"I think that's probably one of the bigger questions for parents: As the cost of those kinds of activities increase, are their students willing to put in their time and effort into a cause or an activity?" Ranft asks. "Is it as worthwhile to them for their time as it is for the parents' cost?"
3. College prep: It's important for college-bound high schoolers to be ready for their next step, but taking Advanced Placement tests, which cost $87 each, PSATs ($14), and SATs and ACTs ($49 and at least $34, respectively) can get expensive.
[Get tips on college test prep.]
"Fifty dollars doesn't seem that bad, but most kids take [the SAT] two or three times before they apply to college, so that can add up," notes Karen Schoonover, chief academic officer and principal of Pennsylvania's New Hope Academy Charter School, where low-income students get test fee waivers. If testing costs will be an issue for you, investigate waiver options with your school's guidance counselor, Schoonover recommends.
Schoonover's daughter took college prep further, with subsequent costs. Through a dual enrollment program at West York Area Senior High School, she took college courses for $250 each, amassing 17 credits by graduation—which would have cost about $12,000 to earn at a university, her mother estimates. "It saved me a lot of money in the long run," Schoonover says. "I wasn't really prepared in her junior year to start writing checks for tuition, though."
4. Transportation: Even getting to and from school can get pricey. Confronted with the option to pay $1,500 a year for a school bus to come, the Krause family decided to drive their daughter both ways each day instead—a cost of about $150 a week, Krause estimates.
For students who have a bus option but would prefer to transport themselves, there may be an additional cost, too: "If you're a senior and you're looking forward to driving your car and parking at a high school lot, parking fees have gone up," AASA's Domenech notes.
5. Special occasions: From senior trips to prom tickets, parents may find themselves opening up their wallets frequently—or facing the crestfallen faces of their teens when they hear the word "no." Even graduating from public high school can be costly once gowns, caps, tassels, and ceremony tickets are purchased.
"I know this is all optional, but it's part of the high school experience, and it's all hidden costs," says Yvonne Johnson, a Delaware parent whose daughter goes to the Charter School of Wilmington. "It's not always easy to say no to them, [but my daughter's] going to college, and you've got think about all those expenses."
[Find out how to talk to your children about money.]
The balance of costs and involvement will differ for each family, as you work as a team to figure out what you can pay for—and what you think you should. For the Montana-based Drange family, for instance, having no money saved for college was "the trade-off," mother Jodi reasons.