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6 Ways to Manage Your Back to School Budget

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Updated on Mar 29, 2012

Suddenly, it’s that expensive time of year again. Your child needs all sorts of supplies, all at the same time: shoes, clothes, pencils, backpacks . . . and that’s before sports equipment and musical instrument rentals. How do you help your checking account survive?

“By developing a plan with the whole family – and beginning it now,” says Amy Bergin, creator of The Couponizer, a tool to help families save money. Here are Bergin’s tips to help you create a plan that’s just right for everyone.

Get started now. There are two reasons for this. First, a good plan takes time to create. Second, getting a jump on the execution of your plan allows you to search for the best deals early, so you can avoid wasting time and money driving all over town trying to locate miscellaneous items.

Include your kids in the process. “The sooner you can involve your kids, the better,” Bergin says. Discuss each child’s needs and wants. If a request seems extravagant, ask your child why she needs that particular item. This way, you’ll have time to discuss topics like needs versus wants, and the influence that other people have over what we value. It’s much easier to work through these with your kids during neutral times than when they’re busy grabbing things off the racks at the mall.

Shop at home first. Take inventory of your house, and you may be surprised by what you already have (and how much money you’ll save). Don’t forget about hand-me-downs. “You don’t want to slight younger kids,” Bergin says, “but when clothes or supplies are still in good shape, there’s no reason they can’t be re-used.” You can also use them to make compromises with your kids. For example, you’ll agree to buy your daughter that expensive pair of shoes and she’ll agree to use the winter coat her older sister has outgrown.

Focus on school, rather than on buying. Remind your child as needed (read: often) that what she’ll experience at school will be much more worthwhile than what she can buy at the store: time with friends, new teachers, fascinating discoveries in class, and after school activities. You can also point out that saying no to designer clothing means you can say yes to sports fees and band equipment.

Plan, Shop, Buy, and Deliver. This is Bergin’s method for putting it all together. It’s ideal for back to school budgeting and shopping, but you’ll need to get started ahead of time. “It’s not an overnight trick,” she points out. Here are the highlights:

  • In the Planning phase, you’ll take stock of what you have and what you’ll need. Then you’ll create a shopping list, and check for online coupons and store deals. “Keep an eye on the circulars,” Bergin says. “Watch for multi-purchase sales, such as 2-for-1 deals on shoes.”
  • In the Shopping phase, you’ll fill your cart with the items on your list – and only the items on your list. Don’t give in to the lure of other things. “The little stuff will get you,” Bergin warns.
  • In the Delivery phase, you’ll head home knowing that you saved money. “When you share about your success with the family, everyone gets excited and wants to experience it again. That’s how it becomes repetitive.”

Delay purchases when you can. We tend to think that our kids need everything on the first day of school. Buying items over time enables you to fit back to school purchases into your budget more easily, and can even save you money. “Stores often overstock,” Bergin notes. “Once the big rush is over, they tend to mark down the prices on the remaining items.” Check with your children’s teachers to see what they’ll really need right away and what you may be able to pick up later.

Facing the back to school budget can fill the thriftiest shopper with dread. But when the family works together to discuss, set up and execute a solid plan, the results are good news for everyone.

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