It currently costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child in North America. Pretty sure half of that goes towards school expenses.
“Mom – I need $64 for a textbook next week.”
“Can you give me money for…a new agenda…pizza day…school pictures…and a yearbook?”
“Oh and a replacement hamster for our classroom.”
Everyday items can certainly add up, and one of the largest school expenses is class getaways. Where our kids travel with real luggage and stay in hotels or camp in sleeping bags on rustic bunkbeds.
Sometime in late elementary school, or middle school, we receive big-ticket bills for what used to be quite affordable. We suddenly long for the days of $15 outings to the zoo or the $6 trip to the pumpkin patch.
A few years ago, one of our boys had an opportunity to go on a $350 three-day school trip a few hours away. We wrestled with whether we would send him, knowing it was a big-ticket item and would set a precedent for future trips for his three younger brothers.
Since our youth group offered a similar outdoor experience that was more affordable, we decided to pass on this trip.
It was not easy to tell our middle-schooler he wouldn’t be able to go on the school trip.
Luckily, another school Mom also decided not to send her son and we began brainstorming.
Together, we organized “Camp Left Behind” for our two grade six buddies. While the class was away, we did affordable and memorable activities. And the boys enjoyed our ‘homemade’ camp, because they could still miss school and spend time together. They even embraced the quirkiness of our camp name.
Camp Left Behind included:
• a full day at a gym and pool, using guest passes
• an afternoon of trampolining
• lunch out at the restaurant of their choice
• 1-on-1 basketball competitions
• movie nights at each other’s homes
• memories captured in many photos
I’d love to share other ideas we’ve used over the years, when our children did go with their class on expensive school trips.
5 Tested Ideas to Lower the Cost of School Trips
1. Openly Discuss as a Family
We follow Money Saving Mom’s suggestion to not use “We can’t afford that” as a default response to our children. Rather, we talk about weighing out how we spend our money. And we encourage our kids to be part of deciding how important the trip is to them.
Over the years, our boys have decided to miss one trip in favour of doing a different one later in the year.
This reinforces decision-making rather than focusing on a lack of resources.
2. Be Honest With the School
Families in our school district have homes ranging from one-bedroom apartments to luxurious dwellings. What is easily affordable for one family can be prohibitive to another. And the school needs feedback from families of all budget types.
One teacher appreciated my feedback that a $700 trip could be a financial strain for many.
Ask if a reduced rate might be available or inquire if group fundraising would be an option.
3. Be Open to Unexpected Blessings
My son once explained to his teacher that he would not be able to attend the planned class trip.
His teacher called me later that week to offer my son a full scholarship for the getaway. She nominated him for his quiet, consistent leadership, and explained other teachers were thrilled for him to receive the allotted funds.
Not only was he able to attend the trip, but he won’t soon forget that character may be noticed and valued.
4. Ask Your People
Any relatives who may be interested in contributing? Grandparents may be thrilled to help their grandkids have a unique experience like a trip.
Have your child write a letter explaining the details of the trip, and politely ask for any contributions.
My mother-in-law chuckled when our third son asked them if they would consider “investing in him” and then proceeded to talk only about the cuisine he was anticipating in Quebec City. They teased him that they expected interest back on their investment.
5. Be Creative
Since we have committed as a family to only pay cash, we often use out-of-the-box strategies to raise funds.
With a bit of help, and eventually independently, our boys have successfully done the following:
- bought vintage items at thrift stores and sold them for profit
- mowed lawns and weeded for neighbors
- sold items we no longer use at yard sales (‘No. You can’t sell your brother even if he would fetch a great price.”)
Don’t feel badly for our Lego-selling, grass-covered children.
Because they stand a little straighter and smile a bit brighter when they work towards a goal.
Paying for a percentage of their school trips is a worthy goal. It’s an accomplishment, and a necessary part of being part of a larger family on a budget.
Living within our means is an important life skill to weave into family culture.
Related Post: Smart Money Tip – Pay Cash For Big Items
With a little brainstorming and flexibility, it is possible to turn apparent roadblocks into life lessons sprinkled with adventures.
And you simply can’t put a price on that.
This article orginally appeared here on Crystal Paine’s site, Money Saving Mom. For frugal living tips be sure to check out her practical ideas.