Top 10 Reasons Why Back to School is Draining Our Wallets

colorful folders on a table
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Alwine)

Updated Aug. 5, 2013

Last week I spent $80 on school supplies. And that money didn’t buy me a single pair of jeans or sneakers. No, I dropped $80 just on classroom supplies that my children’s public school doesn’t provide.

Military families pinch our pennies, and it seems that every year, back to school time puts a bigger dent in our tight budgets. So what exactly are we spending money on? Here are 10 reasons why back to school is draining our wallets:

1. Crayons and scissors and tissues, oh my! The supply list for my kids’ public school (“should you desire to purchase supplies”), includes so many items that I’m beginning to think parents are soon going to be asked to provide desks and computers. It may sound trivial to complain about buying necessary supplies like pencils and glue sticks, but when you add to that other supplies like Clorox wipes, Ziplock bags, and antibacterial gel, the cost isn’t so trivial anymore.

2. Supplies for other people’s children. I completely understand that some families don’t have the financial means to send in school supplies, and I feel fortunate that my family is able to provide the requested items that will also benefit other children. However, I’d like to know that my children will actually be the recipients of the supplies they helped pick out at Wal-Mart. Our school asks that we not label the supplies. Therefore, when the items are distributed among the students, there’s no guarantee that my kids will end up with those more expensive, sturdier folders instead of the less costly, less durable folders someone else purchased. (Maybe I need to be more like one friend who ignores the rule and writes her child’s name on the supplies anyway.)

3. Clothes and shoes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent $8.5 billion in August 2012 at family clothing stores. I don't doubt it. My kids have only been out of school for a couple of months, but somehow NONE of their clothes or shoes from the last school year fit. And of course, they can’t wear the clothes they’ve been wearing all summer because by now they’re covered in grass stains and popsicle drippings. They're about to get brand new wardrobes, and unless I find someone who has hand-me-downs in their sizes, I'm going to be paying a pretty penny.

4. Backpacks. If you expect your child’s backpack to hold up through the entire school year, you better plan on dishing out some dough. Unfortunately, even if your son’s backpack is good to go for another school year, there’s a still a good chance you’ll end up purchasing another one because Spiderman just isn’t cool anymore.

(Speaking of backpacks, Operation Homefront feels your pain. Check out their Back-to-School Brigade that offers military children free backpacks and school supplies.)

5. Extracurricular activity fees. In some areas, parents have to pay for their kids to participate in sports in public schools so the sports aren’t eliminated altogether. These participation fees cover the cost of things like coaches’ salaries, new equipment, and travel, and they're rarely cheap.

6. Textbook rental fees. Another milspouse friend recently switched schools and found out she has to pay textbook rental fees for her 1st and 3rd graders. These fees can set parents back over $100 per child per year.

7. PTA membership. We’ve all seen the PTA table set up right by the entrance of the gymnasium at every Open House before school starts, and we’ve all been accosted by that perky PTA president throwing the pressure on us to join. Of course, we all love the PTA and the ways in which they help our children, but it’s yet another cost.

8. Transportation. One of my milspouse friends told me she has to buy her children a pass to ride the school bus. How much is that costing her? $550 per pass!

9. Lunch accounts. I’ll be packing lunches most days, but there’s always going to be Pizza Hut Wednesdays and the “but Mom, everyone else gets to buy ice cream” days. That means depositing money into the kids’ lunch accounts.

10. Suggested donations. My jaw fell straight to the floor when one friend told me her child’s public school was requesting a “donation” of over $1,200 per child to help cover the cost of teachers’ aides, a librarian, and PE, art and music programs. Wow. I guess I shouldn’t complain about $80 for school supplies.

What back to school expenses are putting a dent in your budget?

Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life

For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.

Show Full Article

Related Topics

SpouseBuzz Family and Spouse

Military Spouse Videos

View more