning money through chores or a part-time job.
Once priorities are decided, every expense should be tracked, including a child's round trip school transportation, meals, tutoring fees or immunization and healthcare expenses not covered by insurance. And once that budget is set, it means a constant search for smart ways to cut. Some ideas may include:
One final secret budget item – rewards. Saving money on back-to-school expenses can help parents meet a number of financial goals, but kids' academic or activity success deserves recognition. Consider setting aside a little of those savings for a reward they can enjoy.
Bottom line: When setting your back-to-school budget this year, think beyond the supplies. Consider every possible fee and expense associated with your child's school year and plan accordingly.
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