Guest post from Karen of Lightly Frayed:
Statistics show it currently costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child in North America… sometimes it feels like half of that goes towards school-related expenses!
“Mom – I need $34 for a field trip next week.”
“Can you give me money for…a new agenda…pizza day…school pictures…and a yearbook?”
And the list goes on.
Everyday items can certainly add up, but one of the largest school expenses is class trips.
A few years ago, one of our boys had an opportunity to go on a three-day school trip a few hours away… for $350! 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.
Ultimately, we decided to pass on this trip since our youth group offered a similar outdoor experience at a fraction of the cost.
Of course, it’s not easy to tell your middle-schooler he won’t be able to go on a school trip with their friends… but after talking with another school mom who also felt the trip was too expensive, a possible alternative emerged.
Together, we organized “Camp Left Behind” for our two grade six boys. While the rest of their class was on the school trip, we did affordable and memorable activities with our boys at home.
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 my friend’s 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 houses
- memories captured in many photos
Since Money Saving Mom readers are a resourceful group, I’d love to share 5 more ideas we’ve used to lower the cost of expensive school trips.
1. Discuss Openly as a Family
We follow Crystal’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.
A few times, our boys have decided to miss one trip in favor of doing a different one later in the year. This reinforces decision-making rather than focusing on a lack of resources.
2. Be Honest
Families in our school have homes ranging from one-bedroom apartments to luxurious dwellings. What is easily affordable for one family can be prohibitive to another.
The school needs feedback from families of all budgets.
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 Prepared for Unexpected Blessings
One time, my son 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 trip!!!
She said she nominated him for his quiet, consistent leadership, and explained other teachers were thrilled for him to receive the allotted funds.
Not only could he attend the trip, but he learned that character can be noticed and valued.
4. Ask Your People
Do you have any grandparents who would be able to contribute? They might just be thrilled to help their grandkids have a unique experience like a trip.
Children can learn how to write a letter explaining the details of the trip, and politely ask for any contributions.
My mother-in-law told me they chuckled when our third son asked them if they would consider “investing in him”, then proceeded to talk only about the great food he would eat in Quebec.
They teased him that they expected interest back on their investment.
5. Be Creative
Since our family has committed to only pay cash for things, we often use out-of-the-box strategies to raise funds.
We sell items we no longer use at yard sales. Our boys have mowed lawns or done weeding for neighbors. One of our children sold his Lego sets online to fund his particular adventure. Another son buys vintage items at thrift stores and sells them at a significant profit.
Our children have been proud to pay for a percentage of their school trips; viewing this as an accomplishment, and a necessary part of being part of a larger family.
While it is difficult to say ‘no’ to our children, living within our means is an important life skill to weave into our family culture.
With a little brainstorming and flexibility, it IS possible to turn apparent roadblocks into life lessons sprinkled with adventures.
You simply can’t put a price on that!
Karen Gauvreau, would squeeze her four-baby-body into a cheerleader’s uniform for you to know someone is rooting for you as a Mom – cartwheeling for your victories and offering a pep talk when you feel pummelled. If you laugh in the process, even better! When she’s not saving money on school trips, she’s writing at LightlyFrayed.com.