Start The School Year Off Right: A Few Frugal Tips for Getting Through the Fall

School clothes, school supplies, sign-up fees and more: the cost of education, whether public or private, seems to go up every year. As long as it's for your son or daughter's education, it's hard to begrudge a few dollars here and there, though. But there are a few frugal choices available to parents that won't make the beginning of the school year harder. In fact, there's a chance that they may improve the education your child gets, at least a little bit.

Reduced Lunch is Cheap; Brown Bag is Better

School lunch is often a very cheap option for feeding your kids. But if you can brown bag it, instead, it's worth the effort. In certain situations, home-made lunches may not be cheaper than school lunches. But there are a couple of factors that make it better. First of all, you're more likely to provide a healthy meal than the school is. Many school cafeterias rely on meals they can make in quantities easily and cheaply — we're not talking about tons of fresh fruit here. Second, you know your child's likes and dislikes better: you're far more likely to pack a meal that your child will actually eat than what is available in the cafeteria. And is it really cheaper to spend the money on a school lunch that your son or daughter won't eat than to pack a lunch?

The Gift of Time

Growing up, my mom was in my classroom all the time. She went on field trips, baked cupcakes and organized PTA events. Mom spent a lot of time helping out — she didn't have the money to help financially, but she did give what she had plenty of. That's a lesson that a lot of parents seem to miss: they want to buy gift wrap, donate money to the choir fund or otherwise financially support their kids' school, but don't always realize that time is an equally important gift.

There's nothing wrong with telling a teacher that you'd rather volunteer a little time rather than write a check. Even at well-funded schools, it's rare for not a single staff member to be overworked.

Plan for After School

Daycare can cost thousands as can after school programs. Spending the afternoon in front of the television is a lot cheaper but probably doesn't really help your child in the long run. But there are plenty of options beyond daycare and the electronic babysitter: a group of parents might be able to form a group of their own to watch kids or maybe your parents want an afternoon or two a week during which they can spoil their grandchildren. After-school care isn't nearly as limited as some parents assume. If you're willing to think outside the box, you can provide your son or daughter with some fun without breaking the bank.

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Guest's picture

The August 3rd edition, of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, has a great article on creating healthy and affordable school lunches for your kids.

The article has tips, and recipes, to help you save money.

Guest's picture

Great tips to keep in mind. Also wanted to let you know this article was included in the 28th edition of the money hacks carnival.