How to optimize your back-to-school budget

On July 21, 2017 in Family Life & Health

How to optimize your back-to-school budget

Back-to-school children with backpacks

Is it possible that it’s already time to start thinking about summer vacations ending and kids going back to school? In certain parts of the country, the school year begins as early as July while in others, classrooms don’t open until after Labor Day.

Regardless of the time frame in your area, it’s definitely a good idea to start planning for the expenses you’ll incur in getting kids ready for a new school year. According to a 2016 study by the National Retail Federation most parents start developing shopping lists at least a month before classes begin, and Americans collectively spend almost $76 billion dollars on back-to-school purchases. Varying surveys peg the individual family outlay between $400 and $600.


Clothing is typically the highest overall expenditure, and publications such as Seventeen are already on newsstands touting the hot back-to-school clothing trends for young ladies in 2017. StylishWife is out with its list of “100 Cool Teen Fashion Looks for Boys” and Pinterest is loaded with ideas for children and young adults of both sexes.

All are designed to help you part ways with cash, but hey, your kids are worth it, because how an individual looks on the first day of school is important, right? Jezebel magazine once termed back-to-school clothing as “the most important outfit of your life.”

That may be a little extreme, but perhaps not to a youngster who seeks approval from his or her peers, and it’s not a new sentiment. “First impressions are the most lasting” was a line in a 1700 play by William Congreve titled The Way of the World and it endures as a truism today.

When it comes to clothing, honestly consider how many new outfits your kids really need and don’t be tempted by back-to-school sales. Overbuying on clothes, especially for younger children, isn’t necessarily going to save you in the long run. Assuming whatever you buy isn’t going to be out of style in 12 months, there’s a pretty good probability that clothes that fit a child today won’t fit them in a year anyway.


Getting the right school supplies used to be simple; notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, markers, glue, a pair of blunt-nosed scissors and a backpack to carry it all did the trick. Parents could buy the whole kit and caboodle for $20 or less.

Today, that list of supplies is just the beginning. Computers have become must-haves for most students, adding from $300 to $1,000 to the school supply tab. Other electronics on the student need/want list range from smartphones to graphing calculators, none of which are cheap.

The good news on the electronics front is that many of these higher-priced items can be used for several school years, and a savvy shopper might be able to avoid purchasing them all at the same time to make that back-to-school bill a little more manageable. Another important tip: Make sure you know which high-end gadgets are truly necessary before you buy.

Smart shopping tips

Back-to-school buying has become a bit like Christmas shopping, with fierce competition that drives retailers to offer some great deals. This is typically when stores will offer their greatest discounts on the items you need most. Not to be outdone, some online retailers offer short-term discounts on back-to-school items and support the sales with free or discounted shipping. Some states and municipalities have gotten into the game as well, creating the equivalent of “Black Friday” by designating sales-tax holidays for back-to-school buying.

With all of these sales and discounts, it’s incredibly tempting to snatch up as many deals as you can. But even with the incentives, it’s a good idea to make a list of only what you need, and avoid overstocking on cheap supplies. Those reams of paper and spiral notebooks that are priced so low today will go on sale again next year. Electronics historically have declined in price because of market forces, so purchasing now at a discount may be more expensive than waiting six months.

The bottom line: Stay disciplined in your purchasing and you’ll start the school year with some money to spare.

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