Oct 11, 2007

Being an active school parent can get expensive! (A few ways to keep costs down)

The daycare that Alex and Tyler attend is a nonprofit center that includes a preschool, so we plan to be associated with it for another five years. There are many ways to get involved in the school, but it can get expensive. Here are some of the ways I minimize our out-of-pocket expenses while still being an active parent:
  • Volunteer in class. The teachers at our school welcome parents who want to read a story, play an instrument and sing songs, or even whip up some ice cream with an ice cream maker.
  • Contribute supplies. Keep an eye on the class calendar and see if there are any activities coming up that you have supplies on hand for. For example, I noticed that Alex's class was making felt books, and I just happened to have some extra squares of flannel left over from a long-abandoned project. I took them in for his teachers to use and they used them today to make houses.
  • Show your appreciation to the teachers. The boys' school actually has a group of parents who coordinate "Teacher Appreciation Week" once a year. Each day of the week, the teachers are treated to coffee, cookies, fruit, etc. Each teacher also gets a basket made up of donated items, such as gift cards, pens, stickers, etc. Since I like to keep the love going year-round, every Monday, I bring in a tub of cookies or another similar treat. Homemade treats are much appreciated and less expensive, although lately I've taken to buying cookies from Trader Joe's for about $3 per container.
  • Fund-raising events. The most expensive activity I've gotten involved in is fund-raising events. The money raised is important for the school, since it's used to improve the physical environment (for example, last year, the school got a whole new playground). I say this is the most expensive activity for me, however, because I don't get reimbursed for things like stamps to send out letters soliciting donations or for items sold at silent auction or raffled off as prizes. The key to minimizing these expenses is to keep detailed records and get a receipt for any expenses so they can be deducted as charitable donations.* I'm also on the lookout for the best deals on auction and raffle prizes. Now that I've been involved for two years, I have a pretty good idea of what can be used, and I'll be sending away for any appropriate freebies. Thus, in the coming school year, I should be able to donate a substantial amount at a minimal cost to myself.
*Donations to all schools may not be deductible, so check with your tax professional before donating or taking any deductions.

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