Balance budget to support school, family

September 25, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

Having kids in school costs a good chunk of change.

I'm not talking about private school tuition or even big expenses like class rings, proms, senior pictures and band trips.

Parents expect their kids will need some smaller-ticket items such as supplies and a few outfits each school year. But what we might not always factor in are the collateral expenses. At the moment, I am fielding book-order forms, field-trip fees, uniform costs, school-photo payments, PTA memberships, pizza and gift sales, and "dine out to raise funds" offers.

This list is not comprehensive. And like many parents, I have several children in school, meaning most of the expenses are multiplied.

These costs are nothing new. After all, clubs and organizations can't operate for free. But expenses such as these can creep in and add up. Without some planning and forethought, they can knock a budget off course.


Parents need to strike a balance that supports students and their schools and respects the family income and spending plan.

Following are a few principles to keep in mind.

  • Stick to your budget

    Fundraisers are the bread and butter of most school organizations. I'm all for supporting them within reason. Buy the $20 pizza kit if you will eat it. And who knows? Maybe your neighbor will want the $18 pretzel dogs. But before you sign up for slate coasters, peanut butter mittens or oats-and-cheddar dog treats, consider your budget and proceed wisely.

  • Don't fall for hype or pressure

    Fend off guilt-driven school spending. Repeatedly, I hear parents say they feel pressure to fritter cash on things they don't think they should. Some cough up cash because they can't bear the thought of their child being among a few who don't get a new book on book-order day.

    Others shell out for the extensive $60 school-picture package instead of a basic $12 package. Among their reasons are the star-appeal technique, which is advertised to make your child "Look as great as your favorite celebrity!"

    Some parents say they buy extra fundraiser items so their child will receive a prize. Don't fall for it. Simply put, if your child doesn't win the electronic, bubble-plasma eye or get to be principal for a day, he or she will survive.

    In a more troubling scenario, some parents fear that if they don't rise to a certain level of giving, their child will be benched or won't get a prime role in the school play. I do not believe that's the case in most instances.

    In any event, it is our job to make prudent and principled decisions about the use of our money. What better opportunity to lovingly teach our children that it is not all right to sell out in a tough situation?

  • Plan for unplanned school expenses

    Finally, families can ease the strain of school spending by planning well. Estimate expenses ahead of time and budget for them.

    Or try to set aside a school year stash to cover costs as they arise. This method can be particularly helpful. When you have money allotted and see the amount decrease with each disbursement, you will be more aware of your spending and more likely to spend wisely.

    If you adhere to these principles and your child still longs for the bubble-plasma eye fundraiser prize, take heart in this. Overspent households experience tension and stress. When you spend wisely, you are reducing that stress and providing an opportunity for your children to thrive in the comfort and security of a less frazzled home that is managed well.

    Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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