Back to school shopping already? The ads and inserts in the paper are usually my first reminders that back to school shopping and fall are just around the corner. This can be an expensive month for parents but a little planning before the shopping might help you avoid the drain on your pocketbook.
According to the National Retail Federation the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $688.92 this year on their children for back to school needs. This is up from $603.63 per average family spent last year.
If you have planned for this and have the money set aside to get your kids ready for the first days of school, pat yourself on the back. Don’t give up though if you aren’t sure you have the money in the bank to make the needed purchases. There are some things you can do now to cut your family’s expenses and reduce the back to financial stress that might follow the shopping trips.
• Shop the sales for school items. Many stores sell items like crayons or spiral notebooks at very low cost during August. They do this to get you in the door so not everything you need will be priced so cheaply. Be sure though to stock up on those 25 cent notebooks to get your kids through the year.
• Before you ever leave the house, conduct an inventory of what is in your kid’s closet now. Make a list of what they need and remove what they have outgrown. While you are at it, make a bag to drop off at charity or hand them down to younger siblings.
• While you are doing inventory, look for back packs or other supplies from last year that are still in good shape and can be used again. Remember that you are modeling behaviors that your kids will hopefully carry into their adulthood.
• As for clothing, consider letting your kids purchase one new outfit out for the first day of school and put off the rest of the clothing shopping until the sales begin after the season is winding down.
• Thrift stores are a great way to spend some time shopping for clothing. Nearly new looking items can almost always be found at really low prices.
• Don’t forget items like socks and underwear that may, like the crayons above, be priced at a really low cost to get you in the door in hopes that you will buy other more expensive items while you are there. Resist those temptations to buy unless it is on your list of needs.
• Allow teens to starting managing some of their own financial choices with their back to school shopping. This is a great way to start to hand over some decision making powers and give them a chance to learn some basic money management skills. Depending on your teen’s maturity level, consider giving them a lump sum as their back to school money to spend. Be sure to take the time to discuss with your son or daughter, what they need, the importance of making a list, and how to track the money they have spent so they know where the money went. Be prepared to not bail them out if they spend all their money on expensive designer jeans. It is better that they learn some of these lessons while they are still under your roof!
• Use the list your school provides for school supplies and don’t guess on what your kids may need when they return to the classroom. Ask in the school office if there are any programs in your school for families who qualify for reduced or free lunches to get the needed supplies.
• If you need to replace the family computer, the best time to purchase a computer could be closer to the holidays so you might put this purchase off until later if you can. If you do decide to purchase now, shop around and make sure you can get the best deal.
• Comparison shop. Shop on-line or use and app to compare prices using your smart phone if you have one. On-line shopping also lets you compare the prices of standard items like jeans or a particular brand of shoe. Another benefit to on-line shopping may be that there are fewer temptations to buy more than you intended.
• Have a plan for how you will pay for the purchases and don’t use a credit card without a plan to pay the bill when it comes. You don’t want to be paying for this year’s back to school purchases in September a year from now!
• Can you cut back some of your other expenses this month to free up money for school shopping? Look at groceries, gasoline, and eating out. Clean out the freezer and use up some of those saved items so they don’t go to waste and you will have more money to spend on other things.
• See one of our financial counselors at GreenPath if your credit card bills are getting the best of you after the kids are back in school. You won’t be alone. September and October are usually two of our busiest months for appointments at GreenPath with numbers of clients seen similar to the busy spell we always have after the holidays.
We can help you get out from under the stress that debt can cause and help you start now to be more prepared for next year.
(Guest blogger Sara Gilbert is the manager of GreenPath’s Colorado and Wyoming region.)