FW-102 -- Keeping a Lid on School Prep Costs

------------- F R U G A L W A T C H ----------------------
A weekly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

March 23, 2007 Issue No. 102

***** Keeping a Lid on School Prep Costs ****
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----- Keeping a Lid on School Start Costs -----

Dear Frugalites,

Sorry for the long gap between issues this time! Long-term
readers will, no doubt, be used to it, but I do appreciate
your patience.

So, it's now almost April, which in Japan means: time for
the new school year and fiscal year to start. Before our son
was born, I had little appreciation for just how expensive
this time of year can be for families, but now I know -
school fees and supplies can really take a whack out of your
budget! Our son will be starting preschool three days a week
soon, and tuition, yearly fees, 'kyozai' (educational
materials), and supplies were over Y80,000.
Ouch! That figure can, of course, get much higher when you
have children entering elementary, junior high, or senior
high school - and amazing when they start university.
What's a parent to do?

Well, while your mileage will vary substantially depending
on the type of school, location, and other factors, here are
a two tips to help you weather the start of the school year
with less of a deficit.

Tip 1) Saving ahead for tuition payments.
First, let's look at the big one: tuition.
Most everyone realizes that education costs money. Even
Japanese public schools have various fees (lunch, books,
school uniforms, trips), and any schooling before first grade
(age 7) or after junior high school (about age 13/14) is not
part of gimukyoiku, or compulsory schooling, and requires even
greater expense. Saving ahead is of course the best way to
minimize the one-time impact on your budget.

If you're a long term resident and plan to educate your
children in Japan, there a few handy savings plans available
through both the Post Office and private insurance companies.
The Post Office offers 'gakushi hoken' or a combination
savings and insurance plan with pre-determined payouts to
conicide with your child's entrance into elementary, JHS,
SHS, or college. Essentially, you take out a 'policy' in
your child's name, preferably when they are very young.
Your monthly payments for the plan are determined by the
total amount of money you want paid out over the life of the
plan. The policy automatically includes a small life
insurance benefit for the child in question, and can also
include a 'scholarship (ikueikin)' component (payment of
school fees if one or both of the parents pass away).
There are of course a variety of options in terms of life
of plan (ending at age 15, 18, or 22) and savings amounts.
To research more, visit the Japan
Post homepage at:

Warning! It's all in rather complicated Japanese.
The best way to get details on these plans is to go to your
local post office insurance (Kanpo) window during a slow
period, and ask about gakushi hoken. It will take some time,
but as other foreign residents have successfully managed to
purchase a plan - I'm sure you can too!

If you would rather not use the post office, AFLAC also
offers gakushi hoken plans through a mail order service.
The plans are called 'Kawaii Kodomo Hoken' and operates on
essentially the same principles. The website is much easier
to navigate than the Post Office's, and can be found here:
The 'Simulation' button found at the button of the page in
katakana will automatically calculate a sample monthly
payment based on the applicant's age, their child's age, and
the desired plan amount. Note that the insurance rider (in
case of death of the parent) adds extra cost.

Tip 2): Shop early, and at a variety of places, for school
supplies. In Japan, preparing for school (especially for
kindergarden, day care, or elementary school) can take a
kind of Orwellian twist. Complicated requirements for
homemade bags of a certain size, math manipulatibles kits
with 20-30 small pieces that must be labeled with names
individually, and ridiculously expensive uniforms sold
through a single supplier are just some of the challenges
foreign mums and dads face.

As dictated by the laws of supply and demand, prices on
school supplies such as lunch boxes, nap futon, indoor shoes
(uwabaki), and bags rise the closer to the end of March you
approach. Conversely, mid-April is probably an excellent
time to purchase these items if you know what type you'll
need and where your child will go to school next year.
Besides large supermarkets or other retail outlets, there
are two frugal alternatives worth mentioning. The first is
the annual school bazaar at the school you plan to attend.
Here, gently used uniforms and school supplies (such as
required hats, smocks, recorders, painting kits, and other
items) may available for a great discount. Online auctions
are another good source for more general school supplies,
particularly 'handmade' items for those of us not so talented
in the sewing arena.
Try typing in the name of the items from your required
supplies list into Yahoo Auctions, Rakuten, or
www.bidders.co.jp. You might find a bargain, particularly
if you are shopping early.

Finally, it always pays to utilize local foreign networks.
Freecycle Japan, TellandSell Japan, and other lists are
excellent places to locate free or cheap items.

Hope these tips help you in your preparations for school
this year! Have a frugal, fun season!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura

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Written by: Wendy J. Imura (info@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

Copyright 2007 Japan Inc. Communications