Costs are Heavy on the Road to Graduation

Maureen Casazza expected her daughter Jessica’s senior year in high school to bring in extra bills, but there were so many additional costs that it caught her off guard.  “There were obvious costs like yearbook and prom, but you don’t realize the fees that come with taking the SAT and ACT and applying to colleges, the cost of senior and graduation pictures and more,” says Casazza, whose daughter graduated from a high school in North Merrick, NY last June.

It’s tough to say “no” to too many of these expenses because it is your student’s most memorable year in high school.  But, you can mitigate much of the financial burden by planning ahead.

Before you establish a budget for senior costs, the National Endowment for Financial Education suggests getting a big-picture view of the possible expenses.  “Unless you have an idea of the full scope of costs, they will take you by surprise,” says Patricia Seaman with NEFE.  Patricia’s daughter, Katie, graduated from a high school in Highlands Ranch, CO in May.

Ask about the following potential senior costs:

  • Senior photographs:  Photos may cost as little as $25 or as much as $500 for an off-campus professional shoot.
  • Yearbook:  In addition to the yearbook, which Casazza says cost her family $125, many schools offer yearbook ads with vary in prices to commemorate your child’s graduation.
  • Memorabilia:  Class rings can cost several hundred dollars, and letter jackets cost well over $100 in many regions.
  • Academics:  Your child may take standardized tests such as the SAT for $47, or tests for AP classes at $87 each.  Every college your child applies to will have an application fee ranging from $35 to $80 or more.
  • Class Trips:  Your child’s school may sponsor a senior trip or another pricey celebratory activity.
  • School Dances:  The average American family with a high school student attending prom last spring planned to spend $807 on prom-related costs.  This included formal wear, hair and makeup, flowers, photos, limousines and prom tickets.
  • Year-End Fines:  Unreturned textbooks, library books or athletic equipment could mean fines to settle before your student can receive a diploma.
  • Graduation:  You may need to buy or rent the cap, gown and tassel, and you’re bound to want photos.  In addition, many families incur costs for brining in out-of-town relatives, sending graduation announcements and hosting graduation open houses and parties.

Once you know those senior year costs, examine your financial situation.  “Look at your cash flow, income and expenses, and decide what you can put away for senior costs and how early you need to start saving,” Seaman says.  “If your household budget is very tight, start planning in the beginning of your student’s junior year.  If your budget is more flexible, star in the spring before senior year.”

For more tips on managing back-to-school costs, visit