A week of (good and bad) money surprises

By Sandra

Phew! I'm spent. And I mean that both literally and figuratively.

In addition to the typically busy first-week-back-to-school stuff:

- Bronwyn has started extended French program, meaning she speaks French in the mornings while studying arts and social studies, then switches to English in the afternoons while learning math and science. This is offered by our public school, so our regular taxes cover the cost of the program itself — but we had to cough up extra for the required agendas (more expensive this year, despite being smaller) and a recommended student French-English dictionary.

- Isobel's "froggy throat" of Monday evolved through the course of the week into a nasty cough with a fever. When we entered Day Two of the fever, I campaigned the paediatrician's office for an appointment (I can't help it; I instantly assume any fever that lasts more than a day is either an ear infection, or strep). "Her breathing has a definite harsh quality," said our no-nonsense doc. "I'd like to see her on inhaled medication. And she'll probably need antibiotics. I'll write you a prescription in case the fever doesn't go away on its own." Well, good to know. I headed to the pharmacy thinking, This is why Matt and I contribute to group health plans every paycheque. However: While the two puffers and the antibiotic liquid were fully covered by insurance, the AeroChamber — that clear plastic tube with a sealing mouthpiece that's recommended to ensure the inhaled medicine actually makes it to kids' lungs — was not covered. Which is kind of ridiculous, is it not, since very few kids can use an inhaler without the stinking AeroChamber. Sigh. Tax-in: $65 I wasn't expecting to spend this week. The prescriptions took half an hour to fill, I didn't get home with the girls until 8 pm (Matt had an appointment of his own), and they hadn't even eaten dinner yet. Thank goodness we had leftovers in the fridge. (In better news: Isobel is now on the mend.)

- In Toronto, and possibly across Canada, this is Dance Wear Weekend. Meaning, every child across the city is getting fitted for soft ballet shoes, and hard tap shoes and pointe shoes and parents are sweating over the high price of the required leotards and wrap skirts and flared shorts and capri pants. Some dance programs are more flexible than others — there are even a few that allow kids to dance in any shorts and T-shirt combo that makes them comfortable. However. Canada's National Ballet School, where Bronwyn dances in the Associates Program, and the local studio where Isobel will begin her first-ever dance classes (she chose the jazz-tap combo), do have strict uniform policies.

As Bronwyn's orientation session at NBS was Saturday, my plan was to arrive early and hit The Shoe Room next door, the ballet school's store, where we receive a 10% discount. Apparently that was everyone else's plan, too. We'd picked out jazz shorts for Bronwyn (who is adding jazz to her schedule of classes this year) and Isobel, and had finally made it to the front of the shoe-fitting line when I looked at my phone: Four minutes until the session. "Bronwyn," I said, "it's your choice. Do you want to wait a few more minutes, and get your shoes, which means we'll be late for the orientation; or do you want to try coming back?" Punctual to a tee, Bronwyn chose the latter. But after the session, the store was even more crowded.

"Bronwyn, your dance wear doesn't have to come from this store," I said, hearing in the background that The Shoe Room had run out of boys' tights. So we tried another store we knew close to home. The store was crowded, but much roomier than The Shoe Room. And — nice surprise — the jazz shorts cost about half the price. Even better surprise: We received 15% off our purchases because of the girls' affiliation with their respective dance schools. Money lesson here: Shopping around is always a good idea — even when you're shopping for a uniform.

So I spent money I wasn't counting on, but I also saved money I wasn't expecting to.

How was your first week back to school, financially speaking? Did you manage to stay on budget? Or, like me, did you struggle with surprise expenses?

This article was originally published on Sep 10, 2011

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