Back to School in the Philippines: Be Financially Prepared

This week marks the start of a new school year in the Philippines. Kids will be returning to the school benches by the thousands, and although it’s an exciting time for them, their parents don’t always experience it in the same way.

Many children in the Philippines have the privilege of attending school only because one or both of their parents work in the USA and send money back home. This already puts immense pressure on the family’s dynamics. The parent working abroad has to cover not only school fees, but often also mortgage payments and lifestyle expenses. The amount they are able to send home has to provide for many things and is often stretched thin.

While a financial balance is typically found as the year proceeds, the initial back to school expenses often take parents by surprise. Unlike holidays like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other traditional holidays, the back to school time isn’t always planned for as a large expense and it can easily creep up on parents. Taking a closer look at the type of expenses required for a child to return to school shows the importance of being financially prepared for the new school year.

School uniforms

It is easy to underestimate the cost of school uniforms. Yet it’s an expense worth the cost, as these garments are designed and manufactured to last for a long time. It is important that the children have their uniforms ready for the first day, as it also has an impact on their school experience.

If money is tight, it isn’t necessary to buy these uniforms brand new. Oftentimes the school has a supply of second hand clothing they sell for a discounted price. It’s also possible to purchase directly from parents with older children that have grown out of their uniforms.


Depending on the level the children are in, the required items will vary. But regardless of the child’s age, this is an expense that should not be underestimated. The children in lower grades will need construction paper, art supplies, colored markers and so forth while the older kids will need bigger notebooks, more pens, calculators and files. Unfortunately there is no real way to get around these costs, especially for the items specified by the school.


Textbooks also have a tendency of surprising parents with their cost. Oftentimes the school only informs parents what textbooks are needed after the school term has started, so it’s easy to underestimate. While it’s vital for children to own each of the textbooks on the list, they don’t always have to be new. Similar to the clothing, schools often give opportunity for kids to buy secondhand textbooks from the year before.


As times have changed, gadgets and technology have also nestled itself into the school system. The parents living and working in the USA will see this most prominently where children use tablets and computers in class. While this trend might not have reached the Philippines with such force, all signs point to the fact that school going children require certain technological items in their backpacks. These are needed on top of the other supplies. Sometimes the list only includes a USB stick and the kids can do their computer work either at the school’s computer lab or on the home computer, but it is definitely clear that an increasing number of children want their own laptops for doing school assignments.

This is a very big expense and it could put a lot of pressure on parents, especially those working abroad. Luckily the USA schools experience these changes first, so it’s possible to be informed about how technology is becoming important for schoolwork well before it will impact Philippine schools. Don’t ignore these trends. Rather put money away for big expenses such as personal computers than finding yourself in a financially pressured situation years along the line.

Pressure from friends

According to TIME, research shows that kids don’t want what the advertisements say they need. Children also don’t necessarily want the most affordable items. They want what their friends have. Peers have an incredible influence on the purchasing habits of children and this includes the items they want in their backpacks – even the backpacks themselves. While it definitely isn’t necessary to buy your children every single item they saw their friends receiving, it is worth considering this notion. Simply being prepared for requests for the most expensive set of markers or the less practical, but more interesting, notebooks will already decrease the tension.

Certain parents find it best to increase their budget by 5-10% to compensate for such requests and will allow these requests up to the point where the budget is reached, thereby given the children a choice as to the items they desire while putting a cap on the spending.

Last minute shopping trends

Long lines of people at stationary and supply stores a few days before the schools reopen are a common sight in the Philippines. This could be because some families travel from more rural areas to visit the shops or it could simply be that people prefer to postpone as long as they can.

Another important reason why the shopping is postponed to the last minute is because the money transfer from the parent living abroad must first come through. If the family didn’t properly plan for these expenses, the transfer could take a few days to come through, as it wouldn’t be included in the usual monthly transfer for household and school expenses.

The importance of a back to school budget

It is crucial for parents living and working abroad to include a section in their budget for back to school supplies and to transfer this money well in time for back to school shopping. This article shows that these expenses easily become much more than expected. While it is possible to save money in certain areas, and while clever shopping will considerably lessen spending, the money needed to get children from their holiday selves back to their school going selves is significant.

When it comes to finances, the best approach is the informed approach. The coming week will require many expenses for all the items mentioned above as well as the school fees. Create a document with sections of stationary, uniform, textbooks, and technology and note the amount needed for each. Increase this amount by at least 10% and create a small savings account for school supplies.

Being financially prepared for the back to school will period allows parents to enjoy this time with their kids, as it remains a great privilege for children to be able to attend school.