As your kids head back to school, you probably feel like you're spending left and right. You have to buy pencils, paper, folders and other supplies, probably some new clothes and shoes and maybe even a computer.
Just when you think it's safe to put up your wallet, the requests for you to shell out more money start pouring in from your kid's school: for classroom supplies, field trip fees and fundraising donations. Schools are asking parents to pitch in more and more because they're strapped for cash due to cuts in funding. But if your own funds are limited, how do you respond if you can't open your wallet every time your child's school asks?
As much as you might want to help your child's school, you have to approach this like you would any other financial situation. Here's how:
Set a budget. If your child is a returning student, you probably have a good idea how often and how much you'll be asked to give during the school year. Parents of first-time students should ask teachers, other parents or board members of the parent-teacher organization about what sort of financial outlays they'll be asked to make -- such as fees for field trips and student organizations, donations to fundraisers, ticket purchases for chili suppers and other school events, and contributions for class parties and teacher gifts. Knowing the dollar amount you'll be asked to give will allow you to create a line-item in your budget for school spending and determine whether you need to trim other expenses to come up with extra cash for fees, fundraisers and such.
Prioritize your giving. Although you'll get lots of requests to give to your child's school, don't feel like you have to respond with a check or cash each and every time you're asked. Instead, decide which contributions you can afford to make that will have the most impact. For example, you might opt to pay for tickets to the school's fall festival rather than donate to the annual fundraising campaign. The school will still get money from your ticket purchase while your child benefits from the opportunity to hang out with friends and play games.
Learn to say no. It's okay to say no when you're asked to give -- really, it is. The key is how you say it. Try: "I'd really like to help, but I can't at this time." School leaders, teachers and the parent committee should be understanding because it's well known that times are still tough for a lot of families. Or perhaps you can afford to give but don't want your child selling magazines, cookies or some other item for the school's fundraiser. The school only receives a portion of the proceeds from these sales. So let the parent committee know that rather than participate in a fundraiser, you'd like to write a check directly to the school or school foundation so it can receive 100% of the money.
Give your time. Schools don't just need your money -- they need volunteers to help in the classroom, the cafeteria, the library, you name it. So if you can't afford monetary contributions, donate your time. This will also give you a chance to see your kids during the day (as long as they're not too embarrassed to acknowledge you).