It’s that time of year… back-to-school season!
Are you staring at a back-to-school supply list a mile long wondering how you’re going to afford it all?
Here are some quick tips to help you create a plan that won’t break the bank and will get your kid back to school on a budget.
Prioritize your back to school shopping list
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the back-to-school supply lists, sale items, and advertising.
But you can save yourself some time and money by sitting down and determining exactly what your student needs.
Make a list of school supplies you’ll need for the upcoming school year and prioritize the most important items.
This will help make sure you don’t overspend on things you may not really need or can delay purchasing.
Take inventory of what you already have
You may feel rushed to go out and buy new stuff before school starts, but first, take your list and shop around your house.
You probably already have some of the supplies you need. Things like binders, backpacks, paper, and pencils leftover from last year’s school supplies may just have been hidden away when summer break came.
Searching your house for what you need is a great way to save some extra cash and avoid putting a dent in your family budget.
Make a back-to-school budget
You’ve got your list, now it’s time to estimate your costs and make a plan for exactly what you’re going to spend. (You can get an idea of what things will cost by checking prices online.)
Once you have an idea of the total cost it’s time to check your budget and make sure you have enough money to cover it.
If you’re coming up short of funds, look for ways you can adjust either what you’re buying or other areas of your budget.
For example, are there any supplies you can delay purchasing? Or can you pull money out of your travel budget to help cover the costs?
Also, make sure you stick to your spending amount by switching to cash for your purchases.
By leaving your credit cards and debit cards at home you’ll make sure you stay within your spending limit.
There are several ways you can reduce your back-to-school costs simply by becoming a more savvy shopper.
For the most part, generic items are just as effective as their name-brand counterparts.
A 50 cent box of crayons will color just as well as a $3 box.
It can be tempting to do all your back-to-school shopping at one local store just to get it over with.
But if you’re trying to save money do the research and see which stores have the deals for the items you need.
Once you’re armed with your price comparisons you may still be able to avoid trips to multiple stores by price matching.
Check your local store’s price matching policy to see where you can shop to save time and money.
Understand the difference between low cost and low quality
You may be looking to buy cheap supplies but don’t make the mistake of sacrificing quality.
Getting good value for your money is the goal if you want to avoid re-purchasing some items later in the school year.
For example, a cheap backpack that falls apart with the weight of textbooks will only lead to the need for buying another one.
Shop at dollar stores
Many people may not realize their local dollar stores have school and office supplies.
You can often find the essential school supplies you’ll need like pencils, crayons, poster board, and even snacks.
A lot of things at the dollar store may be low-quality though, so you’ll want to make sure anything you buy there falls under the “value” category vs “cheap.”
Buy in bulk
Consider shopping for your back-to-school supplies at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club to get some items cheaper in bulk.
Any consumable items like pens and pencils, erasers, and binders, may be cheaper to buy in bulk. Especially if you have multiple kids you’re buying supplies for.
You may not think of school supplies as something you can buy used, but many people donate things their kids no longer need.
The local thrift stores and consignment shops are a great place to find great deals on backpacks and clothing items, usually in good condition.
Use cash back apps
And don’t forget to use a receipt scanning app like Fetch to get rewarded for your school shopping simply by taking a picture of your receipt.
Get rewarded just for snapping pictures of your receipts. No pre-selecting offers, no scanning barcodes, no surveys, no ads – just scan your receipts and earn points!
Take advantage of state sales-tax holiday
Some states offer sales-tax holidays to help reduce the overall cost of back-to-school expenses for families.
Depending on your state and city sales tax you could save a good chunk, especially on more expensive items like computers, printers, and calculators.
Delay some expenses
One way to make sure you stick to your back-to-school budget is to delay any expenses that may not be absolutely necessary right now.
For example, while you may need some new school clothes, remember that the seasons will change and your child will grow.
You’ll likely be needing new clothes every few months to account for these changes.
Instead of buying a complete school wardrobe at the start of the year, take the opportunity to spread that expense out throughout the year.
You can also save money by waiting to buy specifically promoted back-to-school items.
Most retailers have a single area where they promote seasonal items.
We may roll our eyes when we see Halloween sections at the store in August, but in order for stores to put out their Halloween items, they have to clear out the Back-to-School stuff.
If you can wait to buy things like new backpacks and lunch boxes until a few weeks of school have passed you can save a lot of money buying them on clearance, usually anywhere from 30-70% off.
Plan for the school year ahead
You may be stressing about back-to-school expenses now but the reality is there’s an entire school year filled with extra expenses ahead.
Create a budget for ongoing school expenses
While you’re in a budgeting mindset, now’s a good time to plan ahead for these other costs.
Think about what monthly costs you may have associated with the kids being back in school and add them to your budget now.
Things like school lunch and after-school care may have fallen off your budget radar during the summer break.
Create a sinking fund for future school expenses
Don’t get caught off guard by infrequent or unexpected costs that may pop up throughout the school year.
Think back to the seasonal and one-off expenses you had last year and start sinking funds to save for them now.
Here are some ideas to add to your school budget category to cover expenses that may catch you by surprise:
- sports equipment and registration
- school band fees and instrument rentals
- extracurricular activities
- music lessons
- school activities
- field trips
- teacher gifts
Ways to pad your back-to-school budget
It can seem like an impossible task to fund all these extra budget categories and sinking funds, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few ways to increase your savings.
Try a savings challenge
One of my favorite ways to save money is to take on savings challenges.
Not only are they extremely effective, but they can be kind of fun when you get the whole family involved.
If you need to save some money fast, the best way is to start with a no-spend challenge.
By eliminating unnecessary expenses for a period of time you’ll build your savings fast.
If you’re just looking for an easy way to save money over time, Peak Money is a great app that will automate the process for you.
From rounding up your purchases to saving a percentage of every dollar you spend, Peak will make automatic transfers from your bank account to help you save without even trying.
Start a side hustle
Another option for filling your back-to-school funds is to earn extra money on the side.
The gig economy has opened the doors to all sorts of new ways to make some money.
From grocery shopping and food delivery to teaching English to kids across the world, there’s an opportunity for almost everybody.
You could even include your kids in on the fun.
Older kids could start their own side hustles (babysitting, lawn care, etc.) while younger kids can help you out with things like feeding or walking the neighbor’s dog.
Sell your stuff
One of the easiest ways to make more money is to sell things you don’t use.
You may be surprised by how much money you can earn from selling old books, electronics, furniture, and even the clothes your kids have outgrown.
Many neighborhoods now have community garage sales you can participate in, or you can sell your stuff online with eBay and with apps like Poshmark.
Back to School on a Budget
With back-to-school season in full swing, it can be a stressful and expensive time if you don’t plan ahead.
The shopping and budgeting tips above will help you not only save money now but also plan for the new school year ahead and be prepared to go back to school on a budget next year.