At the time of writing we are all well and truly into the first school term, but this year I have a Grade 7 on my hands and that has changed the ball game completely!
I somehow smugly thought I had this school thing waxed, what I’m discovering is that there is always something new to learn!
Currently my days (and nights) have been consumed by the stress of applying for High School and, despite my very helpful post about tips on how to choose the right High School for your child, I’ve realised that you still have to do the hard yards yourself.
A summarised version of what this involves: complete 100 forms with the same info, certify 50 copies of each NB document your own (and go back again when the police woman refuses to stamp more than 5 at a time – actually send your husband!), nag your child for the umpteenth time to sit down and write an application letter, edit said letter AGAIN, make him write it AGAIN (neatly!), write your own letter, leave work early 3 times in one week to attend open days, then attend an open day a week for 4 weeks in a row! It really is an endless circus and I haven’t even touched on the countless conversations around the topic, the ID photos, entrance exams, new online application process, decisions to make and application fees to pay!
No wonder I’m tired! Normal life still continues and all this extra, unforeseen work has to be fitted in somehow – but then again, that’s not too different from all the other unforeseen tasks and expenses that no parent budgets for!
Life with kids is pretty much always “unforeseen”
I vaguely recall that at some stage in my own high school career my home ec teacher may have mentioned that “unforeseen/ emergency fund” was meant to be an item in your budget. Unfortunately this particular item has NEVER appeared in my budget (when I’ve had one!)
Budgeting for these unexpected expenses never quite manages to make my priority list – I’m always playing catch up and paying off all the extra expenses that have crept onto my credit card! If only I’d listen to Mrs Turley!
Having an unforseen or emergency slush fund of savings would have saved me a lot of heartache and interest!
As I’ve mentioned, when it comes to kids there are A LOT of additional expenses. Yes, the biggies are usually budgeted for – school fees take a real slice out of your salary and are therefore hard to ignore. But what about all those little extra costs that suddenly come your way during the school year? School fees are just the tip of the iceberg!
With that in mind I have partnered with Liberty to write this post about all the extra hidden costs that can crop up unexpectedly in the school year, to help you be more prepared for the “unforeseen” expenses associated with educating your child and to find ways to help you save money where possible.
In order to shed some light on the ongoing costs that arise throughout the school year I thought I would share a bit more about the day to day hidden costs that we have found ourselves forking out for throughout the year….
Yes, I realise our family is fortunate to have many of these opportunities and they may not be of concern to you BUT bear in mind the things listed here that may apply to your child and then be sure to add an amount into your budget when preparing for the next school term.
Extra Expenses to Budget for with School-Going Kids
Uniform – This can be an endless money pit if you buy new items, especially if your kids don’t look after their items. Some tips on how to save here include visiting the second hand shop or joining your schools Facebook group to swop and sell school uniform items that are still in good condition. Obviously keep items to hand down within your own family. Be sure to label all your uniform items so if they do take an outing to the lost property box you can claim them back. Get your child to be accountable for lost items. Make them go to look for them or even pay for the replacement. They will quickly learn to look after their things!
Extra-murals – These extras can be another endless money drain and quickly spiral out of control if you let them. If you’re looking to save money here maybe allow your child to do all the free activities they want to, but limit paid extra-murals to one per term. Also encourage them to stick to one instead of swopping out each term to save on registration fees. Choose to pay for extra-murals that teach them a skill they will enjoy for life eg. swimming or tennis or investigate free (or cheap) alternatives eg. nippers or Boy Scouts. Try to avoid encouraging the super expensive ones (if you can!)
Sports Equipment – Another thing to think about when signing your darling up for an extra-mural is the kit cost involved. These days most kids need to have their own kit for sports like cricket and this can be a very costly exercise. To save here rather buy second hand or make friends with someone who is happy to pass down their used items. Shop on Gumtree or Facebook marketplace or visit your local charity store. Some school second hand shops also stock used items. When you do buy new go for quality so that you know it will last for the season – or even get passed down to your next child.
