It’s expensive to raise a child — and you may not realize how much you’re paying in additional education expenses at any age. Whether you send your child to public school or private school, there are many additional costs that can quickly add hundreds of dollars to your budget—and even more as your children get older. When your kids get through college, be prepared for thousands of dollars in hidden costs beyond the already enormous bills for tuition, room and board. Here’s how to prepare for those extra education costs at any age.
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Elementary school hidden expenses
Elementary school is filled with lots of small expenses that can add up, such as: B. Field trips, PTA fees, and that long list of school supplies — the National Retail Federation estimates that the average household will spend $849 on back-to-school in 2021. You may need to stock up on snacks, tissues, and wipes for school a few times a year provide the entire classroom, and collections for bus drivers, teachers and railroad attendants can take place during holidays and appreciation weeks. Class pictures don’t usually come cheap, and there always seem to be fundraising contests for special activities. (How much wrapping paper can you possibly buy?) After school programs and enrichment classes can also add to the bill.
Don’t let your clothing costs go down if your child has to wear a uniform. “Uniforms have always been tricky because you’d think they could help with the budget, but in fact, some places are so special because of the style and the material that families are forced to spend more than they should,” said Kristen Griffith, a Advantage Counselor with Advantage Credit Counseling Service, providing free, one-on-one financial advice to people of all income levels.
Even if each of these expenses is small, you’ll be surprised at how large they end up at the end of the year. Try to get an idea of these costs ahead of time so you are prepared when they occur. “There were a lot of smaller things in those classes,” said Pam Horack, a certified financial planner at Pathfinder Planning in Lake Wylie, South Carolina, who specializes in family support and is known as “Your Financial Mom.” “You just have to factor that into your budget.”
You may be able to use tax-free funds from a flexible carer spending account, if offered by your employer, or the childcare tax credit to cover some of these expenses — such as family allowances. B. the cost of pre-school or after-school care programs and even summer camps for children under 13 while you and your spouse work. For more information, see the Child and Dependents Tax Credit page at IRS.gov.
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Growing Spending in Middle School
“When they get to middle school, they seem to have fewer things, but they have more money,” Horack said. Instead of field trips to the fire station, they have longer trips with bigger price tags. “My kids had trips out of town to Charleston and Washington, DC,” she said. Extracurricular activities also become more expensive – you may have to buy a flute or sports equipment, or have to pay for uniforms and trips to games. And you also have this long list of school supplies.
“In these classes you should distinguish a little more between what is a need and what is a need,” said Horack. For example, before you buy that flute or that expensive baseball glove, you should wait until you have a better idea of whether your child will stick with that activity. “And make sure you’re saving for them — be aware you’re going to have bigger expenses, and start saving for them early,” she said.
You can also start involving your children in some of the financial decisions. “I remember from my own experience that my parents were very open with us about how much they had to spend on our school clothes and supplies. They gave us a set amount and as soon as it was gone, it was gone,” Griffith said. “It can be helpful to encourage kids to find ways to make money from a young age (I started a dog walking business in middle school) or even talk about how to make money.”
Financial compromises in high school
High school extracurricular and field trips are getting more and more expensive – plus you can collect donations for athletic teams, theater or bands, tuition fees, parking permits, student activity fees, a larger yearbook and more class pictures. Students may also have senior dues to pay for their cap and cape, graduation fees, and special events for the class.
“If the kids at that age really want to do something, I feel like they can contribute, too,” Horack said. “Teenagers need to have a budget and work with their parents on their budget.” Research your expected expenses at the beginning of each year and make timely decisions about who’s paying for what, she said.
Extra activities — like travel sports, tutoring, and exam prep classes — can really add to the bill some months. “It’s not uncommon for my clients to budget around $500 to $1,000 per month per child in activity fees,” said Jennifer Baick, senior director of financial planning and client advisor at Mercer Advisors. This number can vary wildly by family, so it’s important to do your research ahead of time and find out what to expect. “I can’t stress enough the importance of just knowing the costs and preparing for them,” she said.
There are additional fees for preparing for college—well before tuition is due. The average application fee for college admission is $47.50 at four-year colleges and the average number of applications is 5 1/2, said Mark Kantrowitz, financial aid expert and author of “How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid.” Many select colleges charge $75 or more to apply. And don’t forget to factor in college travel expenses.
It costs $55 each time to take the SAT, plus $12 to send a score report to each college beyond the top four. You must also pay for each AP exam (plus a fee to send AP results to colleges) and may have additional costs for tuition and exam prep books. The College Board has some cost-cutting programs for low-income families. Also, find out if your child’s high school or community organizations offer low-cost or free test prep and other programs to help cover expenses, and take advantage of free online programs as well. It can help your child to talk to their guidance counselor about these costs and options before senior year.
College expenses beyond tuition, room and board
You’ve seen the intimidating numbers for tuition, room and board — and expect to shell out several thousand dollars more in additional expenses. In 2020-21, the average estimated full-time student budgets were $26,820 for public four-year state students and $54,880 for private colleges, according to the College Board. This number includes tuition and fees, room and board, and allowances for books and supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses. Colleges typically include about $1,200 to $1,460 a year for financial aid purposes in their estimated costs for books and supplies, Kantrowitz said, and about $3,000 a year for transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses. These numbers can vary widely by class, field of study, distance, and school.
The fee portion of tuition and fees can include thousands of dollars in student activity fees, orientation fees, and overall fees—including money for athletic departments, shuttle buses, and other expenses.
You may also need to pay for a new computer and software, lab fees, and equipment. And don’t forget the cost of furnishing a dorm room — including buying those extra-long double sheets that only colleges seem to use. According to the National Retail Federation, college students and their families plan to spend an average of $1,200 on back to school for the 2021-22 school year.
Travel between home and campus during vacation and school holidays can add up. And costs for clubs, after-school activities, and student or fraternity fees can be much higher than expected. “The fraternity fees were a huge additional expense that I didn’t anticipate,” Griffith said.
The strategy for covering these additional expenses is different for college students than it is for younger children. “It goes more from budgeting to more thoughtful savings as the kids get older,” Horack said. Research these extra expenses ahead of time, factor them into your savings goals, and figure out where you can cut some expenses—whether it’s by making compromises or learning strategies to help you save.
“An early conversation opens up the opportunity to make even more decisions, and decisions are important to control their costs,” said Ashley Boucher, a former spokeswoman for education lender Sallie Mae, which sponsors the annual How America Pays for College study . “Many of these cost-saving techniques result from open discussion and start planning before you think it’s necessary.”
For example, you may be able to find cheaper options for textbooks if you plan ahead. Many schools have textbook listings available for their classes several months in advance, giving you extra time to shop online for better deals, look for used copies, or decide whether to rent or buy the textbooks. “There are ways to reduce those costs,” Boucher said.
There are also tax-friendly ways to cover college expenses. You can withdraw money tax-free from a 529 plan not only for tuition, room and board, but also to pay for fees, books, supplies and equipment needed to enroll or attend an eligible post-secondary school, Katie Flynn said , Editor-in-chief at Savingforcollege.com, a great resource for information on 529 plans. You can also withdraw tax-free money for a computer and Internet access for the student, as well as for the cost of off-campus housing, provided the student is enrolled at least part-time, up to the room and board allowance included in the college attendance cost used for financial support purposes, Flynn said.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The Hidden Costs of Education at Every Level