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Managing the high cost of high school

High school looks like a lightweight compared to college but can consume big bucks.

From proms to class projects, grades nine to 12 drain bank accounts faster than a hungry teen empties a fridge. For a heads-up at what's ahead -- and some strategies for coping with unexpected costs -- read what parents and financial experts have to say on the subject.

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The sporting life
Ah yes, the thud of football helmets on a golden fall afternoon. Cheerleaders on the field during halftime. The crowd urging their favorite teams on to victory. There's nothing like a little dab of spirit to make high school special. But that spirit doesn't come cheap. Sports can cost parents a ton.

Steve Norden of Powell, Ohio, the father of three current or former high school lacrosse players, says his school district charges kids to play.

"We have to pay to participate, which can vary from $75 to $150 per sport," Norden says. That's not all. The Nordens also plunk down another $200-plus for uniforms for each boy.

Think that's expensive? Cheerleading is another high-dollar sport. Mary Cipriani, the mother of a Jacksonville, N.C., high school cheerleader, says her daughter's uniforms are only the tip of the cash-flow iceberg.

"It runs us between $600 to $800 a year in uniforms alone," Cipriani says. In addition, her daughter, Katey, takes pricey private tumbling lessons to keep her on her game, and parents are expected to provide snacks for the squad. Add in the cost of mom and dad attending the away games, and having an athletic child can put quite a dent in the family budget.

The experts say
If it's your turn to come up with team snacks, check out bread company outlets for good deals. They usually carry cupcakes and chips. A membership at a wholesale club like Sam's Club can also help you save big on both drinks and bulk snacks. For fruit, your local farmer's market can be a cheaper alternative.

An eBay search might turn up a brand-new, still-in-the-box pair of those $120 basketball shoes for a fraction of what stores charge. If you know you'll need them, keep an eye out -- and don't forget to add in the growth factor.

Before the end of the present school year, contact athletes who are graduating and see if they're willing to part with their uniforms and equipment. Many times they'll sell them at a much lower price than you can buy them new. But be sure there won't be any upcoming style changes for the following year.

Bettye Banks, senior vice president of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas, says one way to make high school more affordable is to give kids a more active role in the finances. When her daughter joined the drill team, Banks supported her but made sure she understood she'd have to work for the uniforms.

"It's perfectly OK for a kid to have the responsibility of a part-time job," Banks says. If a job's out of the question, then find other stuff -- like cleaning out the garage -- for the teen to do to earn extra cash.

Styling for the big dance
Prom is one of those moments girls spend months preparing for -- and some kids go to multiple proms in their high school careers. It's not unheard of for prom dresses to cost hundreds of dollars, but if you can't or don't want to put that kind of currency into a dress that's worn once, you have other options.

Next: "... you can lessen the sting by setting money aside."
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