Costs Heavy on Road to High School Graduation

Plan Ahead to Manage Expense of Child’s Senior Year

Date: August 18, 2011

Contact: Paul Golden 303-224-3514, [email protected]

DENVER—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, applying to colleges, the cost of graduation pictures and more," says Casazza, whose daughter graduated from a high school in North Merrick, N.Y. last June.

It's tough to say "no" to 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.

Take Inventory

Before you establish a budget for senior costs, get a big-picture view of the possible expenses. Ask your school about anticipated costs, or talk to a parent who has just been through the senior year with his or her student. If you don't know anyone, ask your child, who is sure to have friends with older siblings.

"Unless you have an idea of the full scope of costs, they will take you by surprise," says Patricia Seaman of the National Endowment for Financial Education, whose daughter Katie graduated from a high school in Highlands Ranch, Colo. 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 varying prices to commemorate your child's achievement.

  • 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 bringing in out-of-town relatives, sending graduation announcements and hosting graduation open houses and parties. 

Make Choices

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, start in the spring before senior year."

As a parent, decide how much you're willing to spend, then sit down with your student to make some choices. Discuss needs, such as the cap and gown, versus wants, such as class rings, and ask your child what items are most important to him or her.

"It helps if it's framed with a more holistic approach about spending decisions rather than dictating 'You can have this or you can have that,'" Seaman says. "Imagine how that sounds to a teenager."

Casazza's daughter turned 18 soon after graduation, so instead of having two separate parties, the family agreed to have one bash to celebrate both occasions. Seaman’s daughter opted not to take professional senior photos, submitting her own digital photo to the yearbook for no fee.

If your child isn't happy about the concessions he or she has to make based on your budget, suggest he or she pitches in.

"Having your child contribute some of his or her own income is a valuable experience," says Seaman. "It's teaching your child to decide what is important to him or her when he or she is putting in the time and effort and sweat to pay for it."

Team Up with Others

Your child isn't the only high school senior; he or she goes to school with an entire graduating class with families going through the same thing as you.

Suggest that the school hosts a car wash, auction or breakfast to pay for events. Casazza said her daughter's school held lots of fundraisers to help students with senior costs, including lowering the cost of prom tickets. The school's tickets were reduced to $90 per person, while other local schools charged $125.

Because all the seniors are going to the same graduation parties, perhaps your child and a group of friends can co-host a party together. This allows you to split costs with the other parents and ensure there is no scheduling conflict.

Finally, you might ask relatives to pay for senior pictures, your child's class ring or another commemorative item in place of giving your child money for graduation.

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



  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    [email protected]