Shoestring Living: School involvement to the extreme

Molly Logan Anderson

Last Monday morning, after a weekend of houseguests and kids’ activities, I opened my daughters’ Friday folders to find that it was Teacher Appreciation Week. I’m all for appreciating teachers and think their job is one of the most important out there, but the fact that I was given only a weekend’s warning about major parental responsibilities, lots of running around and the spending of lots of cash left me completely frustrated.

Too much of a good thing

The format of Teacher Appreciation Week involved purchasing favorite flowers, candy and beverages and ended with a request to “treat teachers to a meal at their favorite lunch spot.” Instructions were attached to three photocopied pages of all teachers’ and assistants’ favorites across categories. In addition, each grade was assigned a day to bring in “treats” for the entire staff to enjoy. All this to pay for with end-of-year teacher gifts just three weeks away.

Almost as an afterthought, the words “participation is optional” was written on the instruction sheet, as if my daughters would have accepted non-participation! If you ask me, Teacher Appreciation Week should be about little things, like handmade thank-you notes or a flower from your garden. I have a hard time believing that any teacher needs 50 Hershey chocolate bars. 

You just can’t do it all

Talking with parents at our school and others revealed a similar sentiment. “Schools are expected to cover more material with more students at a faster rate than ever before in history, while parents are expected to fill any family time left with whatever's not covered throughout the jam-packed day,” says Lauren Yanez, mother of five from Colorado Springs, Colo. “Throw in a couple of activities on top of that and voila - fast food in the car, homework on the run and stress to the max!”

Sometimes the answer is ‘no’

I strive to keep things as simple as possible and resent the need to spend money at several different stores to fulfill this week’s requirements. I believe simplicity often leads to successful frugality and from a frugal standpoint, this complicated scenario is out of control. There’s just one answer to the continuous onslaught of check requests, participation requirements and donations: Say “no.” 

“The only way we cope with five kids is to say ‘no’ a lot,” says Yanez. “We're not the family who volunteers at school every week leaving only time for take-out that night, the family who brings cupcakes for special events but has nothing baked for dessert at home, or even the family who writes checks every time there's a book order and is sinking in credit card debt. We're the family that puts family first and everything else second.”

So what did I do? I compromised. We bought the candy, colored pictures of favorite flowers and gave $10 gift cards with thank-you notes for a wonderful year. This attempt to simplify leaves end-of-year gifts checked off my list three weeks early; a nice bonus. My advice to you? Keep it simple, say “no” when it makes sense for your family and, of course, appreciate your teachers. Just do it with your own schedule and pocket book in mind. 

Molly Logan Anderson is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Mike, three kids and black lab. Join Molly on her family’s journey of living a frugal life and making financial freedom their reality.