Extra School Expenses

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I noticed in your sample budget there was no allowances for school expenses, such as lunch money, activity fees, book rental, field trips, school pictures etc.


When that budget was made, Tawra only had 2 young children in school, but even now that she has 3 in school and they’re older, she hasn’t found that she has enough school expenses to really have to budget them separately. It was the same for me when I had mine in school. Tawra included school related expenses in other categories like Wal-Mart, food and clothes.

Here are some notes about specific school items:

Lunches: Kids are going to eat a lunch whether they are at home or in school, so she just included that in general food expense. If you find school lunches are more than lunches at home, then just send them a sack lunch.

We limit kids activities. The kids can pick 2-3 activities a year that we pay for and, if there’s anything more, they need to earn the money for it themselves. This may seem harsh or unfair to some but what is interesting is that most of the time, the kids find they didn’t want to go to the activity as much as they thought. They give it more thought if they have to pay for it.

Field trips can get out of hand sometimes so, if possible, talk to the teacher and find out which ones are required or not. Often a lot of them the teacher just mentions but they aren’t required. When the kids do go on the field trips, there are often many optional expenses, so be sure to ask.

School pictures: If you really must get them, buy the smallest package. I’m a grandma now and as much as I love getting pictures of my grandkids, I really don’t care if they are school pictures or regular photos sent to me over the Internet so don’t feel that you have to buy enough school pictures for every Uncle Tom, Dick and Aunt Harriet (or even grandma). If grandma really wants them, just say, "We can’t afford them" and if they want them that bad they can buy them. I recently found packets and packets of school pictures of my kids packed away. I asked myself, "Why am I keeping 40 pictures of the same pose," especially when they weren’t very good pictures of my kids in the first place.

Note from Tawra: She gave them all to me and I trashed all but one or two :-) Our school has two school pictures each year now, one in the fall and one in the spring. It’s a fund raiser for the school. We usually just get the one in the spring because they try harder to get good pictures then so you will feel like you need to buy the extra ones.)

Essentially, if you just don’t have the money for these expenses, there usually is a way around them. You need to just say no to your kids or talk to the teacher to see if there is some other alternative.



Photo By: ctsnow


  1. Anonymous says

    Jill has some very good points. I will say I have never heard of book rental fees in public schools. Is this common where you live? If so, perhaps this needs to be addressed at the local or even state level.

    If you do choose to talk to a teacher or coach about help with fees, please make sure you REALLY need the help – be honest, how much do you as a parent spend on your OWN recreational activities? Don’t forget, activities keep your child busy and connected, off the streets and hopefully developing some innate talent. If you receive financial aid be sure to express your appreciation with at a minimum a nice note and perhaps some homemade goodies.

  2. Angie says

    My kids’ school does the Fall and Spring portraits also. I agree with Tawra about the Spring portraits…they are MUCH better. Plus, for the Fall portraits, we have to order a package and pay in advance. If I don’t like the pictures, I’ve already paid and the only option I have is to send them back and use the picture retake day. I guess it’s kind of lazy but I usually didn’t take the time to do that. For the Spring portraits, they send home notes with the day and time so the children can dress nice but there is no oredering packages or paying up front. They take the pictures, they take extra pains to make the photos nice, they have better backgrounds, etc. Then they send a moderate sized package of portraits home with the child for parent preview. There is pricing info for 1 sheet, 2 sheets, the entire package, etc. If we like the photos, we decide which ones to purchase, send in the money and keep the photos. If we need more, we order more of a certain pose. If we don’t like any of the photos, we send them back to school with the child and pay nothing. I don’t buy the Fall portraits anymore. Usually, the Spring portraits are so nice that I purchase the moderate sized pacakge that comes home with the child and feel I’ve to a nice memory for my money, a few photos to share with close family but not 50 copies of the same pose left over. I agree with Jill on that… When my kids were babies, I took them to Sears, Walmart, etc. for portraits. I was always ‘suckered’ into buying a bigger package than I needed. Now, I too have 50 copies of the same photo left over. It was a waste of money. I love the beautiful pictures of my babies. I don’t regret having the portraits done. Just wish I had stuck with a smaller package and not bought so many extras that weren’t necessary.

