In a down economy, people are feeling the pinch of a dollar more and more. Every day, we’re going back over how much money we have in our wallets, the bank, and even the lone penny jar. By the middle of the week, we’re wondering how to make it to the next pay day.
What makes matters worse is now school is back in session.
And many of us are even more broke than ever.
I’m a former college student. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Business Management, I decided to take a closer look at past school expenses. The amount we’ve paid in the past is outrageous – just not as outrageous as today’s costs, considering that wages have hardly gone up.
Twenty years ago, I was a kindergartner. You would think that the costs for that wouldn’t be bad. Well, consider some information here. First, you have to make sure that all of your little one’s shots are up to date. The child will still need a backpack, paper, and a pencil for class. Toss in the expense of clothes and shoes, and the numbers start to add up. Let’s see here: backpack – $10 (at the lowest); clothes – $100 (about average for five days worth of clothing); basic supplies – another $10. Don’t forget, supplies run low and a child may lose something. And there may be a school fee. What if a kindergartner gets out around noon? Will you need a babysitter for that time?
Now, let’s speed forward. A few years later, toss in the backpack, lunchbox (or lunch fee), clothes, school supplies – which will average between $30 – to $50 a child, school field trip fees (at least $10 a pop), classroom fees, and so forth. Katie P. out of Florence, Alabama, was telling me she wasn’t sure what was worse – daycare fees or the cost of sending a child school. She was averaging about $50 a child, not including the teachers’ exclusive supply list. I remember my own father looking up and down store ads three months before school started to try to get the best deals. Dividers, binders, and report covers were the most expensive of supplies to have to buy, if you don’t count the backpack.
On to middle school now. The cost of supplies has now increased due to the number of classes taken. Teacher fees are higher and there are more. Field trips are even more expensive. Wait, don’t forget locker fees! This normally doesn’t cover the cost of the lock itself or locker supplies, such as the much needed shelf. And what if your child decides to join a club or a sport? I talked to a co-worker, who said just to let her little girls join it was averaging close to several hundreds of dollars (uniforms and insurance). And there still is the cost of lunches. According to the National School Lunch Program, in 2011, there were more than 31 million children on the program. And that number is sure to increase this year.
Get ready for the scary part: high school. Growing up poor wasn’t easy. I had to help with school fees. Each of my classes required basic fees of about $3 and then teacher supplies, such as markers or tissues. I even recall a teacher telling us about if they went over their meager printing limit, it came out of their own pocket. Any electives cost at least $20, not counting supplies. There was the locker fee (two times), parking decal, transportation, supplies, and lunch. I was also looking at clothing, shoes, club fees, prom, field trips, yearbook, school pictures, and even worse, AP courses. An AP course on average cost at least $70. I was lucky and worked with my guidance counselor to get the fee waived.
When I started college, I was lucky. I had earned scholarships and was eligible for student aid. Watching every penny and using leftover supplies from high school and buying my textbooks used, I was able to afford my Associates without taking out student loans. It’s sad to have thank God that your parents were broke enough for you to be eligible for government aid to go to school. While working full-time, I maintained my GPA to stay on the government program.
The fees for college are rather unusual and a little excessive, even if you take the classes online. For my Bachelor’s, I took my classes online to make it easier on my schedule with my working so much. I looked back over my school charges: $75 for a building charge, science lab, another $50, and it kept going, making my stomach turn even more. This time I had to have a few student loans to survive. I thought my $10,500 in student loans was horrendous, until I talked to a teacher, Amanda M. out of Athens, AL, who had accumulated over $50,000 in loans. I did some more research to see that the average student loans are well over $200,000. I didn’t feel so bad about my loans anymore!
If you look past all the minor fees added up on your college bill, it will be well up there. Most classes now average just over $300 a credit hour – on the low end. Textbooks – even used – can be over a hundred. One class of mine required a special calculator that was over $50. I also needed a flash drive, a good computer, and of course, basic supplies. We managed to get my computer (not including the monitor) for about $250 from Tiger Direct. And if I let computer viruses get out of control and needed another source until mine was cleared, I made use of the college library and the local library.
After adding fees together over the years, a person could possibly spend well over $50,000 a child for school, if you count college. If you don’t, you’re still looking at several thousands of dollars. And now, I heard from some teachers that some schools are requiring tablet rentals to replace textbooks. Unfortunately, the fee is about $100. And can you imagine what would happen if your child accidently broke the tablet? On top of it, many schools are feeling more budget cuts, even with what taxpayers are paying.
In this down economy, jump at any opportunities to catch school supplies on sale. Reuse what you can. Check Craigslist for textbooks (if they’re not out-of-date). Even talk to friends and family – you might be able to swap supplies. And of course, encourage your children as always to keep their grades up so they can earn scholarships for college.
Personal experience and personal sources
National School Lunch Program