Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dollars and sense



The cost of sending children to school is increasing, but there are ways to recoup some of that money

Every morning when my daughter gets ready for school, I can’t help but notice how worn her school shoes have become - and it’s still the first term!
Part of me is pleased she is keeping them on her feet, not complaining of blisters, and is making great use of the playgrounds and sandpit at Prep.
While the other part of me wonders why I bought an expensive pair of black leather shoes (because I thought it was the right thing to do to support her growing feet) and how much it will cost to buy another pair.
I recently read an article by finance writer and mum Justine Davies about the cost of sending children to school, and it is surprising just how much we spend.
Without taking into consideration school fees which obviously vary from one school to another, there are all the other expenses such as uniforms, books, shoes, bag, lunchbox, hat, stationery and so on.
Some schools charge a classroom contribution fee to include the books and stationery requirements, while others have a book list.
Research by Clarks found that on average parents are forking out around $600 to get their kids to school (that’s before school fees, lunches and other ongoing costs).

Having only one child in Prep, I haven’t had to pay that much this year.
I spent about $240 on the book list, shoes, bag, uniform, hat, socks, lunchbox, drink bottle and a big bottle of suncream.
The last few items were not compulsory, but I purchased them anyway since it was her first year of school.
The suncream bottle sits on the bathroom sink so she gets in the habit of applying it every morning before we leave the house.
So $600 seems very steep to me, but I have met a few parents who say they have spent this much per child.
But this is nothing compared to high school which costs around $800 per student for a public school and $750 for private schools (remember that this figure doesn’t include school fees which can really blow out in all directions).
Still, many parents console themselves by saying “it’s still cheaper than daycare for our little ones”.
We can all be grateful we can claim the childcare rebate for childcare and after school care, it’s worth remembering that you can also claim back school expenses through the government’s Education Tax Refund.
This is worth up to $397 for every child at primary school, and up to $794 for ever child at secondary school.
You can claim home computers and laptops, computer-related equipment such as printers and USB flash drives, computer repairs, home internet connections, computer software for educational use, school textbooks and other printed learning material, including prescribed textbooks, associated learning materials, study guides, and stationery.
Unfortunately, you can’t claim uniforms, school fees, sports or musical equipment, levies or extra-curricular activities - all of which are the most expensive items.
The Education Tax Refund is only available to those receiving Family Tax Benefit A or another form of benefit.
Visit http://www.ato.gov.au/ to find out if you’re eligible. Click on Individuals, Your Situation, then Families to source information about the Education Tax Refund.

To help minimise the impact on your wallet, Justine has some useful tips to help you through the year.
* Label everything, especially if your child has a habit of losing things. If something ends up in the Lost Property box, it will at least have your child’s name on it so you can get it back.
* Consider buying second hand uniforms. Most schools have used clothing stores which can help make uniform costs a lot cheaper.
* Invest in quality when it comes to shoes, bags, sports and musical equipment. If you want these items to last longer, you have to be prepared to spend a bit more.
* Shop around with your book list. Instead of purchasing the ready-made book packs from school, take a good look at the list and see if you can find the items at a cheaper price elsewhere. Items like glue pots, pencils, pens, notepads and rulers can be bought from $2 shops.

Even though my daughter is scuffing her once polished leather school shoes, I’m happy that her schooling has put a minimal dent in our budget. And I’m sure her feet are happy too.

The cost of sending children to school is increasing, but there are ways to recoup some of that money

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