  3. Kerry Johnson says

    Hey, I know exactly what you’re talking about! It is so hard to say “no” to kids and the stuff for school is really important. There are few ways to cut costs with the school supply. I found another way to save money http://www.barterquest.com, an online bartering site where you can for example barter the clothes that your kids don’t wear anymore for something they need right now. It’s free and pretty easy. So just try and save money that way.

  4. says

    As a grandma I want to say I never liked the school pictures.
    With digital cameras and the computer links I find the school pictures a waste of money.
    I much prefer a picture of the little ones doing something they are enjoying. Rather than one that is posed in front of a picture board.
    I think most grandparents would actually prefer pictures from the last visit they had camping out with the family. Or beside the dinosaur the little ones loved at the museum.
    Those are the ones that add to the memories they keep for when the little ones and family are far away.
    Just my thoughts on school pictures.

  5. says

    I’ve been doing this too. It’s amazing how many things you really don’t need that are already around the house. Don’t forget the list and if possible, don’t bring the kids. Use coupons too..

  6. Paula says

    The school fees are getting out of hand. Wait till your little babies hit High School…They figure that they’ll be losing all these purchases soon, so they sock you with major fees for everything!…The nice Jr. High year book (price approx $50) is now $120…Our daughter has been told it will be a gift in Senior year ONLY!!…The school pics cheap package is $42 (plain blue background and they ‘touch up’ the photo so your kid looks like she’s ready for a casket-horrible!) We’re off to Walmart for a package sale….They hit you in sophomore year for the class ring, and have more styles than you can believe! Some of the settings look like engagement rings! Add anything (initials etc) $25 per item!…The ring our daughter wanted was over $200 for some ‘metal alloy’ (not even sterling silver!)….The ring is being purchased in Jr Year and we are stripping it back to a normal ring…My mother was given advice years ago from a nun in her HS: Girls should purchase the school ring for the RIGHT hand, so if you should become engaged, you can still wear your ring…Never thought of that…Our daughter has decided NOT to go to Jr Prom this year (we don’t listen to that type of music or dress in Jersey Shore clothes), but instead will go on the end of year trip. Thank God her priorities are in order!….Tawra and Jill are sooo right-teach the kids EARLY about money and the difference between WANTS and NEEDS…it will sink in!!

  7. Valerie says

    We don’t do school pics because hey…we have a camera! Schools should however give new families an idea of what extra costs there will be through out the school year. We homeschooled the past two years and what a major sticker shock it’s been for us! Classroom parties, fundraisers, field trips. These were not considered when we made our school year budget, naive I guess. We always had money for extacurricular activities because we homeschooled!

    Thanks for all your tips! Now let me share one with you all if it hasn’t been said yet, it all begins with God!

  8. Paula says

    Hi there-me again….Spoke to the lab tech that draws my blood every 2 wks regarding rings…She said that she went to a regular jeweler to buy her kids rings and it was a lot cheaper and she got GOLD!…Sooo I did some research today and want to share with other wrung-out parents….My daughter came home with the ring book and when finished, the ring was over $300!!! (more than our wedding bands!!)The ring isn’t even sterling silver!!

    I found 2 websites: http://www.joyjewelers.com and http://www.dunham-mfg.com

    My daughters ring COMPLETE (with ALL the extras) is $129.97 & $139.00 respectively…BIG DIFFERENCE in price! Thank God for favor! We can give her the ring she really wants (and has worked hard for) and not kill our finances! Hope this helps someone out there!!…God Bless!! P

  9. Rhonda says

    Hi everyone. This is my first comment but I just thought I would give you all another suggestion on the class rings. For my two, I took them both to the jeweler that I worked part-time at and they each got to pick the item of their choice! My son chose a watch and my daughter got a diamond ring. They have been out of school now for 4 and 3 years respectively but both of them still love their “class” jewelry! And I paid a fraction of what the school ring would have cost me! Just a suggestion, and hope this helps someone else.

