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5 Creative Ideas to Lower the Cost of Expensive School Trips

Guest post from Karen of Lightly Frayed:

Statistics show it currently costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child in North America… sometimes it feels like half of that goes towards school-related expenses!

“Mom – I need $34 for a field trip next week.”

“Can you give me money for…a new agenda…pizza day…school pictures…and a yearbook?”

And the list goes on.

Everyday items can certainly add up, but one of the largest school expenses is class trips.

A few years ago, one of our boys had an opportunity to go on a three-day school trip a few hours away… for $350! We wrestled with whether we would send him, knowing it was a big-ticket item and would set a precedent for future trips for his three younger brothers.

Ultimately, we decided to pass on this trip since our youth group offered a similar outdoor experience at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, it’s not easy to tell your middle-schooler he won’t be able to go on a school trip with their friends… but after talking with another school mom who also felt the trip was too expensive, a possible alternative emerged.

Together, we organized “Camp Left Behind” for our two grade six boys. While the rest of their class was on the school trip, we did affordable and memorable activities with our boys at home.

The boys enjoyed our ‘homemade’ camp, because they could still miss school and spend time together. They even embraced the quirkiness of our camp name.

Camp Left Behind included:

  • a full day at a gym and pool, using my friend’s guest passes
  • an afternoon of trampolining
  • lunch out at the restaurant of their choice
  • 1-on-1 basketball competitions
  • movie nights at each other’s houses
  • memories captured in many photos

Since Money Saving Mom readers are a resourceful group, I’d love to share 5 more ideas we’ve used to lower the cost of expensive school trips.

1. Discuss Openly as a Family

We follow Crystal’s suggestion to not use “We can’t afford that” as a default response to our children.

Rather, we talk about weighing out how we spend our money, and we encourage our kids to be part of deciding how important the trip is to them.

A few times, our boys have decided to miss one trip in favor of doing a different one later in the year. This reinforces decision-making rather than focusing on a lack of resources.

2. Be Honest

Families in our school have homes ranging from one-bedroom apartments to luxurious dwellings. What is easily affordable for one family can be prohibitive to another.

The school needs feedback from families of all budgets.

One teacher appreciated my feedback that a $700 trip could be a financial strain for many.

Ask if a reduced rate might be available or inquire if group fundraising would be an option.

3. Be Prepared for Unexpected Blessings

One time, my son explained to his teacher that he would not be able to attend the planned class trip. His teacher called me later that week to offer my son a full scholarship for the trip!!!

She said she nominated him for his quiet, consistent leadership, and explained other teachers were thrilled for him to receive the allotted funds.

Not only could he attend the trip, but he learned that character can be noticed and valued.

4. Ask Your People

Do you have any grandparents who would be able to contribute? They might just be thrilled to help their grandkids have a unique experience like a trip.

Children can learn how to write a letter explaining the details of the trip, and politely ask for any contributions.

My mother-in-law told me they chuckled when our third son asked them if they would consider “investing in him”, then proceeded to talk only about the great food he would eat in Quebec.

They teased him that they expected interest back on their investment.

5. Be Creative

Since our family has committed to only pay cash for things, we often use out-of-the-box strategies to raise funds.

We sell items we no longer use at yard sales. Our boys have mowed lawns or done weeding for neighbors. One of our children sold his Lego sets online to fund his particular adventure. Another son buys vintage items at thrift stores and sells them at a significant profit.

Our children have been proud to pay for a percentage of their school trips; viewing this as an accomplishment, and a necessary part of being part of a larger family.

While it is difficult to say ‘no’ to our children, living within our means is an important life skill to weave into our family culture.

With a little brainstorming and flexibility, it IS possible to turn apparent roadblocks into life lessons sprinkled with adventures.

You simply can’t put a price on that!

Karen Gauvreau, would squeeze her four-baby-body into a cheerleader’s uniform for you to know someone is rooting for you as a Mom – cartwheeling for your victories and offering a pep talk when you feel pummelled. If you laugh in the process, even better! When she’s not saving money on school trips, she’s writing at LightlyFrayed.com.

