What? Already! The summer is flying by, and the back to school ads are in full swing. I think that the family I observed tackling the school list in early August the exception. The majority will hit panic mode about three weeks from now. That mode creates chaos, and contributes to overspending. But there are some things you can do to make this time of year less painful.
Your child may have received the list at the end of the school year. Now is the time to find it. If it arrives in the mail this month – do not file it away. Tack it up somewhere prominent. The important thing is to use it now! The stores are ready for you. If you start now you will have time to comparison shop and look for sales. Picking up a few things each week from now until school starts is easier on the budget.
Middle and High school students probably won’t get supply requirements until the first day of school. Let me share something I learned. Do not go to the big box office supply stores on the evening of the first days of school. First it’s a madhouse. Second, it’s expensive. Third, because everyone is there, supplies run low. Almost everything on the lists is available at the corner drug chain right in your neighborhood. Since most people don’t think about this, it will be a lot less crowded there. As an added bonus, the prices are usually lower in these stores. You may need to hit the office store for the fancy calculator that someone always needs, but students are usually given a bit more time to buy them, so wait a couple of days and go either very early in the morning or closer to closing time to get it. You’ll go in to get that one thing, and get out quickly.
The second thing that costs money and causes panic is back to school clothing. Again, you want to have a plan and avoid the rush. The mentality that the new school year requires all new clothes is a budget busting myth created by marketing. Sure, kids want new clothes for the first day, or maybe the first week, but those will only go so far. So just as you shop for school supplies, shop for clothing with a list.
First – look at your kids! They have a habit of growing over the summer. If they have, you may need to budget more for clothing. Before you shop take some time to go through the closet with your child to determine what fits. Let your child help you create a plan for a school wardrobe which incorporates these pieces. The inventory may reveal that she has two good pairs of jeans. Focus on buying tops that will work with them. Or, he’s got a great T-shirt collection but the jeans are all too short. That shows you where to spend your budgeted money. Also, find out which one new clothing item is most important to your child. If possible, work it into the budget to buy at this time. Remember that you don’t have to by all their new clothes before school starts. If you have made a plan that incorporates their existing clothing, you will get them through the first several weeks. You will be able to buy more as the seasons change, the kids’ needs evolve, and as you can afford it.
One thing I did learn over the years is that money spent on a good backpack is money well spent. A cheap one will often have to be replaced before the end of the year, but a quality pack can last for more than one year. Of course, this doesn’t account for fashion; the “need” to have the celebrity pack. If you point out that the cost difference between the designer pack and the simpler one will determine if she can have one more new shirt, she might see your logic. This advice also applies to shoes. Get the best shoes you can for the money you can spend; and balance money you apply to style versus function.
Start now and pace yourself. Make a plan, have a budget, and choose your shopping venues wisely. Keep yourself sane!