9 Back-to-School Expenses You Weren’t Expecting

You’ve budgeted for your children’s classroom supplies. You’ve got the books, the colored pencils and science lab goggles. But what about all the expenses they rack up after the school year begins?

We’re talking sports gear, band instruments, homecoming dances and lunch money. Eek!

This year, do your homework and don’t let these activities and accessories sneak up on you. Here are nine back-to-school expenses to include in your budget now.

1. New Clothes. Your kids went through a growth spurt over the summer, but you didn’t notice it because they’ve been wearing shorts for three months! Time to stock up on new polos, khakis and black loafers. With any luck, they might last a whole year.

2. Birthday Parties. For young kids, birthday parties ramp up during the school year. That’s because kids often invite everyone in their classroom to their bouncy-house extravaganzas. In many cases, they have to. Don’t show up empty-handed!

3. Fundraisers. Your daughter’s cheer squad needs new tumbling mats and your son’s hockey team needs new helmets. That means fundraising! Get ready to buy and sell cookie dough until your freezer’s full.

4. Team Sports/Marching Band. Even if your child’s team doesn’t have games this season, they probably have tryouts or practice. Go ahead and save money for uniforms, equipment, Costco-sized packs of Gatorade and away games.

5. Socializing. Around the preteen years, kids start “hanging out.” And after a summer separated by camps and vacations, kids are happy to reunite at the movies, mall or coffee shop. Whatever happened to spending fake money to have fun, like Monopoly?

6. Field Trips. Kids love getting out of the school building. Who can blame them? Field trips provide great exposure to nature and culture, but they’re not free. Just remember to budget for an occasional musical or museum—along with a few slices of pizza from the food court.

7. Football Games/Dances. Friday nights are for football. But along with the price of that ticket comes the cost of cheesy nachos and overpriced sodas. Then, there’s the homecoming dance, dinner and dress. These are fun parts of growing up, but they’re even more fun when you budget for them.

8. School Lunches/Vending Machines. Make sure your kids aren’t overspending on their daily bread. If the school offers a meal charge card, remind them how much they’re allowed to spend each week. And when it comes to snacks, vending machines may be healthier nowadays, but they aren’t any cheaper. Pack snacks at home or budget for some pocket change.

9. Gas Money. Put on your chauffer’s hat, because you’re about to wear out your SUV’s wheels. Carting the kids to school and back every day will definitely drive up your gas bill. Even if your kids take the bus, you’ll still have trips to and from band practice, science club or a friend’s house.

Let Your Kids in on the Budget

Start the school year off right with a back-to-school budget meeting. Tell your kids what you’ll be paying for and what they’ll need to pay for (like those vending machine snack attacks!). Clear expectations now will make for smoother conversations when they ask for an extra $20 to go to the movies later.

As far as the stuff you’ll be buying, build a $50–100 buffer into your monthly budget for all the unknowns. Add some accountability by offering your kids the leftover money as a Christmas “bonus.” You may just create some budget-savvy kids in the process.