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Larry Blustein

High cost of getting an education

As school begins on Monday, the price of sending kids back to class is more expensive than ever before

By Larry Blustein
This coming Monday morning, when the doors fly open at schools in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, a new school year begins as thousands of youngsters will pour into classrooms.

As parents and students prepare for this coming year, there is still a bit of belt tightening that exists among families – and that’s where 2016 starts.

Elaine and R.J. Smith have three youngsters who need everything as they all hit growth spurts and have to buy new clothing and shoes. That’s not counting the supplies that are mandatory.

“It’s crazy,” Elaine said. “This is all quite overwhelming. We both work, but come on, five people to feed, cloth, insure and put a roof over the family is not real easy.”

Last year, parents dropped a whopping $814 for average on back-to-school items. They spent roughly $104 just on basic school supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes; another $346 on technology like laptops and computer accessories; and an additional $364 on clothing and shoes, according to the NRF.

Families like the Smiths and their Hallandale Beach neighbor, Keri Watkins, are stretched, and no matter how you try and get ahead, the economy for a majority of south Floridians, is paycheck-to-paycheck.

“People talk to me about this politician and that politician making a difference in my life, as a single mother of two teen boys,” Watkins pointed out. “But to me, and what I have learned from my family growing up is, you make your own way, and that’s what we are doing.”

Watkins has also found alternatives for lowering the back to school cash-cow that had been stretching her budget way beyond. Some of this spending is, of course, inevitable. Children, after all, can’t very well attend class without the basics like pens and pencils. But many parents are spending too much simply because they make some critical errors while shopping.

“Parents assume the dollar stores have the lowest prices on school supplies, but that is really not the case,” Watkins said. “I found that purchasing those supplies for $1 each may seem like a smart move, but you are overpaying. Trust me.”

When it comes to clothing, nobody is asking you to shop at those “places” that your kids deem off limits, but as Watkins and Aventura resident, Bethany Morales will tell you, there is money to be saved when you send the kids back to school.

“We go to thrift stores and I am telling you now, my kids do not complain,” Morales said. “I have one in college; and two in high school and they wear the top name brands, and for half the price of what many of their friends had been paying.”

Indeed, thrift stores, consignment shops and even flea markets will have those famous brands at crazy low prices. Most believe that if you want to save money, especially as the kids head back to school, this is a good start.

“The expense of sending my kids to a public school is crazy – with everything that they have to get,” Watkins explained. “This year, when we went to the flea market in Fort Lauderdale during the late spring and summer, while just looking for different items, when we saw something that would potentially be a back to school item, we got it. That’s how we save.”