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Budgeting: Back-to-School

Back to School

As summer comes to a close, it's time to sharpen those fresh pencils and prepare for school starting again. But perhaps the most important back-to-school item you'll need is your budget. Take a look at these tips for creating – and sticking to – a back-to-school budget.

Plan it out.
Before you buy even one notebook, estimate how much you can afford to spend overall 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.

Here's what your budget might looks like (costs shown below are for illustrative purposes only):

Before you buy even one notebook, estimate how much you can afford to spend overall 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. (Keep reading for a bunch of creative ways to handle a shortage.)

Give some thought to what you'll do with any extra money in the budget. Will the kids get something special from their mile-long wishlists? Or will the surplus be added back into the household budget?

Sample Budget

Don't forget to factor in tax. As you shop, document the actual prices to track your spending to help stick to your budget. If you have money left over, decide if you will get those colored pens your child wanted, or spend it on something special from their mile-long wish list. Or, add the surplus back into the household budget.

How realistic is your budget? Try our Back-to-School calculator to find out.

Start early and take time to get ready.
It seems that sales for back-to-school gets earlier and earlier. The earlier you start, the more likely you'll be to avoid panic shopping at the last minute – and spending more than you can afford. Think ahead to find the best deals. Be on the lookout for the big back-to-school sales and go early. Before you recycle those weekly newspaper ads, scan them for retailer's sales on clothing and school supplies. Watch for coupons online, postcards and in the mail, and in-store promotions to look for deals. Even the big stores can sell out at the last minute.

Get the kids involved.
Back-to-school shopping is a great way to teach them about budgeting and money management.

Younger children can help cut coupons (with safety scissors). And older kids can compare costs and tally them up. You might even put them in charge of looking for deals to stay under budget. Use back-to-school shopping as an opportunity to lay the foundation for helping your children develop sound money management habits early. Help them understand the difference between needs and wants, and that purchasing one expensive item means less money to buy other items.

Get creative.
Who says back-to-school items have to be brand new? Trade clothes and books with other families, or hit the thrift stores and garage sales. If school uniforms are required, check whether the school has a trading or discount program. Also, take inventory of leftover items for last year; some may be reused, like pens and pencils.

Buying online? Play it smart! Order together with enough friends to get free shipping. Or buy bulk packs of supplies to share. You might also find a steal on eBay or Craigslist.

Learn from the experience.
Make your savvy back-to-school approach an annual tradition. Keep track of this year's expenses to help figure out the budget next year. Keep notes about what you discover, like where the best thrift stores are and when the store shelves start to empty. They'll come in handy a year from now. And if your kids' cost-savings decisions help you come out ahead, use it as a teachable moment to talk to them about what to do with the money that was saved.

Practice these smart shopping habits each year, and by the time the kids graduate, you'll have saved a bundle. And they'll be much more prepared for the real world.

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