  10. elizabeth says

    I feel the pain too with all the extra school costs. The school pictures are expensive, and you hit the nail on the head about zillions of copies of the same pose. “They” make us feel like we have to have these school pictures or we are breaking a sacred tradition or something. Also the fundraisers – cookies dough, magazines, etc. Joining PTA. The kids get A LOT of pressure on these things, so you got to teach them young about how you want to spend your money.

  11. Jaime says

    Scholl pictures – if you feel you must buy them, only get very few. You can scan them into your home computer and make as many copies as you want without breaking you budget.

    Class rings – Love the idea of going to a jeweler and having them made rather than buying from the school’s catalog place. You’ll get much better quality at a fraction of the cost.

    Fund raisers – My niece has only been back in school for 2 days now and already they sent home a fundraiser booklet. What are they always raising funds for in public school? Don’t bother with the fundraisers. I don’t.

  12. says

    I can’t stand school pictures – I have lovely, photogenic children, but somehow their school pictures always look like mug shots. Instead of bringing in outside photographers for a round of not terribly good and very overpriced photos, I wish they would allow the year book seniors, or a skilled parent, to shoot the pictures and then sell disks as a fundraiser (skipping the cookie dough and wrapping paper all together). I’m thinking about suggesting that to our PTO for next year.

  13. says

    cottage child. I think that is a great idea.
    get people like minded and you might be able to change the system.
    My husband has taken over the pictures of our kids fish derby and now we have great candid shots to post in the lodge all year and if people want a copy of their child they ask us to send them to them.
    My husband does it for free since each picture costs about $1. and he has fun doing it.
    We went to a political meeting a week ago and he took his camera with him. We have found that it is a way to bow out of boring conversations without being rude. Sorry I see a good shot will talk later. My husband is not a people person. Long story short he was asked if he would be willing to take all the pictures at the meetings we can attend and print them for campaign pictures and pictures for the walls of campaign offices.
    Getting back to the idea for school pictures a cd would cost next to nothing to print and each class would have a cd of their class and teacher along with the individual ones. Sell each for $10 and then you can make endless copies once you get it home.
    Parents would get a break and so would the school who wouldn’t have to contract for it.

    I never like the fund raising. With all the nasty people pedophiles and just cranky people I would not send my child knocking on doors to ask them to buy stuff. So grampa, grandma, aunt and uncles get the bill and lots of useless stuff.

  14. says

    I don’t bother with the fundraisers either, but I do save my box tops. Unfortualy I don’t really want to buy most of the foods that have them, but I get friends at Church to save them for me. I sent my son to school the first week with an envelope with like 40 box tops!! I’m thinking about offering to crochet some hair scrunchies in school colors to sell instead.


  15. Jaime says

    The box tops for education is a good idea. Everyone should save them. If everyone saved them and donated them to their local schools the tax payers could save money. Even if people don’t have children they still pay taxes, right.

    I love the idea Morning Dove has about crocheting things in the school colors. You could teach the kids at the school to crochet and they could make and sell all kinds of things in the school colors. This would also make a great after school activity. You could start a crochet club and use the items for fund raisers or even sell them on ETSY.com or ebay.com.

  16. m.g. says

    I have 4 in school this year. After spending $300 in supplies & another $100 in pe & school uniform additions (most used) I said no more. Does my child really need tennis balls on their chair legs? Does the teacher really need brand name tissues instead of store brand? Won’t copy paper suffice for the classroom computers? The lists this year were ridiculous, 2 or 3 pages each.

  17. Jaime says

    Just got a new idea for the fund raisers. Crochet lunch bags. Use cotton yarn and it becomes a “green” project as well. Since alot of people are trying to save money by bringing their lunch instead of buying it, I think this could be a great school fund raiser. There is another topic on livingonadime.com that lists a website with free patterns. I think the topic is called “Crochet Lunch Bag”.