Private Sport Coaching – Obviously this is not an essential, but if your child shows promise in the pool you may want to invest in private lessons, or if they have their heart set on Olympic glory you’ll be forking out for gymnastics squad. Almost every sport offers private coaching – and it may be a great advantage to take onto the sports field – but don’t get caught up into the peer pressure of “everyone is doing it”. Remember it all depends on what you can afford. It’s best not to break the bank on this because the reality is that very few kids actually crack it as a professional sports person – and if you asked them at age 40 whether they wished their parents had paid for their extra sports coaching or saved for their own retirement I’m pretty sure their answer would be the latter! Maybe in this instance a way to save some money would be to arrange a group of dads meet up in the nets every Sunday afternoon, or chat to a talented friend who is prepared to spare an hour a week to share some tips on their chosen sport. Far more impactful when a mentor relationship is developing at the same time as the sports skills.
Sports Tours – Again a prestigious opportunity that is hard to deny your child, but if they are super talented and invited on 3 or more sports tours a year you could well be forking out tens of thousands for a few days holiday… wouldn’t you rather the whole family were enjoying an overseas trip instead? It might be hard, but having a conversation with your child about how many tours you can realistically afford as a family is something you should do at the beginning of the year so that everyone is on board when the invitations come later on.
Eisteddfods/ Exams/ Competitions – If your child gets involved in dance, drama or gymnastics you can expect to be paying entry fees for these a few times a year (not to mention other exams, new outfits and possibly even travel expenses) There may be no getting around these costs other than to decline taking part. Work out in advance how much you’re prepared to pay towards this expense and how many events that covers and go from there.
School Camps – Not something you want to deny your child, this is an expense you could possibly pay off over a few months so chat to the school in advance about payment options, or just put money aside each month towards this cost.
Music Lessons – An expensive “nice to have” rather than an essential, you need to decide whether this is something you want your child to pursue. Aside from the lessons themselves remember you’ll also have to invest in an instrument, new books and music exams each year. But if they love it then this life skill is certainly priceless. Just choose an instrument you can bear to listen to played badly, well, before the investment starts to pay off!
Tutors/ Extra Lessons – We all want our children to succeed and be the best they can be, so it’s really quite upsetting to hear that they may be struggling academically (and even harder when you realise it’s YOUR genes they’ve inherited!) Not all subjects and grades require extra lessons, but for core subjects like maths the investment in a private tutor or a regular extra lesson may well be worth it in the long run, allowing your kid to pass, get an A or even acceptance into university ultimately! You definitely don’t want them to get left behind so investing in this extra expense is often a non-negotiable… which is were the unforeseen budgeting needs to come in as these one-on-one lessons can break the bank! To ease the squeeze a little bit more try to find a group lesson option like Mastermaths or ask a few friends to club together to pay for a tutor and share the cost. Alternatively find a clever student who doesn’t charge as much as a professional tutor, find online options or bribe your clever brother!
Au Pair/ Aftercare – Most families have both parents out at work these days, and with kids schedules busier than ever, it can be difficult to stay on top of lifts and homework amongst everything else – which is where an Au Pair might become helpful. This large expense can be worth investing in if it gives parents peace of mind and allows kids the freedom to continue with their favourite out-of-school activities. Alternatively paying for aftercare is often a necessary expense. To save money here see how many free after-school activities you can sign your kids up for, arrange standing play dates where you swop childcare duties with other working parents, or negotiate flexible working hours a few afternoons a week so you can do the heavy lifting and catch up on email in the wee hours.
Occupational/ Speech Therapy/ Remedial – Almost always unforeseen, these extra expenses shouldn’t be ignored. If a teacher suggests your child needs some extra assistance be reassured that they have years of experience and only want the best for your child – despite it not being the best for your budget! Investigate what options the school offers on site and for free (many schools have extra classes or assistance) and then ask around for recommendations of affordable practitioners who specialise in children. When applicable always check if they charge Medical Aid rates and if it’s something your medical aid may cover.
