Money Talks, So Should You

Spent Mama: Sneaky school costs

Erin Guerrieri
by Erin Guerrieri , Dimespring 30 (@scoutingjoy)

We are very fortunate to have “gotten in” to our city’s free Pre-K program, but we’re only a few weeks into the school experience and I’m learning that school is anything but free! Here are just a few of the costs that have snuck up on me:

  • School lunch: Nowadays kids have “accounts,” into which their parents deposit money for lunch. It took my son less than 48 hours to figure out that he could “magically” buy milk. Note to self: have the “money/trees” discussion stat. Oh, and keep an eye on that fancy online account. 
  • Field trips: Who doesn’t love field trips? (Answer: Teachers.) In addition to entrance fees, there is now also a “transportation” fee that covers gas for the bus. It’s very minimal and no one is denied participation if the fee isn’t paid, but they threaten to cancel the trip if enough people don’t pay. Yikes! Paid.
  • T-shirts: I’m all for a good T-shirt, but schools sell shirts for everything: school pride, class pride, support the school garden, “buy this shirt to wear on Friday,” etc. It’s not mandatory, of course, but judging from my attic full of high school track invitational shirts, I’m guessing this is an area we won’t skimp on.
  • Classroom miscellaneous: Every class continuously needs things like tissue and hand sanitizer but there are also donations to the silent auction class basket, staff breakfast, the birthday fund for kids and teacher appreciation gifts. Having been a teacher, I’m happy to oblige.
  • Fundraisers: Schools typically have one or two big events each year to raise money. We will likely do it up and buy tickets, food and drinks. We’d probably eat out that night anyway so at least we’re supporting the school doing it.

I know my friends with school-aged children are laughing at my naivete, but someone needs to write a book about the costs you encounter as your children get older. And by older, I mean 5. 

READ: Teaching kids the value of money

When you have a baby, people ask how you’re going to pay for college, but they should be asking how you’re going to afford to sponsor four children running laps around the school. 

What are some of the unexpected school costs you’ve encountered? How do you balance everything so you’re supporting all of your kids’ schools/classes without going broke?


Erin Guerrieri, aka Spent Mama, is a mother of four children (all under the age of 5) who blogs regularly about her journey as a mom on a budget. Erin is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.