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14 Comments

  • Tasha says:

    Just curious why your field trips cost so much. Around here the average price of a field trip is between $5.00 to $10.00. The kids bring a sack lunch. Where do you live? I haven’t heard of kids taking overnight trips during the school year—although I know that sometimes there are special opportunities available to students during the summer. However kids around here usually have to raise money for those kinds of trips through selling candy bars, sub sandwiches, cookie dough or another fundraiser like that.

    • Great question, Tasha. Our older boys are between grade 6 and 12 and every school year their schools do one 3-5 day trip. We’re in Ontario, Canada so some of the trips might include a visit to our capitol in Ottawa, an outdoor camp up north or a visit to our French province, Quebec. We definitely send them to all the cheaper camps like the Science Center and the Zoo – those are in the budget.

  • Suzanne says:

    Awesome ideas! We always have trips like these that come up! I love involving the kids in the process! Thanks so much!

  • Marianne Hardy says:

    I thought this was a great article. Once my kids were teens everything became shockingly expensive. Thanks for addressing this topic.

  • Paula says:

    I really like these suggestions – especially “Camp Left Behind!” It really is amazing how much kids can understand limited funds and helps them appreciate choices around money.

    • Thanks, Paula. More tender-hearted people (i.e. my Mom) weren’t sure about the naming of such a camp. But we embrace the quirky over at Lightly Frayed. And, of course, my kids have been raised with a cheeky Mama so that helps 🙂

  • Jenny says:

    We too have expensive trip options in our district and have not wanted our kids to miss out on the fun and the opportunity. However, the price has been high for most of them. We had open honest talks with our kids and it was a joy to watch how they figured out how to pay their part of the trip. 1-they always asked about scholarships, 2-they chose asking for trip money over birthday/Christmas gifts, 3-they put all money earned by babysitting etc into the pot. They had the pleasure of the trip and the satisfaction of knowing they made it happen, and had a bigger buy in to the whole experience. Not just mom and dad paying, but them as well!

    • Sounds like we are on the same track, Jenny. As lovely as it would be to be able to painlessly write a check for big ticket items, we focus on the life lessons learned by working as a family. The day this article went live, I received an email from the school about an upcoming trip for $505 for our grade 8 son. When he mentioned it, he said, “Don’t even worry about it Mom. I got to go to Quebec last year and I’ll just do Camp Left Behind this year.”

  • Jen says:

    Most schools have scholarships for expensive field trips. In my experience, they have always helped out those who could not afford a field trip so no one is left out. Also, we received notice at the beginning of the year for how much the trip would cost, so families could start setting aside money.

    • That is a great idea for schools to inform parents at the beginning of the year – that should be required so all families can plan ahead. Our school has one particular trip that is over $700 and they have limited numbers, so they count on some families not being able to, or interested in attending. Doesn’t feel right for those kids who really want to go.

  • Teresa says:

    We home school our kids, but I know summer camps and all the little extras like sports add up fast. We always said if they made it into a competitive sport group or camp we would somehow pay half, but they had to earn the rest. Well our only daughter made it into a 6 week music camp which was almost $7000. She earned over half in scholarships, but between us and her we had a hard time to scrap the rest up. She made it with $20 in her pocket for all 7 weeks. She did other kids chores at camp to earn money, most times she would pick up one of the kids chore and they would treat her to a ice cream or a event she did not have the money to go to in exchange. She went the next year as well, but it cost us a lot less as they gave her way more scholarships because of how she preformed the year before.
    All that just to say, be careful when you tell your kids “If you get in, we will find a way to pay.” LOL
    In the long run it was money well spent. Because of that camp on her college applications she was accepted everywhere she tried. So that money turned into almost a full ride at a $48,000 a year college.
    Investing now in our children (in the right ways) can lead to great things.

    • Oh Teresa, I love everything about this. What an amazing accomplishment for your daughter to be able to raise half of such a big ticket item. Amazing. And you are so right – “Investing now in our children (in the right ways) can lead to great things.” Incredible story. You must be so proud.

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