Every August you have to prepare the kids for another school year, and without pre-planning, back-to-school shopping can put a big dent in your household budget. You could try to create a back-to-school budget over the summer and set money aside for essentials such as new clothes, school supplies, equipment, and other necessities. Of course, budgeting for kids’ school needs is challenging because needs change each year.
The best way to prepare for back-to-school spending is by combining a back-to-school budget with money saving strategies that will help you cut down on costs. There are a number of ways you can save on back-to-school shopping and teach your kids some valuable monetary lessons at the same time!
Get Started with a Back-to-School Plan
Start by creating a list of back-to-school supplies. If possible, see if you can get a list of requirements from the school in advance. You can also add the items you know your kids are likely to need based on past experience.
This is where you can get the kids involved. Ask them to make their own list of what they need for school, including supplies, clothes, sports or musical equipment, a new backpack, and whatever else they can think of. Once you have combined your list with their list, you can prioritize items you should buy before school starts and items you can purchase later.
Be sure to take inventory of school supplies you may already have in the house. Once you have your supply list, you can have the kids help you locate what they need for school—make it a treasure hunt. Chances are you still have much of what they need for school left from last year.
Now you are ready to go back-to-school shopping. This is where some careful budgeting and money saving tips can help you save as you stock up for the school year.
Create a Back-to-School Budget
Create a back-to-school budget. You can enlist the kids’ help here as well.
Make a list of all the school supplies you need for the first day of school, eliminate those items that you have already found around the house, then estimate costs for each remaining item. Your children can help you with estimating the prices of the items they need; it’s a good way to help them understand what things really cost.
You also can get the kids to help pay for their own school supplies. Have them do chores around the house in exchange for items they want to add to the list, especially any extra things they want that aren’t must-haves. Another way you can get them to start saving for the school year early is by helping them open a Junior Savers Club savings account where they can save back-to-school money.
Back-to-School Saving Tips
When it comes to actual back-to-school shopping, there are a number of money saving tips to consider:
1. Shop at office supply stores and grocery stores.
You can often find inexpensive office supplies at places such as the home goods aisle of your grocery store or a dollar store. Also consider picking up bargains at your local Staples or OfficeMax.
2. Try a back-to-school swap.
You could organize a back-to-school supply swap with other parents. If you pool your school supplies from last year, you can outfit your kids with much of what they will need.
3. Shop garage sales and thrift stores.
Some of the bigger ticket items, such as clothes, sports equipment, and backpacks, might be available secondhand. You can also look for gently used bicycles and scooters if your child will be riding or walking to school.
4. Avoid trendy purchases until later in the school year.
If there is a specific brand or style that is in vogue with your kids’ peers, wait until after the back-to-school rush to make a purchase. The prices will likely drop and trends are likely to change.
5. Buy quality goods.
Even if you are trying to save on back-to-school shopping, it pays to spend a little more for things that will last. Inexpensive shoes, for example, will likely tear or wear out sooner, and cheap lunch boxes can wear out before the winter break.
6. Consider using credit cards for back-to-school purchases.
If you use the right credit cards, you can get cash back and other benefits that will offset some of the cost of school supplies. Credit cards also help you spread the cost of back-to-school shopping over months so it won’t have as big an impact on your household budget.
7. Pack lunches.
Ask your kids what they would like to pack for lunch rather than buying school lunches. It may seem obvious, but you can save a lot if you send them with lunch from home instead of having them buy lunch in the cafeteria. In Missouri, the average elementary school lunch is $2.55, and middle and high school lunches are $2.80. If you pack lunches instead of buying school lunches, you can save from $438-$481 per year for each child.
However you choose to approach back-to-school shopping, be smart and plan ahead so it doesn’t disrupt the family budget. If you can create a back-to-school budget and save in advance, you’ll be ahead of the game! If you can’t plan until the last minute, then be creative so you don’t have to break the bank. And be sure to include your kids in the process of planning and purchasing back-to-school supplies as part of their financial education.