kids on their way to school with backpacks on in the fall

5 things to budget for this school year.

School probably feels like a faraway concept for your kids. But you know – and might be grateful – that it’s just around the corner. You’re probably gearing up for school supply shopping, but have you considered the other school expenses ahead? According to the 2016 BackPack Index, parents of elementary school kids spend an average of $659 per year on school supplies and extracurricular activities. For middle school and high school, the average climbs to $957 and $1,498 respectively. It can be hard to keep expenses low when keeping up with a busy school year schedule. We recommend starting a school year budget now and present five common areas to consider below:

1. Youth Sports
Many families have at least one child involved in a sport or two – or maybe more. Parents know the financial and lifestyle commitment of a sport, between covering team uniforms and getting the kids to practices and games. There’s no doubt sports can be beneficial for kids, but it’s important to set expectations: how many sports can they play in a year, and up to what level? While it may be difficult to deny your multi-athlete a tryout with the elite traveling team, it may be worth considering where to draw the line.

Tips:
  • Ask the coach for a list of fees and expenses up front.
  • Purchase used equipment from sporting good resale shops or garage sales.


2. Field Trips
Any chaperone knows: field trips are a fun and exciting experience for kids. They also come with hidden costs, from eating lunch to visiting the gift shop. Talk to your child’s teacher to understand how much they expect parents to contribute to field trips, as well as how many field trips are scheduled.

Tips:
  • If a trip is outside of your budget, explore ways to reduce the cost or seek alternative plans for your child.
  • When possible, pack a lunch for your child to take, and encourage them to use their allowance for souvenirs.

According to the 2016 BackPack Index, parents of elementary school kids spend an average of $659 per year on school supplies and extracurricular activities.

3. Arts Programs
Encouraging creativity in your child is invaluable, but that doesn’t always mean it’s priceless. Whether a concert band, glee club or art classes, you may need to plan for expenses like uniforms, trips for competitions, art materials or instruments. Gauge the strength of your child’s interest before making any significant investment, and try to get a sense of how much their new activity will cost before committing.

Tips:
  • Rather than buy a new instrument, try renting one to start.
  • Look for reduced art supplies at recycle centers or co-ops in your area.


4. Birthday parties
During the school year, birthdays become a classroom affair. Your child may want to invite their entire class to their birthday party, and they might get invited to all of their classmates’ parties. Based on your family’s priorities, determine how much you’re willing to put toward not only your own child’s birthday party, but all of their classmates’ as well.

Tips:
  • Stock up on gift cards of a set amount. You’ll be able to budget your gift-giving, and you’ll have gifts on hand should you need one at the last minute.
  • Instead of buying party favors, set up a DIY activity where they can make a craft.


5. Technology
If your child’s interests trend more toward software than softball, you might be shopping for a coding camp or new device to support their passion. Have a conversation with them to understand what opportunities are most important to them and prioritize accordingly.

Tips:
  • Look for coding camps offered through non-profit organizations.
  • See if you can check out devices or coding books from your local library.


You want your child to enjoy their school years and seize opportunities to play, make friends and build self-esteem, but it can be tough to balance the costs of extracurricular fun with other priorities – like saving for their college. When you plan and stick to a budget, it can help you feel more confident about your financial decisions during the school year.