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Back to School on a Budget

By Edited Sep 10, 2016 2 1

Back to School Budget
As summer comes to an end and families enjoy the last barbeques of the season, parents begin to prepare their children for the new school year. Millions of children will head back to school in a few short weeks. While many parents are excited to get rid of their children for a few hours a day, the back to school budget will quickly dampen their spirits. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spent approximately $603 on school supplies in 2011. This can be a killer on families who are living paycheck to paycheck or families with many children. Additionally, the economy has put stress on family budgets with rising costs and job layoffs.

Here are a few suggestions to keep back to school costs down:

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Create a Back to School Budget – The first step to cutting cost is to create a back to school budget.  A budget will prevent unnecessary, impulse purchases and will set a limit to what can be spent. Look over the household budget and figure out how much money can be spent on school supplies. Next, create a list of what will be needed for the upcoming school year and cross off all items that can be carried over from the previous school year. Estimate how much it will cost to purchase the remaining items. If the cost is more than the amount that was allotted in the budget, you will need to cut some items from the list.

School Supplies(104482)
Purchase Essentials Only – One way to lower the budget is to purchase only items that will truly be used. Many teachers will provide a list of supplies needed for the upcoming year. Even on this list, there will be items that won’t be used. Organize the list by importance with the most important items at the top of the list. Purchase supplies starting at the top of the list and work your way down until there is nothing left in the budget. This way, the essential items will be purchased while the non-essential items will be purchased only if there is money left in the budget.

Compare Prices – Once a shopping list and budget has been created, it is important to compare prices. The best way to compare prices is to use the internet to check prices in various stores. There are many websites that compare prices across multiple stores at one time.  Don’t forget to check shipping costs if there are no nearby stores.

Use Coupons – Many people associate coupons with reducing grocery budgets but they can also be applied to school supplies as well. Office supply chains such as Office Max or Staples will offer coupons for ten, twenty or thirty percent off the total purchase. Look in the Sunday newspaper for flyers that provide these coupons. Coupons can also be purchased online which may be worth it for the savings.

Don’t Use Credit – One way to increase your budget is by paying with a credit card or getting a loan. Paying interest on school supplies is a bad idea. The interest rate will add to the budget and it will take years to pay off the balance.

Buy Online – Purchasing school supplies online can save a lot of money. Amazon.com offers free shipping for students and they will frequently offer the lower prices than most brick and mortar stores. When purchasing online, it is easier to compare prices, it is convenient and it will eliminate gas and transportation costs. There are also more options to choose from when shopping online.

Buy Used – Don’t be afraid to purchase school supplies that are used, especially when it comes to clothing. Thrift stores often have stylish, trendy clothes that are slightly used and are affordable. Many children will cringe at the idea of wearing used clothes but they will be able to get twice the amount of clothes and their friends won’t be able to tell the difference. After a while, they will look forward to shopping at the thrift store.

Finding used school uniforms for sale can really help to stretch the budget. Put an ad on Craigslist or on the school bulletin board, if one is available, to find parents selling used uniforms. Children sometimes transfer to a different school and their old uniforms are still in decent shape. Many parents will part with the old uniforms for a low price.

Electronic items may also be purchased used. Most children don’t need the fancy computers that are sold today. They just need to be able to surf the web and use a word processing program. The best place to find used computers is Craigslist or eBay.

Ask For Help – If there is no money in the budget to be spent on school supplies, the best thing to do is ask for help. There are organizations that will help families purchase school supplies. Some school districts have programs to provide underprivileged children with school supplies such as pencils, notebooks, crayons, rulers, glue and so on. Some churches will provide money for school supplies, especially if the family attends service at the church. Everybody needs help sometimes so don’t be afraid to ask.

Back to College Budget

College students also have expenses when going back to school. The biggest part of a back to college budget is textbooks. Textbooks can cause hundreds of dollars. There are a few different options available when purchasing textbooks.

eBooks – One option is to purchase an eBook. Most of the time, however, the eBook will be priced the same as a physical book. A physical book can be sold back to the retailer while an eBook cannot.

Used - Another option is to purchase a used textbook. This is one of the best ways to get the lowest price for a textbook. Do not buy books from the campus bookstore. Online auction sites such as eBay can offer used textbooks for a fraction of the price and the book can be resold at the end of the semester at the same auction site to get some of the money back. Purchasing an older version of a textbook can provide a lot of savings but make sure the missing chapters or pages will not be needed in class. If they are needed, the student may borrow another student’s book and make a copy of the missing pages.

Borrowing/Renting - Renting a textbook is a good option for some. The rental company will charge a small fee to rent the book for three months. After the semester is up, the book must be returned or the rental company will charge the student for the full price of the book. This may not always be the cheapest option available for students. The library will loan out books for free. The student may not be allowed to rent the book for the entire semester but they can always go to the library to study without checking out the book.

Not Purchasing – While this might be risky, a student can wait until the semester has already started before purchasing (or not purchasing) their textbooks. Some professors will list a textbook as required and then not use it during the semester. To prevent money from being wasted on unused books, wait until after the semester begins to purchase the textbooks. The risk is that the books may not arrive before the first exam.



Jul 20, 2012 2:29pm
Great tips, the renting one is a gem.
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