Dealing With Back to School Expenses
By Sandy Boenig, AFC®, Military Saves Associate
Whether your child attends private, public, DOD, virtual or homeschool, the beginning of the school year has costs associated. How do you manage them? Even purchasing the most basic supplies can add up pretty quickly. With some preparatory sleuthing you can get through the process with the least possible pain.
If you are new to your community, or your child is attending a new school, you need to tap into the communication network. The goal is to find out as much accurate information as you can before school starts. Information is generally available on a school web-site, in the local paper, or by word of mouth and by asking questions when you register your child.
Hopefully you have been saving a little bit each month so you are ready for back to school shopping. If you haven’t been, look at your budget and see where you can trim other expenses for this year, and then make a plan to systematically save for next year.
Money saving tip: End of summer is a great time to take advantage of free entertainment (parks, outdoor movies, MWR facilities, Blue Star Museums and to picnic rather than buying pricey meals out.
It Pays to Shop Around
Supplies are a large part of the back to school budget. You should also get a list of needed supplies from your school. A lot of stores have “loss leaders” with the hopes you will buy the rest of your supplies there too – at a higher price. I compared a standard school supply list with 3 different businesses. At first you might think that the big box store would be your best choice. In this example the local store was cheaper. If the stores are conveniently located you can save by only buying items at the store where they are cheapest, and you can save about 35%.
Saving on Uniforms
Uniforms are next on the back to school agenda. Yard sales and consignment shops are also great sources, but there are limitations. For example, it is rare to find pristine white pieces and there are certain sizes that kids just wear out. If you search “discount school uniforms” on-line there are some good prices, but watch out for hefty shipping charges. For logo pieces the school usually has a relationship with a single retailer. You will save the most by not buying too much or too far in advance. All those size 12 pants aren’t going to be of any value when your child skips from size 10-14!
Money Saving Tip: Some schools have uniform turn in at the end of the school year and resell, for a fraction of the original cost, as a fundraiser.
Extra Curricular Activities
During the first week of school you will be inundated with in school and after school activity opportunities.
- Band and Chorus. Many schools introduce the opportunity to join an extra music class in 4th or 5th grade. You do not want to make a big instrument investment at this time. From experience I would highly recommend renting and paying for insurance. You’d be amazed at the unintended uses a child can come up with for an instrument and they are very expensive to replace. If your child will be participating in band or chorus, find out what the uniform for performances is (seems to be white tops with black bottoms and black shoes) so you can get those pieces on sale.
Money Saving Tip: Ask if the school owns any instruments, you may need to be flexible, but borrowing could save you hundreds of dollars.
- Sports Activities. Check for sports consignment stores in your area before paying full price for anything. Factor in the cost of uniforms, team pictures, transportation and equipment before committing.
- Scouts and Other Clubs. They are relatively inexpensive to join but there is an expectation of parental involvement. If you are financially unable to pay for a club or scouts for instance, (usually if your child qualifies for free or reduced lunch) financial assistance is available. Contact the organization in your local area for more information.