Back to school is expensive – Minnesota parents offer tips for surviving

The back-to-school marathon is in full swing and testing the mental health of parents.

“I run like crazy,” said Anissa Keyes, a Minneapolis business owner and mother of five. “It’s all the logistics and all the adjustments from the summer schedule to the fall schedule. Where they’re going to be after school and what buses and activities they have to balance. It’s a lot.”

Considering the cost of new backpacks, computers, notebooks and the money families plan to spend this year on school sports, instruments and field trips, it’s no wonder that families are stressed when September arrives.

Professional organizers, life coaches and financial planners are hearing more and more about parents who need help dealing with the deluge that comes with returning to school.

“A lot of things happen to parents, that’s for sure,” said Michele Dudley, who notes that 30% of her clients at Reyestone Organization in Shorewood struggle to manage their children’s school careers, countless extracurricular activities and all the tasks that come with each.

Besides school supplies, parents need to keep track of youth sports, group practices, dance rehearsals, shopping for school uniforms, public transportation, and all the food preparation requirements that flood the family school year checklist.

Dudley and other organizational coaches recommend that parents of school-aged children adopt budgets, school websites, synchronized digital calendars, and home “command centers” to organize paperwork and everything. chaos.

Adopt habits that make things easier. “It’s a time saver,” Dudley said.

The question of meals

Parents can lasso control by designating a set day each week for laundry, lunch prep, menu planning, and grocery shopping. Know your meals ahead of time, make a grocery list and buy in bulk. This saves money, time and avoids the surprise of an empty pantry or unexpectedly missing ingredient.

Beyond better nutrition, when even a fast food meal costs at least $5 per person, planning ahead can save the household budget. In Minnesota, full-price school meals can cost between $2.40 and $3.50 per day, or up to $78 per month per child.

Many parents have to go through the money versus time debate every week. Some will budget for dinner on weekdays when activities or work take up too much time, or allow children to purchase lunches only on certain days of the week.

One of Dudley’s peers makes two batches of taco meats, pulled pork and casseroles, then freezes half of them for his kids to have quick meals the following week. She also makes her munchkins responsible for packing their own school lunches at the start of each week.

“The more systems you add that can simplify and streamline things, the better off you’ll be,” Dudley said. And remember, “the goal is not perfection. As organizers, we try to work with progress and build momentum, not perfection.”

Realize the master plan

The board couldn’t come at a better time for Keyes. Keyes prepares as much as possible for the start of the school year.

A few weeks ago, she hopped on school websites for each of her children and signed up for teacher orientations, the annual school uniform sale event and signed up her older boys for the school sports.

“I’m kind of a super planner,” but with five kids, she always finds herself “figuring it out as you go. That’s what all parents do.”

This fall, Keyes’ 13-year-old son will play football again at Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis. Her 15- and 16-year-old sons are both working, attending Cooper High School in New Hope and will soon start a class at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park.

Keyes will shuttle his youngest four between schools, football and daycare, while running a mental health care clinic with 35 employees and overseeing a $1.6 million building renovation. In between, she tries to remind herself, “Breathe. Breathe! This is a big deal.”

Courtney Laufenberg, owner of organizing company No Loose Ends in Ham Lake, said there was help for busy mothers like Keyes and herself.

While guiding five sweaty teenagers to dinner between football practices on a recent Thursday, Laufenberg said she advises her equally busy clients to plan ahead and stick to schedules.

“My kids are packed. And I’m a professional organizer, so we really live and die on our schedules,” Laufenberg said.

While some parents base their activity decisions on how much is too much – to fit into this main program – others also have to consider budgets.

Consider that some parents pay between $270 and $560 per school year to rent a violin, cello, or bass. Others pay hefty athletic fees ranging from $45 to join school football, wrestling, or basketball teams to $100 for hockey and $350 for downhill ski teams.

On top of that, there are additional sports clinics, private dance and instrument lessons. At some dance academies, students purchase three outfits for recitals, depending on age.

Take advantage of technology

Laufenberg, her husband, and their 10- and 14-year-old daughters faithfully use a wall calendar, but also rely on a synced, color-coded Google calendar to help everyone in the house keep track of school and work meetings. customers, as well as football. training and match dates.

The girls, who play soccer and dance competitively, also use their schools’ TeamSnap and SignUpGenius mobile apps to get all the information they need to show up on time for team events and rehearsals.

The apps are “fabulous,” Laufenberg said. “I have it. My two daughters have it on their electronic devices. Then when they want to know, ‘Do I have practice today? And what color uniform should I wear?’ they can just check out TeamSnap before pestering me with questions.”

Sarah Cronin, mother of four aged 9 to 17 and owner of Simply Inspired Home Organizing in Savage, also depends on technology, but said it doesn’t have to be fancy.

For example, Cronin relies on his cell phone alarm clock.

“The alarm is telling everyone, ‘It’s time to put some shoes on!'” Cronin said. Although Cronin loves her cell phone, she’s just as quick to stick Post-its on the hall or garage door to remind her offspring to pack their backpack with homework, gym gear, uniforms. scout, lunch and bottled water for the day.

Whatever organizational system you use, “it doesn’t have to be complicated,” she says.

Cronin asked a client to start using bulletin boards and a calendar in her “command center.” From now on, the mother posts her meals there for the week, while her 7-year-old son follows his dance rehearsal schedule with little magnetic ballerinas.

Experts agree that this reduces the burden on parents as children begin to manage their own schedules and sometimes their own school fees.

Find ways to cut costs

Cronin’s oldest boy, an Eagle Scout, sells holiday wreaths and gets sponsors to cover the hundreds of dollars it costs for his troop registration, camping fees and all the supplies he needs for scout projects.

While many organizations try to provide fundraising opportunities, bills for childcare and after-school activities can add up quickly.

Ellen Harrmann, who has four children ages 7 to 14 attending three schools in St. Paul, said she will pay $200 for her oldest daughter’s track uniform at Twin Cities Academy this year. But she expects minimal fees for her youngest children, as they will enroll in youth basketball and baseball activities through St. Paul Parks and Recreation instead of the school.

Harrmann is looking for other ways to save on school expenses. Last year, she bought enough folders and notebooks in bulk to last two school years.

Her 14-year-old daughter uses her childcare money to buy lunch on days she doesn’t cook and takes it home. Many schools in Minnesota have provided free school meals to all students during the pandemic, but it’s unclear if that practice will continue this year, Harrmann said.

Harrmann embraces secondhand items and does yard sales and thrift stores for clothes because kids are growing up too fast.

“As a family, we just cost things out and do a lot of things to stay on budget,” Harrmann said. “We really limit the money we spend on clothes because it’s very expensive. And for shoes, we wear them until they wear out.”

Dudley, the professional organizer, said schools sometimes offer money-saving help.

Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis holds an annual sale of used school uniforms that cost a lot less than $80 new. The Parents’ Association at JJ Hill Magnet School in St. Paul buys most of the school supplies that their students use during the school year, so parents have a break.

Other schools or parent groups hold flea markets for second-hand instruments, sports equipment, sportswear and undersized clothing.

“I’ve seen a lot of parent groups do things like [this]”, Dudley said. “Joining groups like this can be a great support and also save money.”

For school sports, many parents rely on Play It Again Sports to purchase used cleats, pads, gloves, and other equipment at discounted prices.

Laufenberg advises clients to set a strict budget for each child’s activities. And don’t be afraid to look for scholarships and ask for help. Some schools reduce fees if the parent volunteers for their services, she said.

“There are some things you can put in place before the madness happens,” she said.

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