As the holiday season draws to a close, parents must consider one of their biggest costs; the cost of education. Here are some back to school money tips as you prepare for the new term:
Ideally, parents should have started planning for the school year long before now. When you shop early, you can take advantage of sales and discounts. This is probably the most expensive time to shop for the school year. Indeed, if there are 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.
Prepare a School 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 fees, books, lunch, the school bus, uniforms, allowance, supplies etc. Shop with your list, prioritise and stick to it.
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 exceptionally bright and talented, explore opportunities for scholarships and bursaries.
If you have cut back as much as you can, even sold assets, and are still struggling to meet your obligations, it may be time to withdraw from a particular school and seek a cheaper option. The most expensive school whether at home or abroad, is not necessarily the best. Be careful not to jeopardize your livelihood and retirement plans to fund an education you cannot afford.
Review the School List
Review the school list critically. Can any items brought home at the end of last term be used this term? You will be surprised to find that there are many items at home, so you can avoid wasting money or duplicating items.
Don’t look down on “hand me downs”. Naturally, every child would love to have everything brand new each year but where older siblings attended the same school, it makes perfect sense to use hand down uniforms if in good condition, even if you can afford to buy new ones. Some schools offer almost new uniforms; quite frankly, at the rate at which children outgrow clothes, it makes sense to buy some items second-hand.
Reviewing the school list with your child is an opportunity to teach some valuable money lessons. Talk through the difference between wants and needs; 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.
Should you buy in bulk?
Buying school supplies in bulk is most effective for households with multiple students. For single-child families, consider doubling up with others for extra savings on basic supplies. If you buy too much, they may go to waste as they will get lost, lent out, given away, misplaced or just never used.
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 more important than being trendy or having the “latest” version.
Keeping up with the Jones’ is a major issue in our society. Children face enormous peer pressure and will interact with children with much more than they have. As a parent, take the time to talk through these challenging social issues to build their confidence.
Make your children accountable for their possessions.
This is a good opportunity to teach your children accountability. Sit down with them to make an inventory of all they are taking to school. Keep a list and give them a copy as they leave for school. They should learn to be accountable for their belongings and at the end of the term should be expected to bring them back home largely intact. When they return, tick off items together as they unpack. Some items in good condition can still be used for the following term. Give a small reward for outstanding care of personal possessions; such incentives have a way of reinforcing messages.
Extra Curricular activities
Extracurricular activities help children to develop and nurture their skills and talents. 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; select their favorite activities or those that they are showing interest in, and look for cheaper options outside school, particularly during the holidays.
Send them to school healthy
Before your children go back to school, a general health check is important – eyes, teeth, general health to avert any festering problems. The premium on a family medical and dental insurance plan is a small price to pay to ensure that they have access to the best medical care. For day students, homemade meals are more nutritious than the fast food alternatives, so do make this a priority for their daily lunch.
Look into the option of car-pooling for the daily school 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 with huge savings 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.
As with any important long-term goal, careful planning in advance is necessary. This reduces the pressure and makes giving the legacy of education a pleasure and not a burden.