Back to School on a Budget

By Angela Caban

Summer is coming to a close and if you are a parent of school-age children, that means you have one more thing to look forward to - back to school shopping. For many, this quickly becomes a headache - money starts flying from your wallet, and before you know it you’ve pretty much bought stock in Target. But never fear! Here are some tips to make the most of your time and money this season!

Make a Plan

Getting your kids back to school can be effortless - if you plan ahead. Take the time to figure out a set amount you are comfortable spending. Calculate about 5% to 7% of your monthly net income per child on back to school items. Then gather the list that the school or teacher gave you for the new school year. If you have more than one kid, condense those lists into one larger list for quicker and easier shopping. Divide your list into sections depending on where you will find those items in the store. For example, put hand sanitizer and tissues under the “healthcare” section and crayons and pencils under the “office supplies” section.

If you plan to shop at different stores, make a list for each store so that you can simply pull out that store’s list when you arrive. Make your supply list according to the deals you are able to find online. Of course, double check coupons in your local newspaper and online to see if you can get even more savings! However, don’t purchase a certain brand of something just because you have a coupon. If the generic brand is cheaper even with the coupon, buy that instead!

Individual stores may have exclusive deals as well. I know I am always looking at our Military Exchange flyer, and circling the deals. Target is also becoming well-known for their store coupons, which they use in conjunction with manufacturer coupons. They also have the Target Cartwheel app, which allows you to get discounts (anywhere from 5% to 20%) on different items throughout the store. And don’t ever put aside the value of a dollar store! Many of your school supply items are sold there including pencils, folders, crayons, composition books, poster board, etc.

Talk to the Kids

As much as you think a binder is just a binder, it is much more than that for your kids. Let them in on the decision making BEFORE you get to the stores. Are there any specific colors or designs they would like for some of the supplies? Let them choose one special item that will be used more frequently. It will save you the headache of having nine different One Direction folders that cost twice as much as the plain ones!

Clothes, Clothes, and More Clothes

Unless your children go to a school where uniforms are required, you will also have to face the battle of clothing shopping. Your approach to shopping for new clothes should be much like your approach for school supplies - make a list of the essential items your children will need, condense the list (if applicable), and divide the lists by different stores according to the best deals.

There are a few ways you can save money without buying a whole closet of brand new clothes for your kids, especially if they are younger. Take advantage of any consignment stores in your area. These are great for younger kids, usually up to about the age of six or seven. Otherwise, places like your local Military Exchange, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross are great discounted options. Again, like the school supply shopping, allow your kids to pick out a few special new items for them to add to their wardrobe. Let them pick their first day of school outfit. Don’t be afraid to shop for out of season stuff (i.e., summer items) as well- they will need it eventually!

Take the Time

With your shopping list, coupons, and discounts in hand, head out to the stores. My advice is to take one full day to get all of your school supply shopping done without the kids (if possible). Take another half day with your children to let them pick out those few, previously agreed upon special items.

Back to school shopping can be exhausting, but with a little planning and some thought, it can become a little bit easier and much more affordable. Perhaps by the time the kids are back in school, you’ll only have opened one bottle of wine!


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