Money Saving 301

Back to School Tips

August 21, 2023

Back-to-school season may be a challenging time for families. Inflation is making supplies more expensive. Kids have more anxiety than ever. And supply chain issues are still making it challenging to get what you need, including online order shipments.

Here are our tips for navigating these challenges for a great back-to-school experience.

Prepare Mentally

Our first thought about back-to-school is often about supplies and sales. But now more than ever, mental preparation is important, as children are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety.

So how can you help? Consider these options:

  • Meet the new teacher. For elementary school students, meeting their new teachers in advance can help reduce anxiety about a new school year.
  • Tour the classroom or school. For young kids, especially those starting school for the first time, experiencing their new environment for the first time with you can provide comfort and assurance. If your student is advancing to a new junior high or high school, consider going to the new building and walking through their class schedule from room to room. Locate the lunchroom and convenient bathrooms as well as the drop-off and pick-up locations. Take your time and stay positive with your student.
  • Look for friendly faces. Some schools list the students in each class. It can help to look for a friend or two from the previous school year so your student knows there will be friendly faces. If your child is anxious or has a hard time starting the year, planning hang-out time with one of these friends before school starts can help make their transition easier.
  • Prepare a study space. Agree on a location for studying and homework in an effort to help your child succeed. Helping prepare a study space can ease anxiety and transition and even prevent later disagreements. Drawing a picture to hang in their space, choosing a pencil holder, and similar activities can help children make the space their own. With older kids, you can provide your requirements for their homework spot and let them create their study space. If you like, provide a budget and let them choose a few supplies.

With a little planning, you can get your family ready for a smooth transition – and a great year.

Plan Ahead

It may sound obvious, but planning ahead is the best way to get ready for a transition. Help your family prepare for back-to-school with these easy tips.

  • Create a back-to-school To-Do list. Try to sit down together and talk about the year. Are there things you want to do before school starts? Write them down. Do you have a vision for how you want the school year to go? Write it down, then talk about how to make it happen. It may also help to talk about the difference between wants and needs with your kids, then make a list of each.
  • Plan your routine. A little planning can make a big difference, especially in the mornings.
    • Write down what time each family member needs to catch the bus, leave for work, etc. Help kids work backward to see what time they need to get up.
    • Think about breakfast options; it’s a good idea to have one “to-go” option, like a protein bar, in case someone is running late.
    • Will your kids pack lunch? If so, talk about doing that together at the same time each night. You can take advantage of our thrifty school lunch ideas, as well find some after school snack ideas.
    • What time are sports practices or other activities during the week?
    • What dinners do you want, and who will make them? When?
    • Think about what time electronics should be turned off (at least 1-2 hours before bedtime to avoid the negative effects on sleep, say experts).

      Asking lots of questions and writing things down can help keep everyone on the same page. You can put these details on paper, on a chalkboard or wipe-off board, or in an app. Apps like Google Calendar and Cozi allow all family members to see the schedule.

  • Practice your routine. It can be helpful for your family to practice the routine you’ve set up, especially if a child is entering a new school, going to school for the first time, or starting to ride the bus. Take some time to do a run-through and answer your kids’ questions. Be sure everyone knows their role, their tasks, and where they’re supposed to be both in the morning and after school.
  • Start getting to sleep earlier (parents and children). This may seem simple, but bedtime changes can complicate matters when school starts. Getting on your school-year schedule early can help your family make a smooth transition into the new year. Again, talk about the routine and expectations in advance. Set bedtime alarms.
  • Prepare as much as possible the night before. No matter where you are in the school year, setting things out and preparing the night before can help the day go smoothly. Teach your child to gather everything in their bookbag and choose an outfit before bed. Prepare lunches before bed if that’s part of your routine. Make sure kids have their sports equipment together if they have a practice after school. Teaching your kids to think ahead and prepare can help them for the rest of their lives.

Save Money on School Supplies

Back-to-school supplies can really stress a household budget. But there are ways to save money on school supplies.

Evaluate the most cost-effective options before asking your kids what they want, especially if you’re on a budget. Choose the best value bookbag, for example, then let your kids pick the color they want. With older kids and teens, you can even make it a learning experience: provide a budget, then work together to get all the items they need within that spending limit.

Approach shopping thoughtfully using these tips to save money.

  • Get your supply list before school starts. This way you can make the most of early sales. Don’t wait until the last minute. With ongoing supply and shipping challenges, last-minute purchases might not arrive in time or items could be unavailable. If you need laptops for students, you’ll need to know in advance to budget – and to get the best deals.
  • Set a budget before you shop. Figure out how much you can afford before you shop to be sure you don’t spend money you don’t have. If you can’t afford all your child’s supplies, contact the school in advance to see if assistance is available for these items. If you have financial challenges and/or bad credit, Check `n Go may be able to help with an installment loan.
  • Reuse items or buy used. Help your kids understand why it’s important to reuse things: taking care of the earth, saving money for other things, etc. Save on kids’ clothes by visiting resale shops like Once Upon a Child, Goodwill, or Plato’s Closet for clothes and more. Check for supplies you already have, or trade items with neighbors and other parents. Retailers like Play It Again Sports can be a great resource for used sports supplies. Facebook Marketplace can help you find local deals, too.
  • Make the most of savings. Look for coupons or coupon codes and back-to-school sales. Check advertisements and online sites comparing sales. Shop on your state’s sales-tax holiday, if you have one. Avoid excessive stops by asking retailers if they will price match another store’s prices. Use a cash-back credit card or discounted gift cards to your advantage, and shop where you get fuel points and discounts. You can also use the ship-to-store option with retailers to avoid shipping charges – and save time in the store.
  • Shop without the kids. Kids can get very excited about items they see when they’re in the store. Arguments can ensue, creating frustration and anxiety for everyone. Keep things simple and evaluate options yourself to help you stay within your budget.
  • Buy in bulk. If you have multiple kids in school, consider buying larger packages of items they all need. For example, buying a 100-pack of pencils may cost you the same as four ten-pack boxes. You may be able to save by buying cases of tissues, folders, notebooks and more online from retailers like Walmart or Amazon. Kids of all ages can make supplies their own with artwork, magazine collages, and water-bottle stickers (which you can buy inexpensively in packs of 50 or 100 from Amazon).
  • Choose items that last. Particularly with more expensive items, consider spending a little more on things that will last. Find a quality school backpack that will last for multiple school years, like those from LL Bean, and communicate that expectation to your child. Buy clothes and coats a size larger to get the most wear from them. Look at stores like TJ Maxx or online/local resale shops to find high-quality items used or at a discount.
  • Do a little research. Look for online reviews, like the Back-to-School Essentials Guide from, to help choose quality items. Online sites and articles can also help you find the best sales, like CNN’s guide.

With a bit of preparation, research, and conversation, this start to the school year could be your family’s best yet. If you need a little extra help with your finances, learn more about our installment loans.

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