School strains family budgets

Supplies, fees can create financial constraints

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With the first day of the school year being Aug. 23, parents and children are both aware of the school supplies that will be needed for the upcoming year, and the cost associated with those purchases.

Back to school necessities can add up quickly. From the $15 to $30 cost of a backpack to the $20 to $40 cost for gym shoes, the price of attending school is often a cost that catches parents off guard and with and empty pocketbook.

A press release from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Denver (CCCS) states that parents can expect to shell out $457 per child on back-to-school necessities. Most of that money will go toward clothing, followed by consumer electronics and school supplies.

"The key to holding down back-to-school costs is to develop a spending plan and stick to it," stated Darrin Sandoval, spokesperson for the CCCS. "Otherwise, your purchases could wind up on an interest-charging credit card, and take months to pay off."

Kmart in Craig received several pallets of school supplies three weeks ago, and according to assistant manager Chuck Fread, those supplies are going fast.

"We received a ton a school stuff and it is beginning to run really low now," Fread said. "There is still a little bit coming in, but most of what we had is already gone, and we don't expect to make any large orders before the beginning of the school year at least not like the one that we made leading up to the school year."

Kmart still has a number of supplies left, and is running a number of sales to promote the inventory left from the initial rush. Fread recommends that parents get out soon if they want to take advantage of sale prices, and the limited quantity.

"We still have some things left and have some good prices on them, too," he said. "Some of the better deals that we have, people already know about, so some of those items are going to be gone. We had people taking some items out of here by the boxload a few weeks ago, so if you want to get what's left, you better hurry."

The cost of school supplies has a wide spread in the Moffat County School District. Parents can spend as little as $12.80, not including shoes and a backpack, for a kindergarten student in Ridgeview Elementary School and as much as $25 for a Craig Intermediate School student or a fourth-grade student. Parents should expect to pay $20 for pants and $8 to $15 for a shirt at a discount store. The total price could be more than $100 per child for just three back-to-school outfits.

The Moffat County School District recently started to charge athletes fees for participating in a sports program. The fee is $20 per high school student, per activity and will not exceed $100 per family. The fee is $10 for Craig Middle School athletes. Those fees should be included in back-to-school costs.

Book fees are other costs parents often forget to figure. At Moffat County High School, fees are $15 per student. They are $11 at the Craig Intermediate and Middle Schools and $8 at elementary schools. These fees are mandatory.

Feeding students adds another expense. School lunch for Moffat County High School and Craig Middle School students can get nearly $400 a year. For Craig Intermediate School Students and elementary school students, the cost is nearly $300 a year.

CCCS offers some tips for parents to save money:

Inventory clothes and supplies Pull the children's clothes out of their drawers and closets and see what fits and what doesn't. Gather notebooks and lunch boxes to determine what can and cannot be used. Repair used clothes by sewing buttons and patches on worn knees. Also see if hand-me-downs fit.

Develop a back-to-school budget Decide how much money can be spent on outfitting children for the school year. Determine how to best use that budget to meet children's needs.

Create a comprehensive shopping list Include athletic uniforms, yearbooks, eyeglasses, checkups, art supplies and scout uniforms. Take the shopping list to the store so that sales and children's sizes can be written down.

Compare prices Get the best value by scouring the Internet, newspapers and television programs for sales. Watch for clearance sales once school starts.

Limit designer brands Save money on clothes and selected school supplies by purchasing generic or "off brands." Make sure that just because the price is lower that the quality is the same.

Consider thrift shops and flea markets Save money on almost-new backpacks, clothing, musical instruments and other items.

Involve children in decision making Tell children how much can be spent, and ask them to prioritize their wish list.

Use credit wisely Pay with cash if possible. Try a layaway plan if time is needed to save money. If credit is an option, limit purchases to items that can be paid off within 90 days.

Wait Don't purchase school supplies until you know what your child will need.

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