column 0902The Monroe on a Budget column runs Tuesdays in The Monroe News. Here is this week’s installment:

By Paula Wethington / Monroe News

The detail I most dreaded about the first day of school when my daughter was in her K-12 years was the stack of paperwork that would be found in her bookbag.

One year, it took almost two hours for me to read, sort through and fill out the documents and paperwork that included her student handbook, permission slips, emergency notification forms and campus calendars.

But I always cleared my schedule that day so I could focus on that task, and here’s why: I knew it would cost money if I overlooked important details and missed deadlines. Here are some examples:

Dress code: Most schools have rules as to what clothing, shoes and hairstyles are considered inappropriate for the classroom; and teams and clubs may have additional expectations. This happens even on campuses that don’t require uniforms. It is a waste of money to buy any attire for school, practice or team wear that does not fit the dress code. If you think the rules are unreasonable or need an update, ask for a review before you buy something your child can’t wear or you spend the money on a special hairdo.

School lunch program: Your family might qualify for the lunch program even if you make too much money for other assistance. A family of four is eligible for reduced-price school lunches with an income at or below $44,123 this year. While parents often argue that they can beat the cost of a regular priced school lunch with savvy lunch box menus, it is hard to make a lunch cheaper than the federally reduced price rate of 40 cents.

Fundraisers: Announcements about concession stand work shifts, bake sales and product sales for school, sports and clubs are typically among the back-to-school packets. If you want to limit the reliance on traditional fundraisers, be sure to support alternative projects such as paper recycling drives, Box Tops for Education, Campbell’s Label campaign, Scrip gift certificate programs and grocery store shopper card loyalty programs.

School calendar: The calendars will help you plan for expenses relating to school picture days, homecoming and class trips. You’ll also have a heads up as to what days are half days, in-service training or long weekends so you can plan work schedules to limit day care expenses. It’s also worth noting that the last day of school is tentative because Monroe County schools usually add snow day makeups to the end of the year. Be mindful of that if you hope to schedule a family vacation for early and mid-June.

Rules about parties: Don’t send birthday cupcakes to school without asking first, as there are increasing debates and restrictions as to how to handle snacks and treats in a school setting. In addition to the allergy issues that affect some children, the push toward “healthy food” is making a noticeable impact on classroom party traditions.

Rules about teacher gifts: Some schools ask that donations be made to the school supply closet in lieu of gifts to teachers. Another possibility is that parent-teacher groups and booster clubs will encourage contributions to group gifts rather than individual gifts.

Readers may contact Paula Wethington at paula@monroenews.com or (734) 240-5745.

 If you are interested in budget-friendly living in southeast Michigan, subscribe to the Monroe on a Budget weekly newsletter; read my column every Tuesday in The Monroe News; or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

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An increase in Michigan’s minimum wage is launches today, and with it comes a test of whether the gradual rise will help workers, harm businesses or neither. The first bump comes today (Monday), when the wage moves up 10 percent, from $7.40 an hour to $8.15. This is from The Monroe News. Read more at: […]

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The Bedford Goodfellows will host a government food distribution site for Bedford Township residents from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Sept. 17 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, 8330 Lewis Ave., Temperance, Mich. Those picking up food at this distribution must be a resident of Bedford, have a current utility bill, photo ID and […]

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By Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget I don’t pay much attention to what other shoppers put in their grocery carts, but I admit that I did a double take today at Meijer, and for a reason you might not expect. I heard the clerk ask the shopper ahead of me if she had […]

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Monroe County Opportunity Program will host a Mobile Food Pantry from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday Aug. 23 at New Life Church, 6023 Summerfield Rd., Petersburg, Mich. One free food package will be given to the first 250 households attending. There is no need to register in advance. A photo ID that proves Monroe County […]

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The 5th Annual Free Medical Screening Camp will take place from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday Aug. 23 at Salvation Army, 815 E. First St., Monroe MI. More than 20 local physicians will offer free services to non-insured and under-insured residents of Monroe County. Some of the free services will include: Glucose and cholesterol […]

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This article is on page 6A of today’s edition of The Monroe News: Children can learn how to budget their allowance money on smartphones with Monroe Bank & Trust’s new mobile app, Banker Jr. The app teaches good banking habits through games, whose selec­tion will be expanded throughout the year, ac­cording to an MBT press […]

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The Monroe on a Budget column runs Tuesdays in The Monroe News. Here is this week’s installment. By Paula Wethington / Monroe News Families who are on tight budgets might be in a bit of a panic as to how to handle expenses relating to back-to-school season. Here’s a checklist of how to get help, […]

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Health Insurance 101, a free interactive session on the basics of health insurance, will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at Ellis Library and Reference Center, 3700 S. Custer Rd., Monroe, Mich. Blue Cross staff members will discuss the basics of health care insurance, managing costs and cost-saving benefits.

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