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Budgeting for Back to School

Budgeting for Back to School

In our last blog post, we discussed some ways to save money on back to school shopping (check it out here). Now, we’re going to take a look at how to budget for those expenses. The average spending on back to school supplies has grown 42% in the past 10 years. According to National Retail Federation’s “Back-to-School Spending Survey” the average family with children in grades K-12 plans to spend around $630.36 this year on electronics, apparel, and other school needs, down from $669.28 last year.

Before you buy even one pencil, estimate how much you can afford to spend overall and what the costs are likely to be. It’s better to know ahead of time if things will be tight. Check the school’s “Supply List” of essentials that they’ll 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’s administrator for this information before going shopping.

Budgeting for something like back to school shopping is so important because it can easily get out of hand and then you’ll get hit with the enormous credit card bills next month.

Here’s a free online budgeting tool to help you: http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/calculators/calculate/backToSchoolBudget.php?calcCategory=family

Budgeting Tips for Successful and Frugal Back to School Shopping:

  1. Use the 50/20/30 Rule – Haven’t heard of this money management rule yet? It’s pretty simple. It means that 50% of your total monthly income should go towards the essentials, such as the mortgage, car loan, utilities, and food. Then, 20% should go towards your financial responsibilities like debt payments, retirement account, college savings, emergency savings, etc. The last 30% should go to whatever you choose, i.e. entertainment, back to school shopping, going out to eat, hobbies, etc. Keep this in mind when you’re creating the budget for back to school shopping.
  2. School Supply List – Sample list of some items you might be required to get for your child:
    • Box of Crayons (box of 24)
    • Pencil/crayon box
    • Pencils (12)
    • Notebooks (3)
    • Glue sticks (10)
    • Large pink erasers (2)
    • Safety scissors
    • Yellow highlighter
    • Thin, low odor dry erase markers (4)
    • Plain 3 prong fastener-2 pocket folders (1 Yellow, 1 Blue, 1 Red, 1 Orange, 1 Purple, and 1 green = 6 total)
    • Boxes of tissues (3)
    • Set of headphones for computer lab
    • Box of quart, re-sealable baggies
    • Extra change of clothes
    • Art shirt
    • Calculator
    • Pens (5)
    • Colored pencils (1 set)
    • Post-it notes (5 pack)
    • Ruler
    • Hand sanitizer (1 small bottle)
  3. Spreadsheets are your friend – Having a spreadsheet will not only help with your budget, but it can also provide an inventory list, and a “still need this” list for all of the school supplies. It’s important to have these lists because you want to curb impulse buys as much as possible. If you stick to the list then you’ll save more money.
  4. Use cash instead of credit cards – You always spend less money if you use cash instead of credit cards or even debit cards. That’s just a known and proven fact. Cash ensures a boundary around your budget that will make you spend exactly what you intend to spend. Plus, it can be a great learning lesson for the kids to show them how money actually works.
  5. Keep track of your spending – You need to write down every single expense. From jackets to new shoes, from school supplies to classroom extras, write it all down and keep good records. Then, when you budget for next year, you don’t have to choose a pie in the sky number; you have evidence of how much it costs to begin the school year. It’s also a good idea to look at next year’s school supply list now to get a good estimate of what you’ll be spending.
  6. Let the kids help you – 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 good money management skills early. Help them understand the difference between needs and wants, and that purchasing one expensive item means less money to buy other items.
  7. Supermarkets have great deals on basic supplies – Check weekly circulars for great deals on pens and loose-leaf paper, and get your weekly grocery shopping done at the same time. Bonus: buying everything in one place will save time and gas money!
  8. Use Smartphone apps to save money – From custom store apps to digital couponing apps, you can make use of several tools at your disposal when shopping for back-to-school essentials on a budget. Download any of these apps before you head out for school supplies: SnipSnap, Shopkick, PriceGrabber, Cartwheel by Target, Wal-Mart Savings Catcher, and Coupon Sherpa. Other apps to check out: https://www.advantageccs.org/blog/best-budgeting-apps
  9. Don’t buy too many clothes all at once – Remember children grow fast and what they like today, there’s a strong chance they won’t like the same thing tomorrow. Buy a few outfits here and there for the time of season. Then further down the road shop for some other clothes to go with that season. Chances are they’ll be a size bigger too.
  10. Let kids help with selling old clothes to buy new ones – Create this rule for your kids: if you want to buy new clothes, you need to sell some of your old ones. Have a yard sale where your kids can sell some old items they no longer want or need, like old jeans, coats, bags, etc. You can sell books they have already read and anything they want to “upgrade” with something new. Teach them how to earn money, save money, spend money wisely, and how to stretch a dollar.

Conclusion –

You don’t have to go over budget or fall into credit card debt to get your kids the school supplies that they need. With some research, planning, and smart money management, you can get them everything they need and a few things they really want. Many community agencies such as churches, senior centers, and food pantries often host school supply drives in the summer. If money is a concern this school year, don’t hesitate to use these community resources.


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