Time for Parents to Plan and Save for Back to School

By on September 6, 2017

Summer is winding down and retailers are stocking up on school supplies and that means it’s time to get the kids ready to go back to school! Time to stock up on the basics that will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers. Although students will need a myriad of supplies and clothes, the most important back to school items for parents are going to be a budget and a plan.

Back to school shopping in August and September is the second largest yearly retail event, just behind the holiday shopping season. Budgeting for back to school shopping can be an overwhelming task but outfitting your child with everything they need for the new school year doesn’t have to break the bank. Follow these simple guidelines for planning, purchasing and saving on school necessities.

Back to School Budgeting in 3 Steps

#1 – Plan Ahead, Take Inventory and Build a Budget

Before you buy even one notebook, you will need to know what you need, and what you already have on hand before you can estimate how much you can afford to spend overall and what the costs are likely to be.

Start a List of Everything Needed
Local discount and office supply stores now feature checklist kiosks for nearby schools. You child’s school web sites are another good source for supply lists. From here, you (and your children) can discuss other supplemental supplies and desirables such as new clothes or sports equipment. Don’t leave any required or coveted items off the list, it’s better to know ahead of time if you are on a tight budget.

Shop at Home
Any item already on-hand is a bonus freebie, so check your home for pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks and binder paper. When it comes to back to school clothes, take inventory of what your kids have. Don’t assume that your kids have outgrown all their clothes and need a new wardrobe. Take the time to make them try on what is in their closet and drawers to figure out which clothing items they really need. Then plan on buying items that can easily be mixed and matched.

Set a Budget
Decide how much you plan to spend for back-to-school shopping this year. Past spending is a good starting point to this year’s budget. Look at last year’s credit card statements to get an idea of what you spent last season.

As you do your shopping, keep a record of your purchases and be aware of how these purchases fit into your overall budget. Don’t forget to factor in applicable tax. Consider which items are non-negotiable and which ones are helpful but non-essential.

In addition, you will want to give some thought to what you will do with any extra money in the budget. Will you buy a goodie from your child’s wish list, do something fun or put the surplus back into the household budget.

#2 – Time to Shop Smart: Compare Prices, Buy on Discount and SAVE

School supply aisles look like toy departments these days and kids have big eyes for school-day toys and unnecessary items. Stick to your list and budget as you shop. Then be sure to take advantage of the many ways to save, from retailer discounts to Labor Day clothing sales and sales tax holidays.

Shop Around
While shopping, keep your eyes open since just about every retailer wants a piece of the fall back to school shopping action. Supplies pop up in the oddest places, like crafts stores, dollar stores and supermarkets, so shop off the beaten path for good prices. This strategy is particularly useful with big ticket items like electronics and computers; companies such as Apple or the HP Academy Store offer huge discounts at this time of year.

Buy in Bulk
Basic items such as paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks are often sold in bulk at wholesale prices. Consider sharing the costs with a group of other parents then divide up the items. You may end up with extra items left over which you can use for stocking stuffers during the holidays or set up a supply container at home that can be used all year to avoid late shopping trips when your child runs out. Plus, you will know where to find unused items when it comes time to shop for supplies next year.

Take Advantage of Seasonal Sales-tax Breaks
A number of states are offering parents an easy way to save. Various back to school items are exempt from sales taxes. If you are buying big-ticket items and do not live in one of these state, you might consider crossing state lines to get the tax break.

#3 – Involve Children in the Budgeting and Shopping Process

Children are natural consumers, constantly cheering “I want” for the next best thing they see in stores. Parents can use the back to school shopping experience as an opportunity to explain the difference between wants and needs. Include the kids in planning, budgeting and shopping for school supplies so they understand how their choices affect the whole family.

For younger children, tell them how much they can spend so they buy only what they need. They can help cut coupons and you can motivate them to keep spending under control by telling them they can keep any cash they don’t spend.
Ask children who receive an allowance or older kids who have money from a summer job to contribute to the budget, especially if they want to buy items not required. If kids are expected to help pay for back-to-school items, they will be more price-conscious. Use back to school shopping as an opportunity to lay the foundation for helping your children develop a respect for money and good financial habits.

School Shopping is as Easy as A-B-C

Practice these smart shopping habits each year, and by the time the kids graduate, you will have saved a bundle and taught them some vital skills for a successful life ahead. If you find your spending is continually out of control during the fall, you may benefit from setting up a separate savings account so you can put more money away or cut your expenses with the assistance of a smartphone app, financial advisor and/or diligent comparison shopping.

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About Terri A. Kamoto

Senior writer for FSN - Terri is a former financial analyst dedicated to making personal finances, budgeting, investment and insurance advice accessible, up to date and easy to understand. It is hard to find professional advice written in a language someone without a financial background can understand. Terri helps companies synthesize industry lingo and expertise into clear and informative content which builds smarter, financially successful individuals. You can find Terri on !

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