The high cost of back-to-school

Public high schools can’t charge tuition, but that doesn’t mean there are no expenses associated with attendance.

From sports and extracurriculars, to classroom projects and AP classes, high school is more costly for today’s students than it was for their parents. Anticipating these expenses is step one of a plan of attack for managing your cash flow during your student’s high school years.

School supplies gone high tech

You may remember when the Trapper Keeper was the height of coolness in a locker. Today’s students are more likely to need a laptop or tablet. If your child needs technology to succeed in school, look for refurbished units which can be significantly less expensive.

The extra cost of extracurriculars

The spring play, choir robes, 4-H projects, athletic fees: no doubt these activities enrich a young person’s high school experience, but they can make a dent in your family budget. If your student participates in a lot of extracurriculars, you may need to hold a family discussion. Decide how much you can afford realistically, then prioritize the list of clubs, sports and activities to make sure you are investing in “extras” which are actually important to your child.

Get schooled in college expenses

Beginning sophomore year, college-bound students will begin to rack up college prep expenses. The PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP classes are the tip of the iceberg. Early in senior year there are college application fees and trips to university campuses to consider. It can add up fast – or even worse – eat away at the money you’ve saved for college.

Check with your student’s high school guidance counselor. There may be financial aid for some of these expenses available to income-qualifying students.

Driving up the cost

Many families begin thinking about buying their sons or daughters a car when they are juniors or seniors, especially if he or she has a part-time job, or is expected to chauffeur younger siblings to after-school activities while mom and dad are at work. Seize this opportunity to talk to your kids about separating needs from wants. Johnny Jr. may want a late-model sports car, but an older sedan that gets good gas mileage may be a better fit for the family budget.

That’s so $pecial

One word: Prom. That quintessential experience, the peak of the K-12 journey. Everyone wants their child’s senior prom to be memorable, but don’t let it become the straw that breaks the family piggybank. Ditto for senior trips, class rings, varsity jackets, and graduation photos, invitations and parties.

Given the extra expense of senior year, it makes sense for families to pad the budget to cover these extras. Make this a teachable moment. By 12th grade, your student is no longer a child. He or she is old enough to understand the concept of spending to a budget. Most of these special occasions are affordable if you avoid adding all the extras. And if your student has his heart set on engraving his girlfriend’s initials into his class ring, this is the perfect time to have that conversation about getting a part-time job.

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