Your child starting school: The hidden costs

You’ve calculated school fees, uniforms and stationery costs, bought a school bag and lunchbox and have said oft: “Can you believe he/she is starting school?!” Think you’re ready for school don’t you? And you actually believe you’ve outlayed all the costs for the start of your child’s schooling life. Don’t you? Pfft, silly old you, writes Melinda Uys.

There are many costs the unwitting parent will be paying out in the first few weeks of their child starting school. Some are smack-your-hand-on-your-head obvious, whilst others creep up and give you a nice little bump on the back of your head or a sharp kick in the shins depending on the amount you need to pay. Here are some of the traps to look out for:

Replacing things you got wrong the first time

When my daughter started school she had a beautiful blue and pink insulated Frozen trademarked lunch box with a built in drink holder, a place to write her name and a whole heap of Frozen themed plastic boxes for her food: Cost a $bomb.

Little did I know that insulated bags are a complete no-no at her school since they put their lunchboxes in a fridge. If the lunch is in an insulated bag, the food inside doesn’t get cold, but rather warms up while the outside gets cold. So paint yourself a picture: me, trudging through three (THREE!!) different well known Australian department stores looking for a non-insulated lunchbox that fit the dimensions required (yes, 25 kids in a classroom and one fridge means a lunchbox must have DIMENSIONS. Heaven help me) and wasn’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed. I eventually found a plain Decor box from Woolies. Cost: Replacement of dysfunctional lunchbox $10 (on special) and part of my sanity I’ll never get back.

Replacing things your child will lose

Most children attending their first year of school have been to kindy or daycare, so most parents and some kids are pretty wised up to the whole ‘have your name on your stuff and keep a firm grip on it’. But they were at daycare or kindy and let’s face it, the carers are a pretty forgiving bunch so lost gear usually finds its owner pretty quickly. Not so at primary school – you are in the jungle kid! Lose your hat without a name on it? Get yourself to the uniform shop quicksmart. Lose an item more than three times and suddenly you’ll find yourself at the Lost and Found box trying to find a jumper or hat or socks that are the same size as your child’s, and just grabbing that on a never ending rotation of Lost and Found things.

After all, your kid isn’t the only one who couldn’t hang onto his stuff to save himself. Cost: $100 before you start on the Lost and Found merry-go-round. Oh, and a bit of your dignity when the latter happens. You might like to invest in supersized name tags as well at around $30.

Tired child

Those first few weeks, and even months, of school are brutal to a fresh-off-holidays five-year-old (or any age for that matter). Constant stimulation in the form of other children, craft and endless NAPLAN preparation means your angel will be a head-spinning devil by around 4.30pm every night. 5pm if you’re lucky. That half hour bed time routine you’ve painstakingly ingrained in your child for the last five years will be replaced with a Witching Hour full of tears, sulks and yawns while you try and wheedle out information about what they did all day. “I can’t remember *yawn*” is the standard response in our house.

And you can’t skip the bath and stick them straight into bed – they are F-I-L-T-H-Y after any day at school. They can just look at the school and become dirty. Our cuddle and reading time was usually sacrificed. Cost: $30 in extra wine consumption as you contemplate life without a 20 minute dose of Pamela Allen and ‘Possum Magic’.

Loss of time

I was really looking forward to five days a week where I would be ‘free’ to do as I wished while my daughter was at school for eight hours (not really: I have a three-year-old so time for me is still measured in daytime naps and how long Fireman Sam goes for). But you know what the biggest joke is? You’ve got LESS time, not more. How in the name of Greenwich does that happen? Because by the time you drop them off and pick them up – even if it’s to the bus stop – you’ve lost at least half an hour best case scenario.

Then there’s all the bits and pieces you’ve got to do at school while your kid’s physically there (tuckshop, readers, mystery reader etc). And they get a bit uptight if you’re late to pick-up. Something about not being a daycare or babysitting service. Cost: About $600 or whatever your car’s brakes and accelerator maintenance costs as you scream to and from school.


And lastly, on that first day, you would have to be a stony hearted individual to avoid getting a bit moist in the eye area when your little boy or girl trots into a classroom in a uniform that’s way too big for them, in a classroom which looks much too grown up, at a time when they are still such small little humans. It is the bitterest of sweet days. Cost: $2 on tissues, $100 on sunglasses (if you don’t own a pair, invest.) and a big chunk of your heart as you watch them disappear into the education system and one of the most important phases of life.

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