Expect The Unexpected

How to prepare for unexpected, school-related costs

A recent study from the National Retail Federation found that the average American family spent about $700 back-to-school items this fall. While that’s a hefty number, keep in mind that it only accounts for things like clothing, electronics, notebooks and pens. As any parent with kids in school will tell you, there are a lot more education-related expenses than that — and they keep on coming well into the school year. Here are some ways to budget for the unexpected costs of having kids in school.

  • Buy used. Whenever you can, buy previously used items. Consider a store like Play It Again Sports for used sporting equipment. And definitely shop used when it comes to electronics. We know, that doesn’t seem right. But many sites sell refurbished computers and other items that are just as good as new. Plus, let’s be honest: kids will be kids. There’s a chance their laptop will get dropped more than a few times. There’s no need to shell out a premium price for a new computer that is probably going to get treated fairly roughly. Think of their first laptop as you would their first car — it doesn’t need to be flashy, it just needs to get the job done.
  • Set up auto deposits. Just like you save automatically for retirement and other big ticket things, set up a separate account for general, unexpected school fees. Contribute a small amount every paycheck, so the next time your kid says “Hey, I need $20 for that field trip tomorrow I never told you about” you’ll be able to deal with it (and the kid for not giving you a heads up).
  • Explain needs vs. wants. Most kids don’t want to hear “no” when they ask for the latest, greatest thing, but that’s life. Use this request as an opportunity to discuss needs vs. wants. It’s a valuable money lesson to learn, and the more it’s drilled into your kids, the better.
  • Help out at school. If possible, help out at school so you can have some say on expenses. Just make sure you do some research so you can present differing (cheaper) options. For example, avoid costly field trips by looking into which museums offer free tours for students or discounted pricing.
  • Chris O'Shea

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