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Can You Avoid Spending Money on School Fundraisers?

We are about two months into the school year with our five year old. Kindergarten teachers are surely a special group. Two weeks ago,  I was able to attend the homecoming parade and help chaperone the kids. It’s really tough to take twenty four 5-6 year olds out to the parade and keep them from running out in the road while people are throwing candy at them. Teachers certainly don’t get paid enough! For all the wonders of kindergarten, I was not prepared for the onslaught of fundraisers that seem to come home each week. So far, we have had school sweatshirts and water bottles for sale, book fair, and the latest one, Little Caesars pizza kits and cookie dough for sale. Next week we have school pictures, which aren’t to raise money for the school, but I bet they aren’t free. Is there a way you can avoid spending money on school fundraisers?

My honest answer is that I don’t know. I could boycott all things that cost money and be viewed as the villian parent whose child didn’t sell any pizza kits. I really hate that schools have to resort to asking kids to peddle overpriced dough to buy supplies and go on field trips, but that’s a whole other topic for another day. What we’ve decided for now is to treat fundraising as we would any other item up for purchase.

Decide if You Actually Need it--We decided we didn’t need the sweatshirts and waterbottles. Kid sweatshirts for $22? I’m all for school spirit, but our daughter is in a fancy phase and won’t even wear sweatshirts right now. Maybe if they put Disney Princesses on them? I’m sure this will be more of an issue when she is actually attending school sports events, but for now, we’re passing on this.

Children Can Use Their Own Money-We’re going to use the book fair as a lesson in saving and budgeting. Our daughter gets $1/week if she can get dressed and ready for school without a meltdown and keep her room picked up. (We hold that to a very loose standard). She also has some money from holidays saved up. We told her she could buy books, but she has to use her own money. We’ve found that if we use this tactic, she is very careful and never spends everything she has. If it was my money, she’d want the most expensive ones for sure.

Realize You Might Have to Bite the Bullet-This one is going to kill my healthy challenge with Savvy Scot and my grocery challenge with Mr. CBB. We will probably buy a pizza kit and some cookie dough. Yes, it is more expensive than buying at the store. (Can we put that in the charity category?) We have to bring something for holiday parties, so maybe we’ll use the cookie dough for that. I don’t want to ask people at work to buy things. I’m afraid they might buy because I’m the boss, and I hate to guilt people into anything. We might try to hit up our neighbors, but I don’t see us being the top seller on this one.

I’m learning that part of having an elementary school student is preparing for the various unknown expenses that arise. I guess we could avoid spending any money on school fundraisers, but I know the cause is good. I also don’t want my daughter to be the only one who doesn’t participate. She loves school right now, but one kid making fun of her could change that. I can’t fight her battles, but I can buy some lousy pizza dough and give her a sale. I would love to know how seasoned veterans have handled the challenge of staying on budget while contributing in some way to school fundraisers. Ask me in ten years, and maybe I’ll have a better answer.

Can you resist a kid salesman? What is the worst thing you ever bought from a school fundraiser?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. haha can’t imagine the kids keeping it together while being thrown candy at! I dreaded the fundraisers when I was a kid, selling things to reluctant people was just not my thing. They would send us with lottery tickets and I had my dad in toe to kind of force the sale… made me feel even worse. We used to sell cakes at church with my girl scouts group but people approached our stand wanting to buy so that was different.

    • I like the idea of having a sales table maybe at a school event. That way people can approach you instead of you having to ask them to buy something you know they don’t want or need.

  2. Good post. I think you provide some great tips to deal with the subject as I know it can be a touchy one. In the end, we’d probably fall where you’re at and just look at it as a decision of whether we need the item or not. Sure, there are some times where you just have to break down and buy the product, but I think it’s usually few and far in between.

  3. These cub scouts were selling $20 popcorn outside of Ace Hardware and I just about passed out thinking about paying that much. The irony is I have spent about $500 at Home Depot and Wal-Mart this weekend, but that was stuff that we needed for the house!

  4. Oh, and girl scout cookies I just can’t say no to. I’ll take 5 boxes!

  5. My kids aren’t in school yet but my nieces and nephews are always selling crap- popcorn, coupon booklets, wrapping paper. I usually buy some to be nice!

  6. I know the stuff sounds expensive but as you said you don’t want kids making fun of her. Knowing that these events come up at her school perhaps you can re-allocate some money in your budget on a monthly basis so that you can contribute without worrying about it. Selling to your neighbors is a good idea as well.

