Property taxes feed into school budgets, which cover all of a schools' needs, right? Wrong. College tuition is so high it must cover everything kids need to succeed, right? Wrong again. Teachers' school supply lists (which were non-existent 25 years ago) have grown exponentially. Kids think they need the latest Cars/Toys/Super hero/[insert current pop culture trend here] designs on their school supplies. While some argue these are essential supplies students and teachers need that are not covered by the budget, others seem frivolous. Have we created a real need for these outlandish and expensive school supplies or they should they be relegated to a wish list?
College textbooks - $1,000+ As if college weren't expensive enough, the first year student could wipe out their entire summer savings on the first year's textbooks. The national average spent on textbooks/supplies at a public four-year college in the 2010-11 academic year was $1,137 according to the College Board.
Disney/Pixar Cars by Heys Backpack - $79.99 (regular retail price) - Any parent knows a backpack will only last the year. Not only will rips and tears fray the backpack, the child will outgrow the design. This year they may beg for it, but next year it won't be cool. Spending this much on a backpack is a luxury not a necessity. Does your student need a backpack? Absolutely. Do they need one for almost $80? Certainly not.
Save money: Don't fall prey to the Pixar marketing, skip the character designs and opt for practical.
Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium Graphing Calculator - $153.99 - Remember when calculators were verboten in the classroom? Now parents and students will find these "cheat" gadgets impacting their school supply budget starting in middle school. Funny, I remember using a pencil and graph paper.
Save money: Set up a calculator exchange in your school district.
Dry erase markers - $5 to $10 - When there were chalkboards in the classrooms, did parents have to send in boxes of chalk? No. And if they had, it would have cost how much? Less than a dollar. A package of dry erase markers costs between $5 and $10. That may not seem like a lot, but it helps tip a basic school supply list up over the $30 mark.
Save money: Find out if the markers are for student use or teacher use. If your student needs one, send one to school in her pencil kit and keep the rest safe at home. Consider sharing the cost of a pack with a fellow parent.
Athletic uniform fees - $200 to $555+ Your son's school may charge $200 for him to join the team (which doesn't mean he'll get game time). Remember the days when saddle shoes, ankle socks and a cute skirt and shirt with a logo were all you needed to cheer? A cheerleader could pay a $225 registration fee plus a uniform fee of $230. This bill will only increase if you throw cheer camp or competitions into the mix.
Save money: Encourage the school or program to set up a uniform exchange "store" or event.
First Spark kids Toshiba L635 - $349.99+ - How many students are using laptops for homework? OK, that's a few hands raised. How many use it for Facebook? More hands are raised. One of the smallest Facebook user groups is the 13 to 17 crowd . How many to watch videos and play video games? There goes the rest of the class' hands. Kids and middle school students do need access to computer and the Internet at school, at the library and at home, but do they need their own laptops?
Save money: Set up a kid-safe and age-appropriate profile on your home computer or make weekly library trips with your kids.
School Supply Kit - $73 - The $73 was for grade 6! Nothing on any of this list seems out of line on its own, yet that is way too much money.
Save money: Shop during the summer months, looking for sales.
* Buy off-brand products.
* Whittle away the list. Drop things your student already has, including unused pencils, erasers, pens and last year's ruler.
* Skip items for teacher use, including red pens. Reuse last year's binders, folders from an older child or recycle some your own home office supplies.
School supplies costing more than $10 to $15 - Some schools and teachers are notorious for being too specific and picky about the school supplies students absolutely need for class. Requiring students to have a specific brand or type of organizer is not good for a parent's budgets or for the student. Not all students study alike, and forcing them to organize their homework and notes the same way only causes frustration.
Save money: Buy the minimum, keep extras at home and opt of the "community" school supplies. Large retailers offer cheap school supplies in August, at prices rivaling the dollar stores.
Paper goods for the classroom - $5 to $25 per semester
Just when you thought the days of buying wipes was over....here comes the school supply list. Elementary schools are notorious for requesting paper supplies and sanitizers on the same list as pencils and crayons. Schools should be able to supply desk cleaner and paper towels. Wipes are convenient, but they are not the only way to clean desks or hands (soap and water, anyone?). The other issue is that not all parents are a fan of the use of hand sanitizers.
Save money: Send in small tissue packets and wipes in your own child's backpack or jacket pocket. Donate if you can, otherwise ignore the request.
School lunch - $510/school year - This is how much it would cost my first grader to buy lunch and milk on every school day (half days not counted). A look at my son's school's menu shows pizza is available every day, everything with chicken is fried, while the other meals contain fatty meat like hamburger, bacon and hot dogs. It's obvious the goal is to provide cheap food, not the healthiest food.
Save money - Invest in an insulated lunch bag and freezer packs. Make lunches at home that are healthier, fresher and cheaper (depending on the school) than school lunches. I know that the money I spend on homemade lunches won't go to waste. I can also beat the national average of $3.43 per homemade lunch purported by the School Nutrition Association. And if there are days that I go over? The cost of ensuring good nutrition from my own kitchen is one I don't consider outlandish.