Taking the sting out of school expenses

July 20, 2022
A shopping cart full of back to school items

As your kiddos make plans to return to school and you look forward to reclaiming your house, this is the optimal time to review your budget. Much like that vacation that seemed to nickel, dime, and quarter you to death, school expenses — let alone the cost of raising a child in general — is fraught with unexpected expenses. So why not start the school year planning proactively? You’ll be less stressed, they’ll be happier, and your account won’t take so many sucker punches throughout the year. We’ve come up with a list of 10 common school-related expenses to get you started as you plan ahead.

Clothes and uniforms

This category is broad and all-encompassing, so don’t feel like you have to buy a completely new wardrobe before school starts. A wise parent spreads out the spending — after all, uniform basics are available more than once, the stores will keep having sales, and your kiddo is going to keep growing. As you budget, think beyond school clothes; don’t forget about dressier clothes, shoes, boots, winter clothes, and PJs for all seasons.

School supplies

School supplies are everything from basic pens, notebooks, and rulers to the shiny backpack that carries it all. If your school district offers a list of what is needed, consult it before budgeting and shopping. And don’t forget lunchboxes!


If you have kids, no doubt technology is in the picture. Laptops, tablets, and pricey calculators may be needed, and protective cases will help ensure you make that purchase only once. Educational apps, software, and services may facilitate the learning process, or just make it more fun, so don’t forget to factor in the cost of some of these things.


You’ll probably want to account for replacements for the mittens, boots, and socks that go missing (no, we don’t know the answer to that one, either — sorry!). Factor in a replacement lunchbox or backpack for when your child’s goes for an endless ride on the bus or hosts a lunch for far too long. By building these items into the budget, it’s not such a shock to the system when you have to purchase them again. And if you don’t have to buy anything twice, no harm, no foul.

School lunches

If you have a luncher who prefers to bring their own, you’ll want to factor in groceries for those lunches, especially if they contain items you buy and earmark for school dining. And if your child eats school lunches from the cafeteria, be sure to include that in your budget based on an estimate of how many times they’ll eat per month. If you do not qualify for free lunch, this is an item that could end up costing more than you think.

Birthday parties and teacher gifts

Take the number of kids you have, multiply it by the number of teachers they have, and add a handful of classmates per kiddo, and you start to get an idea of how often you’ll be buying gifts. Make this item part of the budget and stay on the lookout for sweet deals on gifts and wrap, and you won’t be regifting on the fly for lack of funds ever again.

Fundraisers and classroom treats

This is another of those math problems, based on how many fundraisers — book fairs, plant sales, and the like — your school does in a year, how many of your children attend, and how much you’re willing/able to spend in the name of school support. Also in this category are treats you may buy or bake and bring to school or on field trips.

Music lessons, sports, and other activities

Music lessons, while important, don’t often come cheap. And while you’re accounting for music and acting, don’t forget about sports, dance, and other activities. Whether your kid is kicking in karate, belting it out on stage, or wanting to try their hand at tennis, chances are good you’ll be paying for classes, enrollments, and such. Take a look at overall cost and work it into your overall spending plan now.

Sporting or hobby gear/equipment

Gear and equipment for the aforementioned activities can snowball, so that’s why we’ve given football cleats, ballet shoes, baseball uniforms, etc., their own spending category. This is another area where you should account for growth. If your kiddo is in theatre, look into what you’ll spend on costumes and factor that in here, too.

Backup care for breaks

Lastly, you’ll want to think about what to do when school is not in session. As much as your little darling thinks they can build a fort in the living room and hang out all day, a more structured plan may be in order — one that doesn’t involve hours of TV and boxes of pizza rolls. Plan now for the projected number of break days at your usual provider. When you budget for backup care, it’s easier to share your child’s “school’s out!” joy.

We hope we’ve given you some ideas for lessening the impact of school expenses, large and small, as they all add up. Enjoy some family fun this summer, and for more information on staying on top of expenses, check out our article on proactive budgeting.

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