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I’m sure we’re all familiar with the saying, “there’s no such thing as a free education.” And for the most part, I would be inclined to agree. Hidden fees are everywhere, it seems. And that includes when you send your child to public school. Obviously, it’s not going to be quite as expensive as a private school; but there are still unexpected expenses involved. Here are some tips for how to budget for the school year.

Even when you attend public school, there are still unexpected expenses outside of school supplies. Here are some tips for how to budget for the school year.

According to Huntington Bank’s Backpack Index, in 2015 parents paid on average over one grand per child in school expenses, fees, and supplies (

High school can be as much as $1500 per year for each student depending on the activates they’re involved in.

It’s clear that public school isn’t free after all, so what is a parent on a limited budget to do about it? The first thing to do is to accept it, and the next thing to do is to plan for it.

You may be surprised to learn about how much each parent is expected to buy for each child in school.

Much of this is due to less funding for public schools and also simply technological advances and an unwillingness for local governments to raise taxes to pay for the additional expenses.

The Additional Expenses of Public School

* Books – Often you will need to pay book fees for your child to get to use the books at school. Some schools now have the option of electronic books that your child will keep on a tablet, but others still have regular books.

Each district and school within the district is often very different. The fees can be as little as a hundred dollars per child, and in some cases, much more. A parent in Indiana reported spending more than a thousand dollars in book fees for her five kids:
So, remember, it all adds up.

* Uniforms – Many public schools require that students wear their uniform. This can become an additional expense for parents that they weren’t planning for, with each uniform costing upwards of $100. And your child will need more than one to be clean.

Even schools that do not require uniforms have outfits they expect your child to buy for gym class or PE.

* Instruments – If your child will be in any type of music program, you’ll be responsible for buying or renting the instruments. Depending on which one your child ends up playing (which without having lessons already they won’t get to pick on their own), it can cost thousands or on average $100 a month to rent from a local rent shop.

* Electronics – Some schools require that your child has a laptop or tablet or both. It depends on your area. Often the schools supply them, but charge a fee for using them. You can usually use your own if they’re approved by the school too.

So, if your child already has these devices, ask if they can use theirs to avoid that fee.

* General Supplies – Today, through middle school, (and some high schools), most parents are being asked to provide general supplies such as hand sanitizer, paper towels, art supplies, toilet paper, and more to help keep the school full of supplies throughout the year.

* Activity Fees – If your child is involved in any type of activity, even field day, there is likely to be a fee involved that is going to be paid up front at the start of the year. In some cases, such as band, football, cheer and those types of activities, it can cost hundreds of dollars a month per child to be involved.

* Classroom Fees – Certain classes that have extra equipment such as science class may require an additional classroom fee, to help pay for the maintenance of the class and the equipment needed to conduct the class correctly.

* Parking Fees – If your high school student wants to drive to school, a parking pass can put you back a couple hundred dollars. This is true even in districts that don’t have a good bussing system.

* Bussing Fees – Some school districts have buses but charge parents a monthly fee for each child that takes a bus. These fees can range from 100 dollars a year to even a couple thousand a year, depending on where you live.

* Testing Fees – To pass dual credit classes or honors classes and get college credit for them, your child will have to pay a testing fee. These range from $100 dollars and less per honors test. While this isn’t directly related to your school, it is an important thing to consider as soon as you can. The tests for college entrance aren’t free. Neither is applying to a college.

Everyone has to pay a fee for the test, and everyone pays a fee for each college application.

How to Create a Budget with School Expenses in Mind

Once you know what is expected of you as a parent of a public-school student, it’ll be a lot easier to budget for it. Find out what last year’s list was.

Contact any specialty classes to find out the fees if you can’t get the information from the admin office of the school.

You’ll need to know everything that your child may need, plus the extras as mentioned before – such as whether your child will be in a band, sports, choir or other activities. Whatever figure you come up with, multiply it by 1.5 so you’ll have a buffer, then multiply it by how many kids you’ll have in school.

Including the above, let’s make a list of the potential expenses for your child’s public school journey.

* Activity fees
* After-school activities
* Athletic equipment
* Backpacks
* Band fees
* Before/after-school child care
* Books
* Class fees
* Clothing
* Computers
* Folders/binders
* General supplies
* Homecoming
* Honor society
* Instruments
* Lunch
* Paper/notebooks
* Pens/pencils
* Pictures
* Prom
* Shoes
* Sport fees
* Uniforms
* College testing
* Other

These are a lot of fees and expenses that are going to be added to your life once your child is in school. If you have multiple children, it can get out of control. Some schools have caps on costs for multiple children, so please check that out to be sure whether you really need each of your children to buy general supplies or what the cap might be on paying for bus fees.

Public school has the potential to be expensive- but it doesn’t have to be. Even on a one-family income, you can still afford public school expenses.

Public school can be surprisingly expensive if you aren't prepared. Here's how to budget for the unexpected expenses of public school.

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Digital Product Creator at Kori at Home
Kori is a late diagnosed autistic/ADHD mom. She is currently located in Albany, NY where she is raising a neurodiverse family. Her older daughter is non-speaking autistic (and also has ADHD and Anxiety) and her youngest daughter is HSP/Gifted. A blogger, podcaster, writer, product creator, and coach; Kori shares autism family life- the highs, lows, messy, and real. Kori brings her own life experiences as an autistic woman combined with her adventures in momming to bring you the day-to-day of her life at home. Kori is on a mission to empower moms of autistic children to make informed parenting decisions with confidence and conviction.

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