When my oldest daughter was in first grade, I got wrangled into volunteering as the treasurer of the school’s parent-teacher association. Silly, naïve me suggested that we create an all-in-one cost for the entire school year, instead of burning out parental goodwill through too many fundraisers.
The group didn’t like my idea. They feared parents would cut their donations if they realized how much they were spending. What a sobering wake-up call: Families have no idea how much they spend during the school year.
Don’t dispense funds like an unlimited ATM. Follow these five tips to help understand and control your annual school costs.
Plan. At the beginning of the year, print the school calendar with all the planned activities, fundraisers and events. As a family, work together to choose which events you will and will not participate in.
Budget. Set limits for all school-related activities based on your discretionary income. Keep in mind what you spent last year to guide this year’s amount and remember to adjust for costs that increase as children grow older.
Price. Consider the costs for each event and activity. Think beyond participation fees and include uniforms, equipment, meals and travel costs. Talk to other parents to get a better idea of costs if the activity or sport is new to your family. Track expenses to avoid overspending and to help budget more accurately in the future.
Review. Go over the activity list again. When an activity has a price tag attached, you’ll quickly discover what your children really want to do. Your kids will feel empowered and learn how to stay within a budget.
Reward. Spending beyond your budget means taking money from other areas. Be clear what sacrifices will be made if the family goes over budget, and enjoy a reward as a family after a few months of budget success.
Shannon Ryan is a Certified Financial Planner based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a mother of two who provides tools and tips on how to raise financially confident kids at TheHeavyPurse.com.