Celebrate school days without overspending

When the last bell of the first day of school rings, kids burst from the classrooms giddy with new year jitters and newness of a fresh start. Parents wait anxiously at bus stops, wondering how the last eight hours played out. Was the new teacher inspiring? Did all of the supplies make it through the door? How can that sweet “baby” already be ready for a new grade?

The first day of school calls for celebration of the highest kind. After all, there’s only one first day of kindergarten or first day of middle school or first day of high school. But face it, your budget can’t support a steak dinner for everyone or maybe even a trip for an ice cream cone. So how do you mark a special occasion such as the first day of school without breaking the bank? You’ve got to think outside of the box (and maybe even the kitchen table).

Bus stop breakfast

Before your little scholar’s day even begins, consider taking your celebration to the streets. Coordinate a bus stop breakfast buffet with friends and neighbors. Get ready for your day, put chairs in the driveway, and share a meal while you wait on the big yellow bus to arrive. The risk of being late disappears and the joy of community multiples the excitement of the day.

Cost: ranges from minimal to zero dollars spent outside of your regular food budget.

Lunch-box note inspiration

Midday written encouragement fosters a connection with your child when you can’t be there to verbally cheer him or her along. The night before the first day, take a few minutes to write down an inspirational quotation or verse or even a simple “I Love You.” Crack out the crayons and construction paper or find a free printable on Pinterest. Sneak that note into your child’s lunch box or backpack to ensure his or her first day gains momentum as the hours wear on.

Cost: Free

Start a book tradition

I’ll never forget sitting at a young friend’s high school graduation and leafing through his copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Suess. The front and very back pages of the worn copy included a message penned each year of his academic career by his parents on the night before school. They celebrated the traits they witnessed developing in his character, they shared special memories, they journaled hopes and dreams for his future. Upon completing his senior year, he had a 13-year log of his first days of school.

You could choose another title or jump into the tradition at any point of your child’s schooling.

Cost: One book per child

Sidewalk chalk greetings

When your child steps off the bus, allow him or her to be greeted with well wishes right under his or her feet. Crack out the kids’ sidewalk chalk and litter your drive with well wishes. Even if your artwork skills are minimal like mine, you can spread celebratory cheer with hearts and smiley faces. As a bonus, draw “picture frames” on the ground complete with the date and school year and have your child lay on the ground for a quick photo opp.

Cost: Free or $1 to purchase the chalk at the dollar store.

Chocolate chip cookies

It doesn’t get more classic than a hot pan of cookies, fresh from the oven. Pair the sweet treat with an ice-cold glass of milk and your kids will proclaim you parent of the year. If your baking skills are legendary, then prepare them from scratch. Or purchase pre-made dough if you’re under a time crunch. Be sure to share in the delightful indulgence. Breaking “bread” together will allow you to ask questions about that first day without coming off like a congressional investigation.

Cost: Ingredients from your pantry or less than $3 for pre-made dough.

Don’t overthink or overspend on your first day of school celebrations. Meaningful moments can be created without a single dime. Hooray for another academic year!