Pinched schools put the squeeze on parents
Field trips, school auctions, fundraisers. Here's how to respond to the nearly constant stream of education cash grabs.
Sorry, newbies: You ain't seen nothing yet.
"Just when you think it's safe to put up your wallet, the requests (start) pouring in," says Cameron Huddleston of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.
Field trips. Classroom supplies. School auctions. Cookie dough sales. PTA fees. Class parties. Gifts for the teacher.
Schools ask for help because funding cuts leave them cash-strapped, Huddleston notes. "But if your own funds are limited, how do you respond if you can't open your wallet every time your child's school asks?"
There's no one-size-fits-all answer. But seasoned moms and dads have figured out ways to deal with the near-constant cash grabs.
Parents with teens as well as grade-schoolers are hit particularly hard, since more and more high schools now charge for things like dissecting a frog, performing onstage, playing on a team or marching in the band. Add that to the cost of little brother's school supplies and candy sales and the family budget bleeds red ink.
Secondary school administrators say those fees (which may be waived due to financial hardship) let them "continue to offer specialty classes and activities that would otherwise fall to the budget ax," notes The Wall Street Journal.
Some parents would "rather pay for honors physics or drama than see those opportunities eliminated altogether." Others, however, question fees for things like textbooks, required courses, riding the bus and registering for an ostensibly free public education.
Coming up with the cash
You can't get out of high school without taking science, and you don't want your kid to be the only one who doesn't get to go on the field trip. But how do you deal with other costs?
Here's what some parents and bloggers suggest.
Set a budget. Ask teachers or other parents what kinds of fees and other donations you’ll be asked to make. (Try to anticipate ancillary costs, such as spending money for that museum trip -- which always seems to exit through the gift shop -- your bids at the school auction and so forth.) Create a "school costs" line item in your budget and then "look for ways to reduce these costs as much as possible," says Andrew Schrage of the Money Crashers personal finance blog. Shop loss-leader school supplies, he suggests, and purchase musical instruments and sports equipment at consignment shops or online.
Get creative. Keep checking The Freecycle Network and/or the "free" section of Craigslist -- other parents may be anxious to get rid of that tuba or those outgrown hockey skates. If family members ask for holiday or birthday ideas, request help with a class trip or band instrument. Use rewards points to buy gift cards to office supply stores, bookstores or Amazon.com. (Don't have a rewards credit card? See "Get paid to do online searches" for tips on earning gift cards.)
Prioritize. "Decide which contributions you can afford to make that will have the most impact," Huddleston advises. For example, buying tickets to the fall festival means money for the school plus entertainment for your family.
Cut costs elsewhere. Kelly Snyder prunes her family's budget pretty ruthlessly each August, then uses the savings to pay extra educational costs. "The kids don't really seem to notice" the cutbacks because of the excitement of a new school year, says Snyder, who blogs at Kansas City Mamas.
More tips from the pros
Learn to say "no." You're not the only parent who will say it. Pay for what you can reasonably afford and decline other offers. Frame it as, "I can't help at this particular time" or "That's not in our budget right now."
Set other limits. Courtney Solstad, who blogs at My Crazy Savings, lets her children participate in just one school fundraiser per year. "It's frustrating for the extended family to get asked for money too often," she says. This tactic will also cut down how much you wind up contributing.
Volunteer. Work in the library, go on one of those field trips, run errands for the teacher or just do whatever needs doing. Working parents can contribute by helping out at weekend car washes or bake sales. The school benefits, and your budget lives to fight another day.
Compromise. Can't afford/don’t want to pay $20 for wrapping paper or microwave popcorn? Make a contribution directly to the PTA instead. Are multiple field trips planned and you just can't afford them all? Lori Felix suggests asking your child to choose the ones that are most important to him or her, and explain the realities of the family budget.
"They are less likely to feel embarrassed or pressured when they know the family's strategy and have participated in the decision-making," says Felix, who blogs at More With Less Today.
Yes, it might still be a little upsetting to have to miss several events. You know else is upsetting? Having your parents worry about finances all the time.
Readers: How do you handle school requests for money?
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I don't want my grandkids or my neighborhood kids selling things that are way overpriced and for which the schools get only a percentage of the sale. I often just write a check to the organization, be it school, sports, Scouts, etc. I would like to suggest that each school district skip the fundraisers that strongly encourage students to sell a product and replace those with selling once a year, maybe every September, a sticker for my front door that says, "I am a **** School District supporter for the '13-'14 school year." Charge me $25 for the sticker. Then make sure that all students understand that if they see a sticker on a door it means, "Do not ask this householder to buy ANYTHING!" That would save the schools a lot of time and effort that would be better spent on educating kids and insure that the school got the entire amount of the donation.
As for activities: I am good with car washes, and carnivals, white elephant sales or auctions when items are from the businesses in the neighborhood or from the families in the school that will benefit. Sometimes people can do their part by volunteering time or contributing items when they might not have extra cash. These are the types of fund raising activities that are fun and, also, develop a sense of community in kids.
Same old story of the schools need money. Maybe they should have thought about that 30 years ago. But the people in charge are professionals at playing kick the can. Stop taxing the land owners and start taxing the parents. Or better yet, make all schools private. Wait before you respond-But what about the poor they can't afford it. No one can afford it! Homeschool your kids people. Public schools have become babysitters and child day warehouses. It's all about unions and special interests and more importantly, too the leftist, elitist, socialism!
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