People say having kids is expensive and while they are definitely an expense, much of that expenditure can be trimmed up dramatically with a more frugal approach. There are certain times in the child rearing when spending can skyrocket if you are not careful (the holidays for example) and back to school is one of those times.
First of all, it should not come as a big surprise that in September the little sweeties will be heading back to the classroom. Therefore, it should not come as a big surprise to your pocketbook. This is an event that should have been included in your budget all along. When I was using the envelope system (see February’s blog)
I put in a few bucks (maybe $10) out of each paycheck into the “School Supplies” envelope so that I would be ready when the time came without having to break out the old credit card and go into debt for a perfectly expected event.
But the savings don’t end there. It is also in how and what you go about spending this school supply budget on. Obviously you will need supplies for the classroom. But take a good inventory first. How much can you reuse from last year? Does your child really need a new backpack this year, or might he be able to get by another year (or more) with this one? Take this approach with all supplies. Sometimes there are notebooks that only have a few pages written in. Rip out those pages and you have a brand new notebook for this year. And while it feels good to have that fresh pack of colored pencils at the beginning of the school year, does the old pack still have enough life in it for another year?
Once you are sure that you are not buying “wants” for the new school year but actual needs, then it is time to replenish the supply. I am all for back to school sales. Know and watch your prices and comparison shop. Just because it is listed as part of a school sale does not mean the price is actually a bargain. If there is a really good price on something, (loose leaf paper for 17 cents a pack?) then by all means stock up on that item for the rest of the school year and even subsequent school years if there is no limit. And you do not have to give in to the desires of your children that just have to have that particular (insert popular character/name brand here) item. Remember there are other lessons to be taught to kids than the ones they learn at a classroom desk. And you as parents are obligated to teach them.
Now we move onto another category of possible contention. School clothes. And while it is nice and fun to start off the new year with a whole new wardrobe it is not necessarily necessary! Once again take careful stock of actual needs. And once again refrain from giving in to entitled demands.
Another point in question, is do these “new” clothes actually have to be new? I shopped for much of my kids clothing needs at thrift shops and yard sales and back to school was no exception. And I can guarantee you that no one could look at my kids’ wardrobes and tell me which items were purchased new and which were “preworn”.
As the kids got a little older and more aware of their “wants”, I would let them make the choice. I would give them each an envelope with a certain amount of money in it for school clothes and off we would go shopping. It was entirely up to them as to whether they wanted to buy a nice “new” wardrobe with that money for a few bucks an item at the thrift shops or whether they wanted to take that same amount of money and just buy a few name brand (or whatever) new items at the stores, or shop a combination of the two. Of course, remember you are still their parent and retain final say on what is appropriate to buy and wear with “their” money, and what items they need to buy (socks and underwear might not be on the #1 “gotta have it” list, but a necessary expenditure never the less). And another non-classroom lesson learned here . . . budgeting their money!
There are also year-long school related expenses to consider, like school lunches. Consider your budget here as well. Is it cheaper for them to bring their own lunch? (hint: Almost always) (another hint: This goes for adults as well). And although the grocery stores are blasting you with back-to-school lunch items at this time of the year, these are usually not the best things for your lunch budget. For instance, do not be tempted by those cute little single serve packs of anything. Buy your own (pretzels, dried fruit, crackers, cookies, cheese, etc. etc.) and prepackage it yourself into Ziploc bags or even better reusable containers (P.S. aside here, I reuse Ziploc bags too).
Have the kids participate in the preparing of their school lunches, making as much of it themselves as possible. The more they are involved in the prep the more they will be likely to actually eat it (and bonus, another life skill lesson learned!).
I always told my kids to bring home what they didn’t eat rather than throw it away in the garbage. It drives me crazy how much perfectly good food gets thrown into school lunchroom (and all) garbage cans. If they bring it home, they can eat it as part of their after school snack or take it again the next day.
So, I hope you can see that sending the little ones (and not so little ones) back to school does not have to be quite the piggy bank shattering event that it can become if you are not careful. Stretch your frugal muscle and save your dollars. Your piggy bank will thank you for many years to come. And who knows, maybe even your kids will thank you someday for all the (out of school) lessons learned. 😉