  7. Thankfully for me my neighborhood only contains 60+ year old individuals! LOL. I’ve only supported a few girl scout fundraisers and a few sports teams (of children we know) have some coupon/discount cards that we often partake in. I have a feeling when we have kids though that we’re going to have to establish a budget specifically for fundraisers. lol. Cookies and pizza aren’t that bad though; I’d certainly eat it!

  8. Mine is still a year away from Kindergarten so we’ve been able to apply the “do we really want this” approach pretty well, knowing how much we already pay for the preschool. Halloween party – count us in. T-shirts, book fairs, and parents fundraising party – no thanks. I frankly don’t think this reflects bad on her or us, and we don’t socialize that much with the other parents so we haven’t even noticed any different treatment. Who knows though, we moved here from Europe and may be totally misreading the social acceptance requirements:-). She certainly gets invited to playdates often enough though.
    One thing that really bugs me is the class picture – we always fall for buying a package (the smallest one but it’s $20 nevertheless) and they are always pretty horrible. This year we’ll dare to do without I think.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only parent who doesn’t buy every picture package available. We take some pretty incredible outdoor photos from our travels, and I’d much rather have those. We’ll see when picture time actually rolls around I guess. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. There’s certain ones I will buy into. Like book fairs. Because I want my kids to be super nerds. Or the ones that specifically fund a field trip for the classroom that my kids’ teacher couldn’t get funding for. But school wide? I’ll let them ask their extended family, but I already paid taxes for that.

    • I almost wish we could just pay a “fee” at the beginning of the school year to avoid the sales pitches.

      • Kim I agree with you about the paying a “fee”at the beginning of the year. But then people would say that they’re “paying”for public schools. Some people would much rather buy a bunch of stuff they don’t need in the guise of raising money for their children.
        As a kid I remember trying to get that travel TV or radio, I just had to sell $10,000 to get it. usually I’d just get a pack of stickers for selling $50.00 or so.
        I often wonder exactly how much money is really going to the school and how much goes to the companies.

        • I had that conversation with a co worker this evening. If we buy an $18 pizza kit, how much actually goes to the school? I believe it’s something like $2. I guess we can choose not to participate. I agree with the need, just maybe not the means they are trying to achieve it.

          • When such a small amount goes to the school, wouldn’t it be better to just be able to donate to the cause without purchasing something?

            That being said, I do have a nephew who I would buy pretty much whatever he’s selling.

          • You would think, but I believe it is hard to make a direct donation to the school. It has to go into the general fund and get approved, etc.

  10. Why do all fundraisers have to cost $20 per item? What happened to candy bars and girl scout cookies? We pretty much just accept that we will have to buy stuff from our nieces and nephew. But my wife has a very strict tick for tat system that you do not want to mess with. If you don’t buy from our kids, your chances of having us buy from yours are pretty much never going to happen!

    • That’s what I was saying. They used to sell Rocky Mtn Chocolate Bars for $2. Yes, overpriced for a candy bar, but $2 I can do. $18 for a pizza kit is some crazy wicked inflation if you ask me.

  11. This is a TOUGH ONE! Personally, I see this in the same light as a charitable donation – so I would say go for it, but be sensible! 🙂

  12. In the beginning we tried to sell everything maybe not 100% but just so that our son didn’t feel left out. But as time went on we realize that by the time we were selling and buying from others who were selling we ended up spending a lot of money. We just would say no to the things we didn’t need. It gets better as they get older. I think elementary school is the worst of all.

  13. Can I get a dollar if I hold it together in the morning, too?

    A friend of mine always laughs about the phrases “public” school and “no” tuition. There are a ton of expenses, aren’t there?

    • You’d have to ask your family about the dollar. If it gets you out of bed without tears, it might be worth it. I actually could plan for fees. It’s the unexpected things that keep coming up. I guess in a few years, I’ll get the hang of it.

  14. Kim,

    We have two boys who have gone through the fundraisers. Now they are both in high school and the fundraising fun continues.

    Our plan is to just pick and choose the activities that we think fit our time and budget.

    In elementary school, my wife and I both spent a lot of time as volunteers on field trips and as teacher assistants. So, we didn’t feel quite the pressure to fund every school request that came along.

  15. We don’t have kids yet but plenty of friends and coworkers do. We often buy a few things to support them. I at least try to buy the healthy stuff or longer lasting stuff if I can.

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