'Embellishments' not needed, but kindergarten can still be costly for parents

TORONTO – When Kerry K. Taylor wrote the last $900 monthly cheque for her daughter’s daycare recently, she did a happy dance — albeit a temporary one.

No sooner had the Toronto personal finance writer exhaled a sigh of relief that 4 1/2-year-old Chloe would be starting kindergarten in the fall than she realized entirely new expenses would soon be cropping up.

“There’s going to be a myriad of other costs,” says Taylor — not the least of which is the roughly $400 a month she’ll have to shell out to keep Chloe in before and after school care while she’s at work.

While sending a child to kindergarten can feel like a welcome relief from staggering daycare fees, parents need to be aware that costs associated with starting school can add up to hundreds of dollars before their little ones even step foot in the classroom.

Parents will spend 4.5 per cent more on back-to-school spending this year than in 2015, according to a recent report from advisory services firm EY.

Still, some expenses may be altogether avoidable, meaning parents can save a tidy sum with the right type of planning.

Education experts say superhero backpacks, pencil cases filled with scented crayons and other knick-knacks aren’t necessary, and many parents may be surprised to learn just how little stuff soon-to-be scholars need.

Back-to-school advertisements, in particular, encourage parents to spend money on brand new designer wardrobes. But those duds are neither needed nor practical, said Liz Ugolini, the early years instructional co-ordinator at Peel District School Board west of Toronto.

“Children will be involved with playdough and paint and sand and outdoor play,” she said. “So it really is not for families to have children in their best clothes, but in the clothes that are best for play.”

Comfortable shoes, weather-appropriate attire and an extra outfit in case of accidents are all recommended.

For school supplies, it’s best for parents to stick to the basics, said Ugolini, like a properly sized backpack and a lunch bag with reusable food storage containers. She purchased her niece’s lunchtime kit for $11.

Moms and dads should also be aware that new students don’t need to bring crayons, pencils, markers, pencil cases or paper, Ugolini adds. Schools generally provide all those things, along with books, for its youngest pupils.

“Public education should never really be a financial hardship for families,” said Sue Pasian, the early years consultant for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in Hamilton.

All these “embellishments,” as Pasian calls them, will be provided for students in their kindergarten classes.

Even field trip costs are generally kept to a minimum at that age, she said, with most excursions running families less than $10 a child. Many school boards can also help subsidize these costs for families struggling financially or connect them with charitable organizations that can, for example, assist them with some basic school supplies.

For Taylor, back-to-school items like the “Frozen” lunch box her daughter recently picked out, are inconsequential after years of daycare costs.

Less trivial, she says, are fees some parents may not know they’ll face. Some school boards charge fees for bus transportation, she said, while other parents may have to take on the costs of driving their child to school.

Taylor also suggests parents take a close look at their kid’s school calendar and pre-arrange care for professional development days, spring break and other holidays that leave kids at home but don’t necessarily mean time off for parents. Last-minute arrangements can be difficult and expensive, she said.

Aside from child care and transportation, it’s a good idea to budget some cash for pizza days, not to mention clothes for rapidly growing children, she added.

“There’s a whole bunch of little things that can pop up,” said Taylor. “Kids are expensive. It’s crazy how expensive kids are, you know?”

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