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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. Check your child's school "Supply List" of essentials that they need to arrive with on the first day of school. Some schools may provide additional discounts through various retail outlets, so check with your school administrators for this information before shopping.

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

Sample Budget

Don't forget to factor in tax. Many states have useful sales tax holidays which include school supplies, books, and clothing. 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 and be on the lookout for the big back-to-school sales. 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. Kids can help compare costs online. 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 and build organizational skills. 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. Assessing what you already own beforehand helps avoid buying unnecessary items.

Shop online wisely.
Buying online? Play it smart! During the back-to-school season, some stores offer free shipping depending on how total spend. Order together with friends and family to meet the quota and get free shipping. Buying supplies and food in bulk can also reduce costs in the long run. Stay on the look out for deals sent via email and search for coupon codes. You might also find a steal on eBay or Craigslist.

Choose appropriate electronics
As technology advances, the use of electronics is continually evolving and changing the classroom environment. While rules regarding technology differ from school to school, technology is an important – and expensive – tool. Before making costly decisions, evaluate which devices will be most useful and appropriate for your kids, whether it's a laptop, tablet or smartphone for use inside or outside the classroom. Downloading our free educational finance apps is another great way to blend technology and learning.

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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