Summer is almost over so that mean parents across the nation are getting geared up to send their children back to school. The start of the new school year often means a new wardrobe and a new set of school supplies, but these items don’t often run cheap. If you have multiple children your back to school expenses can increase astronomically since each teacher often has a different list for each child. Just because the new year is beginning doesn’t mean that you can't shop on a budget; in fact, the new school year is the perfect time to save money on common items. 

There are a few basic categories that back to school shopping falls under:

  • Clothing
  • School Supplies
  • Shoes
  • Electronics
  • Food

Let’s go over each category individually to help you manage your frugal living budget while still sending the kids to school fully prepared and in style.

Back To School Food Supplies

No matter what age your children are, their school time meals are incredibly important. Proper nutrition helps them to remain attentive in class a well as gives them energy to take part in the various physical activities that go on at school. A big part of your monthly budget will be dedicated to just food alone, so finding ways to maximize your savings is the key to frugal back to school planning.

Most schools offer on campus lunches, if your child is eligible, they can sign up for the free or reduced price program for meals. The food they get will be the same as every other child who pays full price, but will just cost less. Often, you can fill up a confidential form during enrollment to get meal assistance. Not only low income families qualify, families that have multiple children in the same school district regardless of income level are also eligible for reduced rates on school lunches.

Many children are picky eaters, follow special diets, or simply prefer home cooked meals. This is another great way to save money on your back to school food budget. Prepackaged lunch food is very expensive over time and often doesn’t have the proper portion of nutrients a growing child needs. Instead of purchasing these pre-made foods, make your child’s lunch at home. Some ideas for great home-made lunches are:

  • A simple chicken salad sandwich
  • Two pieces of whole fruit
  • A bottle of water
  • A bottle of fresh squeezed juice
  • Two home-made cookies as dessert
  • A sandwich bag of bakes potato chips

Of course, you can customize the lunch to fit your child’s likes and dietary needs, but instead of paying a premium price for the same items pre packaged, you can make them at home and save over 50% from name brand options. Your home made meals not only will be healthier and lower in saturated fats, but your wallet will be heavier giving you more money to spend on other items such as extracurricular activities or school clothing.

Another way to save money on your children’s lunches it to shop in bulk. If you have several children, consider shopping at club store such as Sam’s Club or Costco. You can find large packs of bread, chips, fruit, and veggies and much more at very low prices. Since these store sell in bulk, you get the benefit of added per unit savings. If you only have one or two children and worry that shopping in bulk will be more food than you need, consider combining your shopping list with a friend, neighbor or other parent who is also seeking to save money on their back to school food shopping.

Avoid the lure of the same pre-packaged food options such as chips, sodas, and pre-made lunches. Though they are priced at a lower per unit rate, they often don’t fill your child’s stomach as much as your hand-made food will. If your kids are hungry after eating pre-packaged food, chances are they will need more in their daily lunches to keep them satisfied, which will in turn mean additional cost. Buying whole ingredients in bulk like sliced sandwich meat, sliced cheese and other items allow you to buy large amount of the things you need to build a healthy, belly filling bag for your child to take to school.

Back To School Shoes For Your Children

Shoes are another popular item on the back to school list. Depending on your child’s age, they could need anywhere from one to six pair of shoes for the upcoming school year. Saving money on school shoes is an art unto itself, but keep in mind that cheap school shoes don’t mean good school shoes. Its better to spend a little more to get a quality pair of shoes that can stand up to the wear and tear as opposed to a cheap pair of shoes that will need to be replaced two months later.

Before you hit the shoe store, make a list of the type of shoes your child may need for the school year:

  • Athletic shoes
  • Daily wear shoes
  • Dress shoes
  • Specialty shoes

Now that you have your list, look in their closet. If you are like most parents, you probably buy shoes slightly larger so that your child’s feet will have room to grow. Try on the shoes you child currently owns, if there is still room, and then set them aside. If the shoes no longer have room place them in a bag for donation. Looking at the shoes that still have room, inspect them to see if they need repair or polishing. Often times, shoes that are properly taken care of can last two or more years. If your child grows fast, then they may need shoes yearly, but their old shoes in good condition can go to a less fortunate family.

Shoes that still fit you child but need polishing or repair can be taken to the local cobbler and freshened up for only a fraction of the cost of a new pair. A lot of parents over look this option since they assume it takes a lot of time, or is a waste of effort. Frugal parents on the other hand know the value of taking care of a perfectly good pair of shoes.

If you child does need a new pair of shoes, don’t opt for bargain basement shoes. It’s better to get a quality brand shoe that will last on an active child’s feet.  To save extra money, try purchasing them online or from an outlet store. Most stores are currently running a host of back to school sales that can further increase your savings.

These are just a few tips to help you save money this back to school season, please take a look at my other back to school guides to find more ways to be a frugal back to school parent.