Sending children to public school was once a relief on the pocketbook. Today, that “free” education is anything but.
As the laundry list of school supplies and extracurriculars required and requested rises, so too has the burden on parents and guardians.
Since 2007, the annual cost of school supplies and extracurricular activities has spiked by nearly 90 percent for elementary school students, more than 80 percent for middle school students and nearly 70 percent for high school students, according to the 2016 Huntington Backpack Index, an annual survey of the cost of school supplies and other expenses compiled by Huntington National Bank and nonprofit Communities in Schools. Per an NBC report, parents (nationally) of elementary school kids paid $649.01 per child, on average, in 2015 and $658.82 in 2016. For middle school students, parents paid $941.67 in 2015 and $956.77 in 2016. High school extracurricular fees added up to $1,402.93 in 2015 and $1,497.87 in 2016, per the same report.
The Huntington Backpack Index tracks the costs of required classroom supplies and fees parents must pay in an effort to show that public school costs more than just what’s assessed in taxes. According to the 2017-2018 Backpack Index, parents can expect to pay at least $662 for elementary school children, $1,001 for middle school children and $1,489 for high school students.
What’s more, annual school supply to-do lists do not even include what many may deem common necessities such as clothes, backpacks and other items. According to the most recent National Retail Federation Back-to-School Spending Survey, total spending for K-12 and college nationally is set to reach about $83.6 billion in 2017, up from $75.8 billion in 2016.
On top of rising costs of school supplies, the list of extracurricular activities now available for students to enhance their basic education has expanded tenfold—as have the costs. According to the aforementioned survey by Huntington, cost for extracurricular activities rose about 7 percent in 2016, and that cost has been evident even amongst local parents.
“The most I’ve had to spend is usually on extracurricular activities, those things meant to enhance their education,” one parent said. “They’ll give you the basics, and that’s a good foundation, but my kids are taking Chinese, piano, anything extracurricular — that’s normally where the majority of our money goes.”
To this point, the parent says the family has spent a little over $20,000 on their child’s extracurricular activities since kindergarten — an average of about $5,000 per year.
“It’s expensive. Public or private [school], you have to accept that you’re going to fork out some extra money [on that front]. If you want your kid to just have the basic education, and you have the time and knowledge to teach your kid all this other stuff, then yeah you can save,” the parent said. “You try to teach them as much as you can to your limit, but if you want to broaden your kids’ horizons and you don’t have the time, you’ll have to accept the fact that you’ll spend some extra money.”
Granted, he said, the family spends more to introduce their children to a vast array of options by choice, so their spending is not necessarily indicative of typical costs.
“It depends on your family dynamic,” the parent said.
Even so, these rising costs could prevent some in even our local schools from partaking, as 75.5 percent of Houston ISD students are classified as economically disadvantaged according to the district’s website.
Be Prepared (and Plan)
As with most endeavors, saving money can be accomplished through the act of planning and attempting to stay several steps ahead, such as anticipating what supplies your child might need throughout the whole year. In doing so, you avoid being financially strapped by costs that might pop up throughout the year. Figure out which items are required and which have greater flexibility. Get your child involved in deciding which “luxuries” will make the cut.
Buy supplies in bulk
You will typically find lower prices at “buy in bulk” shops than individual prices at supermarkets or drug stores. Sam’s Club, Family Dollar and Costco can be great resources for those looking to buy in bulk, especially when school lists demand multiples of one item. As a bonus, any supplies which go unused can be saved for the following school year, cutting down on the next year’s expenses.
Keep eyes open for sales
Around July, retailers generally begin start offering sales on clothing, electronics and more, with many going on through Labor Day. You can keep up with your favorite stores by following them on social media or checking the store’s website for possible deals or coupons that can save those a extra dollars.
Many states offer tax-free holidays around the beginning of the school year. Check around to see which local stores might be offering that chance in the coming weeks.