  18. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Only the Holy Spirit “makes” me feel anything. Other people try but I don’t let them. I say no to lots of things that are not my preference so I can say yes to those that are. I’m the woman who grew up on the farm, continually warned that the well would go dry. I still save spigot water in the dish pan! At 16 I decided it was ridiculous for my parents to purchase me a $100 class ring. Instead of purchasing expensive schoool photos, I would photo my kids at Christmas, Easter and when they are doing something they love.

  19. Nicki says

    Walmart is an excellent place to get school pictures done. Have done it for years.
    Class rings: Again – Walmart.com. I bought my daughters class ring for $100 and she got to pick everything she wanted on it. All 3 of my kids were given the option of a class ring or a nice dressy ring at graduation. The oldest chose the dressy ring and got a gold and black onyx ring for graduation. Middle child bought his own class ring that he never wears and the youngest got hers through Walmart.com. The only problem with hers is that we sized it wrong and now she wears it on a chain instead of her finger.

  20. donna b says

    A recent high school fund raiser was done by girl scouts. Each was taught to knit by the troop leader and the girls knitted scarves in the school colors, green and gold. They sold well and there was no pressure on anyone who didn’t want to buy.

    It was a good school spirit, inexpensive fund raiser and the girls learned a new skill. We don’t have to buy overpriced candy, wrapping paper etc.

  21. donna b says

    One more point — you actually CAN tell your kids no! My freshman in h.s. daughter didn’t speak to me for 3 weeks when I said NO to a TRIP TO ENGLAND WITH THE MARCHING BAND!$2100 was never in the realm of possibility for me, especially for a 15 year old. I had to say no.

    Guess what? She’s now 35 and doesn’t even remember being angry with me and we’re just as close as ever. She wouldn’t take a dollar from me if she were starving — she has so much appreciation for everything she’s worked and saved for, it’s amazing —

  22. Lela says

    We recently moved from PA to FL, something that suprised me was I was required to buy school supplies from the school. These weren’t odd supplies either, I had only one child so the $25 wasn’t bad but I feel for those with several kids. (this is Kindergarden-fifth grade).They said they bought the supplies in bulk and wanted everything uniform.

  23. Paulette Fulmer says

    Hi from KY…As a retired middle school teacher, I have a comment about field trips. I think teachers like input from parents on which field trips are most educational. Also, keep in mind that kids can earn money to help defray the cost of these trips. Field trips teach more than facts; they allow students to demonstrate social skills in new settings as well as to function as a safe unit of individuals.

    Please consider consulting the children’s teachers before deciding if your children may attend. Also, ask for a list of trips and expenses as soon as possible during the school year or even during the summer before. Children do benefit from outings with their classes.

  24. Ashley says

    I agree with Paulette that outings do benefit our children. However, I feel that its even more beneficial to do these things as a family instead of with a teacher and 30 plus children. You get a chance to take more time looking at things, ask more questions, and make sure your children are really paying attention. Also, you (the parent) have the experience of doing something fun with your kids. So it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can opt out of class field trips and still have many meaningful outings with your children.

  25. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Asking for $2,100 for a school trip to England? WOW! I felt guilty asking for 50 cents for popcorn. My Mom should teach classes!

  26. says

    An added comment about Walmart….my husband and I are childless and have been for many, many years. But every other year we go to Walmart in the Fall and get the cheapest package of pictures they are promoting (under $10) and we use them in our Christmas cards. You get a lot of the wallet size so it works out great. They always have a fall promotion for the holidays around October.
    As a former Kindergarten teacher, I also felt that the school pictures were generally a rip-off since kids can get their pictures taken cheaply at places like Penney’s, Sears or Walmart. I can say that I noticed the Spring photos were better because the child is a little more mature and the photographer works more with the kids.

  27. Jaime says

    donna b, I loved your post about the knitted scarves fund raiser. I wish more schools and childrens clubs would do that instead of making the children sell junk from catalogs. I think this is very cost effective also. The school or club doesn’t have to give any money to the catalog businesses this way. They keep 100% of the profits and purchasing yarn and crochet hooks or knitting needles does not cost that much. Plus the hooks and needles can be re-used for later projects. Sometimes people might even donate the yarn. I love that the children get to learn a lifelong skill by doing this and don’t have to force their families to buy junk that they don’t want and will never use. Please tell the scout leader for me to “keep up the good work”.

