Back-to-school time brings the smell of newly sharpened pencils, fresh crayons and flowing cash. If the idea of spending so much cash for school needs gets you down, take a look at these tips for creating – and sticking to – a back-to-school budget.
“Start early, and take time to get ready,” advises LSU AgCenter family economist Dr. Jeanette Tucker. It doesn't take much to turn the school's supply list into a shopping list. When you add in school clothes, backpacks and back-to-school haircuts, the cost grows exponentially.
Before you buy the first notebook, however, Tucker says to estimate the total you can spend and what the costs are likely to be.
“Don't leave anything out! It's better to know ahead of time if things will be tight so that you can plan ways to cut before you get to the store,” Tucker says.
Give some thought to what you'll do if there happens to be any extra money in the back-to-school budget, too. Will the kids get something special from their mile-long wish lists? Or will the surplus be added back into the family budget?
“Plan ahead to find the best deals,” Tucker says. “Be on the lookout for back-to-school sales and bargain prices, and shop early! Even the big stores can sell out quickly.”
How realistic is your budget? Tucker suggests using Practical Money Skills’ Back-to-School Budget Calculator.
Get the kids involved. Have the kids join in as you prepare for making those back-to-school purchases. Hands-on participation will teach them great lessons about budgeting, finding a good deal and the difference between wants and needs.
“Younger children can help cut coupons (with safety scissors, of course). And older kids can compare costs and add up projected expenses,” Tucker advises. You might even put them in charge of research – scouting out deals to help stay under budget.
Be willing to compromise. Sure, kids will want to have the same cool stuff their friends have and the latest gadgets with all the bells and whistles. If your budget has the room to consider some of these cool things, you can help your kids learn to prioritize, Tucker says.
“Talk to them about how choosing a more expensive item means they'll have to cut costs on another item, and give them a chance to think their choices through,” she says. “If they have money of their own, you might ask them to help fund that special lunchbox or name-brand backpack.”
Get creative to slash the shopping bill. There's a good chance school clothes and shoes are the biggest items in your back-to-school budget. But who says they have to be brand new?
“Now is a good time for older siblings to clean closets to locate hand-me-downs or trade clothes with other families,” Tucker explains. “Shop discount, thrift stores and garage sales. If school uniforms are required, check whether the school has a trading or discount program.”
Buying online? Play it smart! Group orders with friends to get free shipping. Or buy bulk packs of supplies at office or warehouse stores to share. You might also find a steal on Internet auctions such as eBay or Craigslist.
Learn from the experience, Tucker says, by making your savvy back-to-school approach an annual tradition. Keep track of this year's expenses to help determine your budget next year. Keep notes about what you discover this year, like which thrift stores are best and when the store shelves start to empty. They'll come in handy a year from now.
“Practice these smart shopping skills each year, and by the time the kids graduate, you'll have saved a bundle,” Tucker stresses, adding, “And your children will be much more prepared for the real world.”
Editor: Mark Claesgens