School Outings – These crop up once a term, for each child. Sure, they don’t break the bank, but just remember to pop this into your budget too as some of them require a bit more outlay than others.
Fundraising Events – Another voluntary expense that crops up throughout the year, it is nice to have some money set aside to spend on the school raffle, auction or dance. Knowing it ultimately goes back to your school can ease the pain, just remember it’s voluntary and the amount you spend is discretionary and definitely don’t fall into the peer pressure that some very good sales people will put you under… and don’t over bid or try to out bid your friends at the auction! Dangerous!
Games Day/ School Fete – These events are usually fun for the kids, but the costs can spiral out of control. Set a minimal amount aside for each event and each child and then suggest that they use their pocket or birthday money for anything they wish to buy over and above (but make sure they don’t take ALL their money either!)
School Lunches – Feeding kids costs. Feeding kids healthy food costs even more. Either way you’re going to spending money here. Packing your own healthy school lunches is a great way to save money, but sometimes convenience wins and the school tuck shop option is an easy out! I say pick your battles, just choose wisely. Rather opt for the more affordable toasted cheese instead of the cheese burger. Pack a water bottle from home instead of buying bottled water. To save even more money in the future check what comes home uneaten and don’t buy that option again!
Stationery and school books – This is usually a rather terrifying bill but there are ways to save money. You can be tempted to use the easy option of pre-order in advance and while this may be convenient it’s not necessarily cheaper. Rather seek out stationery specials online or in stores a few days after the back-to-school chaos. Or be really clever and order in bulk in advance on this years’ specials for next year!
Tech equipment – Most high schools, and even many primary schools, now require each student to own a laptop or tablet which they take to school every day and use for their access to Google Classroom, online textbooks and student portals. This is a BIG outlay that needs to be considered and budgeted for in advance.
School bags and lunchboxes – The tools of the trade so to speak – they still cost cash and need to be budgeted for. Buy the best quality you can afford, label everything (even the lids!) Make the kids responsible for their stuff so you can try to avoid buying more than once a year.
Birthday and Teacher gifts – Obviously with school comes friends and teachers… and these special people deserve to be treated from time to time. (or every freaking weekend!) There are some months I’m spending out over R500 for birthday parties in one weekend. Which sounds ridiculous when I don’t get to spend R500 on myself even once a month!!! But 2 x kids at 2 x parties at R120 – R150 per present and you’re pretty much there! An obvious way to save money is to not have so many friends.. but that may not work so rather ask your kids which parties they are happy to say “no” to. Alternatively stock pile presents that you find on sales, make cards, bake or make gifts if possible.
Whew! That is an extensive list that confirms exactly where all my money has been seeping to over the past few years. I could never quite understand why we just weren’t making it on our budget. Now I know why!
I hope this list has inspired you to get more on top of your budgeting, especially with regards to the expenses for your kids and their education. (And I really hope it hasn’t freaked you out!) Ultimately I hope I’ve helped you to plan better, and think of a few new ways to save on these extra expenses. But I’m no expert – in fact I’m pretty sure YOU may have some better ideas to contribute to this post. If you do please leave me a comment below about how you manage to save money when it comes to your kids costs….
The bottom line is that all parents want to offer their child the very best in educational opportunities, while many of us will break the bank trying to make that happen, it is important to have a plan and a budget and work to that. It may mean saying no to some things but it will mean you are more in control of your finances and far less stressed – which can only be a good thing for your child in the long run!
If you’re feeling the need to sit down and speak to someone about how to help you sort out your finances so that you can plan for the unforeseen and feel comfortable knowing your kids are getting every opportunity, then why not make an appointment with a financial advisor to get some guidance for your family’s financial journey.