As the holiday season draws to a close, the start of the new school year is fast approaching. Every new school year presents huge opportunities for children, along with some challenges for parents. The academic year comes with significant costs; school fees, uniforms, supplies, and all the paraphernalia that must be paid for.
Here are some back to school money tips for you to consider as you prepare for the new term:
Try to shop early. It is too late to be saying this now as some schools start next week, but try not to get caught out next term; ideally parents should have started planning for the school year long before now. When you shop early, without the pressure of time, there’s no rush and you can take advantage of the sales. With last minute shopping, it will be difficult to find discounts. Indeed this is probably the most expensive time to shop for the school year. If there are some items that your child doesn’t need right away or not for several weeks, then you might wish to wait for when unsold inventory is sold at a discount.
Review the School List
The school supply list can be quite daunting. Go through the list critically. Does your child need every single item on the list? Check to see what your child brought home at the end of last term to see if there are any that can be used for the new term. You will be surprised to find that there are many items at home, so you can avoid wasting money or duplicating items.
Make an inventory. It is important to keep track of what you’ve actually bought. Keep a list and give one to your child as they leave for school; they should be accountable for their belongings and at the end of the term, should be expected to bring them back home largely intact. Unpacking when they come home is a good idea, ticking off the items that could still be used for the next term. Some parents give a small reward for outstanding care of personal possessions.
Prepare a Budget
Most people cannot afford to buy every single thing on the school list. How much money do you have to spend? Set out a budget for school supplies including school books, school lunch, the school bus, uniforms, allowance and so on. Shop with your list, prioritise and stick to it.
Going through the school list with your child is an opportunity to teach some valuable money lessons. Talk through the difference between wants and needs; there may be standard trainers that the school recommends for PE, which will be compared with the much more fashionable high-end trainers that they would rather have; this provides strong lessons in costs, prioritising and budgeting. It is a good idea to go along with them for some of the shopping trips.
Hand me Downs
Uniforms are essential and are a constant part of a school-shopping list. Every child would love to have a brand new uniform each year but where there are older siblings who attended the same school, it makes perfect sense to hand them down to a younger child if they are in good condition, even if you can afford to buy new ones. Some schools offer second hand uniforms in perfect condition for a fraction of the cost but many Nigerian parents, are embarrassed by this. Don’t be. Quite frankly, at the rate at which children outgrow clothes, it makes sense to buy some items second hand, particularly those that aren’t worn that often. Clearly label your children’s uniforms so that they aren’t easily lost.
Allowing your child to get involved in extracurricular activities at school is very important in helping them to develop and nurture their skills and talents to broaden their horizon. But your child cannot take part in every activity; there must be some balance to ensure that they are not under undue pressure. Most family budgets cannot afford more than one or two extras; have your children choose their favorite activities or new ones that they are showing interest in, and look for cheaper options outside school particularly during the holidays. Musical instruments such as pianos and some sports equipment can be very expensive but are available for rent. Once your child is showing some real skill and interest you can then plan to invest in an instrument, which need not be new.
The Book List
As children go through the same stages year on year one can find second hand books in good condition. When handing in your book list to the shop request that they check for available second hand alternatives in the correct edition listed on the book list. Talk to friends and relatives of children who have just completed the year above. So many parents find that they can do book swaps. Children must thus be taught to protect their books as they will be used by others after them.
Buy Quality over Quantity
It is tempting to buy a cheap school bag, lunch box or water bottle, but what may seem cost effective now will just fall apart in no time at all. It pays to spend more on good quality, sturdy items that will last for a long time.
Quality, and durability are key as opposed to being trendy or having the “latest” version. Children face enormous peer pressure and when they start school and see that their friends are all using the latest version, they are embarrassed. It is important for parents to take the time to talk through these challenging issues as they seek to raise confident well-adjusted children.
Healthy Home-Made Meals
Many parents send their children to school with fast food takeaway packs. We all know packed lunches prepared at home are much healthier and cheaper than the fast food alternatives Homemade food is more nutritious so plan ahead and be prepared.
The school run has become very expensive with the increase in fuel costs. Look into the option of car-pooling for the daily run as well as for extra curricular school activities, after school events or sports practices. With car pooling, parents take turns in taking children to the same school; this saves parents money on fuelling and running costs as well as freeing up some time out from the hectic school run.
For boarders, car-pooling is also a good option for exeats, visiting days and mid-term holidays. Plan in advance to draw up a schedule with other parents and share the journey to cut costs on long distance travel particularly for schools that are out of town.
Send them to school healthy
Before your children go back to school, see to it that they are healthy and have had all their checkups – eyes, teeth, general health to avert any festering problems that could cause them to miss classes. The premium on a family medical and dental insurance plan is a small price to pay to ensure that have access to the best medical care.
We all know packed lunches prepared at home are much healthier and cheaper than the fast food alternatives Homemade food is more nutritious so plan ahead.
Can you Afford the Fees?
Today’s harsh economic climate has left thousands of parents struggling to pay for their children’s education. If your child is bright and talented, there may be opportunities for scholarships and bursaries, which should be explored. But where you have run your numbers, cut back on family expenses, even sold assets and are struggling to meet your obligations, it is time to have that serious conversation about withdrawing from a particular school and enrolling in a cheaper option. For many parents earning naira and with children being educated abroad, the exchange rate and availability of foreign exchange makes it increasingly difficult to maintain children abroad. Be careful not to jeopardize your livelihood and retirement plans to pay exorbitant school fees at all cost. It will be worse for everyone if you go broke!
To spend thousands, even millions of naira just before the school term starts can be a huge financial strain on any family. With careful planning and budgeting, and a firm acceptance of the current economic challenges, you can look forward to this important event without a shock to the family purse.