12 Tips for Dealing with Hidden School Costs

hidden school costs

Back-to-school shopping is in full swing. Have you made space in your back-to-school shopping budget for hidden school costs?

Recently, the following Facebook post went viral.

hidden school costs

According to the 2023 Deloitte back-to-school survey, parents are expected to spend $597 per child on back-to-school shopping.¹

One reason it is so expensive is that the prices of school supplies have increased by 23.7% in the past two years.²

Keep in mind that this is just anticipated back-to-school shopping costs – not the hidden school costs suggested in the Facebook post. 

While the viral post is aimed at elementary parents whose children have several themed dress-up days in school, the hidden school costs continue through middle school and high school.

Middle school students begin taking pricier overnight field trips and participating in school extracurriculars and sports.

High school students have the same hidden school costs as middle schoolers, plus proms, senior trips, SAT costs, college application fees, etc.

Public School Review shares, “Gawker recently published a report that included a copy of a fee slip from a high school in Park Ridge, Illinois. The slip shows fees totaling nearly $600, with $300 for a required Chromebook that students must purchase even if they have their own laptop or tablet at home. The slip also listed generic ‘10th Grade Fees’ at $114, and a number of smaller additional fees for things like textbooks and a yearbook.”³

NBC News reported, “A school district in Huber Heights, Ohio, was on the receiving end of parental outrage when it tried to increase the fee for student athletics from $225 to $750. The district finally compromised and raised the fee to $428 instead.”⁴

To put it bluntly – the hidden school costs add up.

Here are some tips for dealing with all the costs that come on top of back-to-school supplies. 

1. Know What’s Coming

hidden school costs

The viral post ends with the statement, “Don’t complain. You’ve been warned!”

The reason the original author ended this way is that parents DO complain because they find themselves being nickeled and dimed throughout the school year.

Many parents are surprised by these hidden school costs.

You prepare for back-to-school shopping. But many parents don’t plan for including money for Kona Ice on Fridays to support the PTA and chicken biscuits to support the student council on Wednesdays. 

Here’s your warning: Your child will need money for these types of things all school year.

Go into the school year aware of what types of extras you will be expected to buy.

For example, if you know your school participates in Red Ribbon Week every year, know it is coming this school year, too. 

If you are new to a school, ask someone who has already been a parent at the school about hidden school costs to be better prepared.

[Related Read: 13 Unique Ways to Save Money on Back to School Shopping]

2. Ask the Teacher

hidden school costs

One of the best tips for staying ahead of hidden school costs is to ask the teacher.

Your child’s teacher already has an idea of the different activities, field trips, and dress-up days that may require some extras.

For example, first graders at one school always have Bug Day, where students wear bug costumes. 

Teachers can give you a heads-up about these types of events early in the year, so you have enough time to budget and plan.

3. Add Space in Your Holiday Budget

hidden school costs

Many parents tend to forget to include the hidden school costs of holidays when budgeting.

For example, during the Christmas holiday season, it is likely your child may be asked to wear holiday attire to school.

Additionally, while not required, many parents like to give teachers gifts.

Make space in your holiday budget for these costs. 

4. Host a School Swap

hidden school costs

As kids move up grades, reach out to parents with older kids to see if they have anything they can pass down to your child.

Better yet – host a school swap meet.

Ask parents to bring gently used clothes and school supplies – especially those once-a-grade-level outfits (like Bug Day). 

It is significantly cheaper to buy secondhand than to buy brand-new.

5. Shop Your Closet

hidden school costs

Before you spend any money on back-to-school shopping or start panicking about hidden school costs, look through what you already own.

As much as you may feel as if the schools are out to get you, they do know parents don’t want to spend a lot of money on extras.

That’s why many of the theme days are organized around outfits you may already own, such as Christmas pj’s or red shirts. 

6. Don’t Buy New

hidden school costs

When possible, buy used.

For example, sports gear and instruments are expensive.

You don’t want to buy something brand-new for your child unless you know he’s going to stick with it for a few years (and even then, he doesn’t need something new).

Head to Play It Again Sports. Search Facebook Marketplace. Ask the band teacher or coach for ideas. 

7. Skip the Extras

hidden school costs

To avoid overspending on hidden school costs, stick to the list.

When presented with options for additional spending, stick to what your child needs.

For example, if you are asked to purchase a uniform, it doesn’t mean you must purchase all the extras that match the uniform.

8. Say No

hidden school costs

Learn when to say no.

For example, your child will try to make you feel as if all these hidden school costs are musts when they are actually wants.

If the extra costs of supplemental treats like chicken biscuits are leading to overspending, say no.

If the cost of the field trip is out of your budget, say no.

9. Rent When Possible

hidden school costs

Instead of buying items your child will likely just use once or even just for one school year, consider renting.

There are websites that allow you to rent everything from instruments to graphing calculators to homecoming dresses.

10. Ask Kids to Contribute

hidden school costs

In tip #8, we suggested saying no to the extras.

But your child may really, really want those extras.

In this case, ask kids to contribute.

For example, if your child “has to have” the chicken biscuits, give him a way to earn the money himself.

If your daughter is set on going on the pricey travel field trip, ask her to contribute by asking relatives for money for birthday gifts. 

[Related Read: 10 Financial Lessons for Young Adults Before They Leave the Nest]

11. Shop Sales

hidden school costs

If you are aware of these hidden school costs, you can shop during seasonal sales.

For example, stock up on holiday gifts and attire AFTER Christmas when it is deeply discounted. Store it for the next school year.

If you know your child will need a certain type of themed costume, pick something up in a larger size for next year during after-Halloween sales. 

12. Use Rewards and Bonuses

hidden school costs

Since many of these hidden school costs are things you weren’t planning on spending money on, use your saved rewards or cash-back bonuses to cover the costs. 

For example, with a Visa Amazon rewards card, you can collect cash back rewards. When it is time to buy school color attire for Homecoming Week, head to Amazon to cash in these rewards. 

Better Prepare for a Life of Abundance in Retirement. Check Us Out on YouTube.

Watch Videos


  1. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/retail-distribution/back-to-school-survey.html
  2. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/retail-distribution/back-to-school-survey.html
  3. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/the-hidden-costs-of-public-education
  4. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/the-hidden-costs-of-public-education