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Plan for potential expenses to help your budget survive senior year

If your child is a high school senior, there are a lot more money issues you need to know than the cost of the SAT and college application fees. You'll also need to consider how much money, if any, to shell out for such things as yearbook photos, a senior class ring, the letter jacket and the phenomenon known as the senior trip.

I raise this subject because I now have one senior year foray under my belt, and over those many months, I tripped across numerous budget killers and unplanned expenses that lightened my wallet.

To help you get through the year with at least a modest sum left over for college, here are some potential expenses to plan for. Take a good look at them _ it may help you and your high-schooler decide what to spend money on and who will pay.

COLLEGE PREP: These costs will start hitting you in waves over the next few weeks. There are fees for the SAT and ACT, which can be retaken multiple times. The basic registration fee also covers only four score reports to colleges, so you'll be charged extra for each additional school on your list. For the SAT, go to www.collegeboard.com for a rundown of the relevant fees and details; for the ACT, go to www.actstudent.org.

Test preparation books and college reference guidebooks can cost $20 to $40 a pop, though they're also available in school and public libraries.

If your son or daughter is interested in visiting a college, it may require booking airline and hotel reservations weeks in advance to get the cheapest rates. To get a feel for a school without hitting a landing strip, check out school Web sites for virtual campus tours.

Finally, keep in mind that colleges charge application fees of $40 or more, though charges may be reduced or waived for online applicants and for families that can't afford the fees.

YEARBOOK PHOTOS: Your school may provide a free or low-cost photo service for the school yearbook. But many parents choose to hire their own professional photographer to take additional portraits. Depending on the number of photos you want and the amount of time it takes, the cost could run into the hundreds of dollars.

LETTER JACKETS: Suppose your teen earns a varsity letter for the first time for athletic, music or academic accomplishments. Based on my experience last year, figure on shelling out $200 or more.

I didn't regret paying for the jacket, even though I knew full well it would be left hanging in my teen's bedroom closet after graduation day.

TRAVEL: If it hasn't come up already, sometime this fall or early winter you'll hear rumblings about the senior spring break trip. These, of course, are often nonsanctioned, nonschool events to places like Mexico, Florida and the Texas gulf coast. If this is in the works, who's going to pay for it?

GRADUATION PRODUCTS, GIFTS AND PARTIES: Graduation announcements, thank-you notes, cap and gown rentals _ it all adds up. Despite the inclination to go overboard, my recommendation is to keep the bric-a-brac to a minimum. After all, you'll probably be the one dusting the stuff for the next four or so years.

Also, there could be graduation gifts, not just for your teen, but for relatives and friends. If you are planning a graduation open house, it may require booking food and entertainment in advance.

During my son's senior year in high school, I can't tell you how many checks I wrote to pay for things like airline tickets to college towns, yearbook photos and the ceramic mug that featured the senior class roster on the back.

Still, we passed on a lot of stuff, such as the class ring, the memory books and a graduation party. I also believed in my son's chipping in cash to cover some expenses, which he did without much grumbling.

To be sure, senior year might not be cheap. But, with a bit of planning, your budget just might survive. Then, if your student is going off to college, you can look forward to writing the really big checks.

_ KANSAS CITY STAR

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