Your firstborn is moving up from day care to kindergarten. Congratulations on the milestone, and by the way, no more writing those hefty checks to the preschool every month.
It’s like getting a raise, right?
The euphoria over transitioning from day care to school often obscures the fact that there will be plenty of new costs — including many unexpected ones — pinging your checking account and wiping out whatever savings you thought you had coming.
While many families start planning early for how they’ll pay for the college years, there’s not a lot of conversation about covering the costs associated with the early school years, particularly among parents experiencing this for the first time, said financial counselor Jason Armstrong.
“You are so focused on getting your child off to a good start in school that you don’t realize all the costs,” said Armstrong, who works with customers on household budgeting and other financial issues as a branch manager for CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Olathe.
For some families, the biggest school item hitting the household budget will be the charge for all-day kindergarten. Although policies vary, many school districts now charge $200 and up each month for all-day K. And keep in mind that the fee likely won’t cover before- and after-school care, in case you need it.
The charge for attending kindergarten, of course, will not be the only check you’ll be writing. You’ll also be paying for school supplies for the first time, and clothing expenses for your young one will probably go up to match growth spurts.
Your grocery list might get longer to cover more snacks and lunches that get packed up for school. During the dinner hour, more time-saving trips to the fast-food drive-thru lane may be in store.
Then there are the extracurricular activities that kick in during the first year of school — everything from youth soccer and other sports to dance to Scouting. Now you’re paying for league fees, uniform and equipment costs, and membership dues.
As many parents know all too well, medical costs also tend to kick up once the little ones start kindergarten. Germs run rampant, which may also take a toll on your health.
Add it all up and you may have reached the tipping point on your checking account.
But don’t panic. There are many ways to manage and prepare for all the new costs associated with kindergarten, said Armstrong, who speaks from personal experience as the father of four school-age children.
Run the numbers. Don’t do it just in your head; get out a piece of paper and on one column put down the dollar amount you had been spending on preschool and other child care. Then put potential school-related expenses in another column. Put some dollar amounts with each line item so you’ll know what you’re working with.
Shop around. School supply lists are easy to come by so you can quickly scan the retail ads and put together a shopping list. While dollar stores and other discount retailers are great for school supply items most of the year, during August and September, office supply and drug stores often offer better back-to-school deals, said Armstrong.
Scrounge. Take inventory of cabinets and drawers for supplies. Ask friends and neighbors with older children if they’d be willing to part with any gently used or unused clothing.
Don’t get trendy with backpacks, lunch boxes and technology. “At this age, kids don’t really know what’s new and hot,” said Armstrong. He also recommends avoiding gender-specific gear that could limit reusing to the next child in the family.
Monitor the socializing. Many parents feel the need to invite every child in the kindergarten class to a birthday party. But buying 21 gifts during the year — even at $5 or $10 a pop — can take a toll. If you want your child to go to all of them, then make birthday gifts a budget item, said Armstrong. If not, just say no.
If you don’t see the numbers working for you, don’t despair; it’s always hard with the first one. But on the bright side, you’ll be better prepared for the next go-around.