Tips for Stretching Your Back-to-School Budget

Most folks know that having a baby changes everything from your work schedule to your tax return. Once you get into the swing of things from a finance and time management perspective, everything changes again once you little baby starts school. Back-to-school shopping can be an unexpected expense for first-time parents – and an overwhelming annual expense for parents with older children, as necessary supplies only get more costly as your child grows older.

Since we’re all up for saving a little money, following these tips can help you maximize your back-to-school budget this year:

Contact your child’s teacher to find out what your child will need. Most schools provide a list of basic school supplies like notebooks and pencils, but there are other costs that factor into a school year budget. Be sure to ask about upcoming field trips, extracurricular activities and the school dress code so you can factor any additional costs into your budget. Write a list of everything you need prior to shopping – you’ll be more likely to stick to it.

Maximize saving at fall clearance sales. If you missed the sales tax holiday in your state, hold off on buying everything but the most essential school supplies until after school starts. Many retail stores put on “stock-up” sales before school begins or kick off fall clearance sales immediately after school starts. Retailers also offer downloadable coupons online, so check out individual retailer sites or coupon aggregators like CouponCactus.com,DealNews.com or AlexsCoupons.com for exclusive steals.

Investigate renting vs. buying. Before dropping cash on a new clarinet or brand new textbooks, consider renting or buying used. Schools usually offer some type of renting or exchange program for musical instruments, sporting gear and textbooks – perfect for kids who are exploring what they like and may lose interest quickly, and perfect for families on a budget. Also consider public transportation options that can be purchased on a seasonal basis, which can save on gas charges and transit time.

Take note of your spend. Save all of your receipts from this year’s back-to-school shopping trips. Your tax preparer may be able to find deductions in unusual places, and you will get an idea of what you will need to spend next year. Putting away a little money each month will ensure that you are prepared for next year’s shopping and have a sense for what you’ll spend.

With some careful planning and knowledge of your resources, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. Whether you’re buying colored pencils or a new laptop, you can send your child off to school in style and keep your budget in check.