  28. shara says

    Hi Tawra and Jill and Living on a dime fans,
    I just wanted to share, for this school year, thanks to hand me downs and garage sales, I spent $10 on each of my boys for school clothes, people might think well wont your kids be upset you didn’t buy them “brand new” no they do not care. They have very nice brand name clothes.I showed them that I care by washing and ironing all their clothes before hand. There clothes are only going to look new for one day, so what is the point! I thought I would share this will my fellow frugal friends.
    Saving like crazy in Oregon,

  29. Jaime says

    I just can’t believe it!! All year long my niece has been coming home with one fund raiser catalog after another. All junk of course. Then today we go to our local mall and their they are. Some sort of school group from my niece’s school handing out chair pads, foam fingers, and plastic megaphones. All with the school’s logo on them. And all for free of course. These were nice items, something I would have happily paid a few dollars for, but they were just giving them away for free. Why do they force the children to sell junk and then give away nice merchandise for free? Doesn’t anyone at these schools use their heads anymore? Or have they become so accustomed to the junk catalogs that it is just automatic for them to use these as fund raisers? Will someone please wake these people up to reality! No one wants junk and stop giving away quality merchandise that people would gladly pay for. Come on people, really!!

  30. Heidi says

    I’m with Carol…so glad we homeschool. The comments on this subject are eye opening. I remember when we first started homeschooling (20+ yrs ago) and I was asked, “why would you do that when public school is FREE?” Oh my, doesn’t sound that way anymore. With all the curriculum, etc I’ve purchased over the yrs (much of it secondhand), I haven’t had to buy curriculum in several yrs. And WE choose the field trips our family wants to go on =)

  31. Liz says

    Yes, in Kansas, we have to pay “book fees” at the beginning of the school year. When my husband was unemployed a couple of years ago for a year, I called the office and asked that the book fees be made in payments. They were fine with that. We paid $75 in Kindergarten, and it’s $105 now that he’s in 6th grade. Since we’re still in a financial crunch (with my income now), we plan on making payments again this year.
    We also say “no!” to fundraisers. They are too expensive for what you get and if I didn’t have to pay for book fees, we might be able to afford one or two of the fundraisers! I figure my taxes are going for school, and I don’t need more than that going for school fees! They just need to learn to budget better as I have had to do this past couple of years!

    • says

      Liz, It might make more financial sense to buy your child an Ipad because then he could probably download his text books for a fraction of the cost. I know Ipads are expensive but he could use it for a few years. It’s worth taking a look to see if it would work out cheaper in the long run.

      When did public schools start charging for books?

      • says

        Our schools have charged for awhile. I know when we were in Kansas it was almost $400 just for my 3 kids to attend “free” school. School supplies were on top of those fees.

  32. Denise says

    Last year, my son’s math book was stolen at school, and the school said we had to pay $75 for a new one. The stolen book was in terrible condition when he got it, so I refused to pay for a new book. I found the same book on Amazon, it was in better condition than the original book, and I paid $13 with shipping. If the schools shopped around the way individuals do, maybe our taxes wouldn’t be so high. Most of the $8,300/yr that I pay in taxes goes to the school system.

  33. says

    What the schools are doing here in Wisconsin – on the first day of school pictures are a pay-up-front requirement then used as the students picture ID for the year and for the school year book.

  34. says

    Wow! With all these fees being tacked onto supposedly “free” public schools and the countless fundraisers that both public and private schools now participate in, it’s no wonder that more and more parents are turning to home schooling. It’s cheaper!

    The government will have to take a good long hard look at the money being poured into these schools when all the homeschooling parents finally get together and start fighting for their tax dollars back. And I’m sure they’de be joined by the parents who pay tuition for private schooling. What a revolution that will be. I can see it coming.


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