Back-to-school shopping can be a huge expense for parents. According to a 2017 report, the average back-to-school tab for one student runs about the same as a mortgage payment – $1,000 for middle schoolers and $1500 for high school students. If you aren’t careful, you can end up overspending before they’ve even hit the books.
- Start with a List
Teachers send out those seemingly endless lists of supplies, but that’s not all that’s going to be eating up your back-to-school budget. Think about every expense that comes with the new school year. School supplies, yes – but don’t forget these other school-related expenses:
- School fees
- Extra gas (if you drive to school)
- Extracurricular fees and supplies
- Sports fees and equipment
- School lunches
- Doctor’s office fees for medical forms
- Picture day
- Classroom party fees
Check your school’s website or written communications to make sure you are budgeting for any fees that lie ahead. Include all those hidden expenses on your list. Resist the urge to shop till you have a full list in hand, or you may end up overspending before you’ve gotten all you need.
- Price It Out
Be sure you know what money you have available to spend, and then look again at your list. Put an estimated price next to each item. If it doesn’t line up with the money you have available to spend, it’s time to start rethinking how you will go about budgeting for the things they really need.
- Comparison Shop
Go through the circulars or websites for various retailers to compare prices. Retailers often offer deep discounts on popular items during busy sales seasons to lure you into the store. The idea is that you will come for the sale on notebook paper, for instance, and then pay full price for your pens. Savvy shoppers can take advantage of the hottest deals by doing their homework before hitting the aisles.
- Shop on Tax-Free Day
Laws vary from state to state, but sales tax holidays can help you save just as back-to-school spending hits. Check the list to discover the laws applicable to your state.
- Hit the Thrift Stores
Thrift stores designed specifically for sports equipment can help cut the cost of gear for your budding basketball or soccer star. And don’t discredit thrift store shopping for clothing, either. Smart thrift store shopping can save you a bundle on trendy styles.
- Recycle Your Reads
A high school English class may require five books. New, those books might cost $100. A used bookstore may have the same titles for half that or even less. Better yet, ask friends who’ve already taken the class if you can borrow theirs for the year. And why not recycle last year’s books by selling them at the used bookstore or passing them on to a friend with a student who could use them?
- Plan to Pack
School lunch prices can vary widely from state to state. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a state where free lunches are the norm, you might pay up to $6 or more a day for school lunch. That can add up to more than $1,000 per year per student. Ask about income-based assistance programs available at your school. If you don’t qualify, you may find it costs less to pack than to buy the school lunch.
- Rethink “New”
For many people, a new school year signals a fresh start. And that can make you want to buy all new things. But that might not be the wisest plan. Many of the items you invested in at the start of last year probably have a lot of life left in them. Backpacks, lunchboxes, locker locks, pencil cases, calculators – these things typically have a lifespan greater than a single school year.
If your kids are fussing over reusing last year’s pencil pouch, include them in planning. Give them a say in which items simply must be new (the latest style of sneakers, for example) and which ones they don’t mind reusing (that trendy backpack they just had to have last fall, perhaps). As for items like notebooks and pens, start with what you have. Inventory what you already have lurking in junk drawers and pencil cups before you spend money on more.
- Shop Alone
When it’s time to actually hit the stores for supplies, it may just be best to leave the kids at home, especially if you have trouble saying no to requests that are not on the list.
Know Your Limits
If you are still having trouble stretching your finances to meet the rising costs of back-to-school shopping, write down your options. Maybe there are less expensive clubs or sports to consider. Perhaps a call to the principal might unlock some financial assistance. Or maybe a payday loan* can help you get over the back-to-school hump. Whatever you choose, planning ahead can help ensure that back-to-school shopping doesn’t break the bank.
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