August 26th, 2013
Back to School On a Budget
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**Today’s guest post is contributed by Lauren.**
Everyone always talks about Christmas being the biggest budget-busting time of year. And I agree, because we buy more presents during that six week period than we do all year long. However, the back-to-school season can be just as much of a financial war zone when you think about it: between the endless amount of school supplies, new clothing, and equipment for activities – not to mention the fact that everyone seems to have one last vacation or party before the summer ends – your wallet can get exhausted. Whether you are working to pay off debt, save for a mortgage, or build your retirement fund, you need that extra cash. So to keep you from feeling the pinch, here are a few ways to get back to school while staying on budget.
Detach Yourself from Brands
Rather than buying the latest trendy fashions at a top-dollar department store, look at discount racks or find the generic clothing brands that are just as good and widely available at the more affordable retailers. And when it comes to buying school supplies like notebooks, pens, and pencils, instead of going to WalMart, Target, or other “Big Box” stores for your supplies, try a dollar store or thrift store first. I know it can be hard on the kids to not have “trendy” things, especially during a stressful time like going back to school, but often the products are just as good and the cost savings cannot be denied.
Draw the Line, and Stick to It
How many times have you gotten into the checkout line at a store and you (or your child) saw something with a back-to-school theme they just couldn’t LIVE without? Rather than deprive anyone, make a line item in your budget for these on-a-whim purchases and stick to it. In other words, plan ahead and include a specific amount in each month’s budget for these types of purchases. The same should go for any activities you or your child may be participating in. If you don’t know about it, you can’t plan for it, and planning ahead is the only way a budget truly works. You can involve your children in the process as well, so that they get to be part of the decision-making and will be committed to sticking with the plan.
Make Use of Hand-Me-Downs
This actually works – not just for clothes, but for school supplies as well. Do you have an older child who doesn’t need that pack of colored pencils? Re-gift it to the younger sibling. I passed many of my school supplies down to my brother and it worked out fine for both of us. See if your friend circle or extended family has anything they want to get rid of. This could be a great time to take inventory to make sure you aren’t buying duplicates of anything. You can also try shopping on Ebay or Craigslist for more expensive items (like clothes or calculators.) This way, you’ll never have to pay full price.
I haven’t bought legitimate “school supplies” in almost 10 years, but I still remember the sharp sting of my college undergrad days, when I had to buy a cartful of heavy and expensive books for all my college classes. In some of my liberal arts classes, we wouldn’t even end up using a few of the smaller books due to scheduling bumps or delays, and then the bookstore wouldn’t buy them back at the end of the year due to a change in curriculum. It was so frustrating!
Everyone who has a child in school should learn what I learned after my freshman year: buy the books and supplies as you need them. I doubt a child will need every single supply for the semester on the first day of class. Don’t be ashamed to ask a few questions about when an item is needed. It can help avoid creating a massive surplus of supplies you didn’t need to buy in the first place.
Coupon Throughout the Year
My Mom has a friend who taught elementary school, and this lady was a couponer of extreme proportions. Come fall, she had a stockpile of supplies in her basement due to her aggressive use of coupons all year long. The friend particularly loved October, when all the back-to-school supplies went on sale to make room for Halloween candy. For those of you who are adept at planning ahead this could be a big, and I do mean, BIG money saver. The friend had enough school supplies to last her for the year, and she often ended up giving most of the supplies away.
Hopefully these tips can help you get through this crazy back-to-school season with your sanity and your budget intact. Each dollar counts, and if you’re reading this you know the importance of paying off debt, saving money, and protecting your credit score. Since credit cards can hurt your credit score and student loans can also affect your credit score, you need to use your money wisely. Having a plan, knowing the tricks, and staying disciplined will help you accomplish all your back-to-school spending on a budget. Good luck!
Lauren Bowling is a personal finance writer at ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She enjoys writing about all things finance, relationships, and self-esteem.
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