Don’t Let School Supplies Break the Bank

Has it been a long hot summer with the kids home from school for what now seems like an eternity? While parents mostly enjoy the lazy days of summer with the gang at home, by August many are more than ready to usher them back to school – until they realize the cost of sending the brood back to the books has become more exorbitant than last year.

As students gear up to go back to school and college, families this year will plan to spend more than ever on supplies ranging from pencils and backpacks to computers and dorm refrigerators—according to an annual survey released in July by the National Retail Federation.

It predicts record spending for back to school supplies in 2019: families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average $696.70. Families with college students are expected to spend an average $976.78.

Have two kids in high school and another in college? That’s $2,370.18 on back-to-school supplies and gear – not including tuition and housing.

According to the survey, clothing and accessories will top K-12 families’ expenses at an average $239.82, followed by electronics such as computers, calculators, and phones ($203.44); shoes ($135.96); and supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and lunch boxes ($117.49). Yikes!

So how can parents save?

The key is to plan ahead.

Even year-round—so you don’t feel the sting of shelling out oodles on back-to-school necessities at one time. Don’t wait for last-minute August purchases when prices are inflated. Buy supplies on sale during off months.

Create a wardrobe budget

And stick to it. What clothing items or accessories are already in your closet and perfectly recyclable? Help kids shop their closets and assess what’s already there, what can be repurposed, and what small accessories would really spice up the look.

Consider a back-to-school clothing allowance

One for each child. They can update current outfits and pieces in their own style. Help them understand how much different items cost and how to shop the sales to find the perfect addition to their own personal look.

Shop off-season for clothes and accessories

You know the drill. In the summer, retailers put end-of-season clothing and accessories on sale to make way for the coming change in seasons and styles. So, be sure to take advantage of those sales. Buy warm weather gear on sale in the fall and winter, and stock up on cold weather items early summer.

Spread out purchases

Remember what it’s like to pay for all of the kids’ myriad of supplies in one lump sum. Watch for year-round sales on things you know they’ll need for school—from paper and notepads to binders, crayons, and art supplies. Check the big box stores as well as office supply stores for the best seasonal buys.

Reuse perfectly good supplies from last year

Items like pencils, pens, binders, calculators, lunch boxes, and backpacks don’t go bad. They can easily be recycled year after year for incredible cost savings. So, at the end of the school year, save the loot and assess what can be reused and what needs to be replaced.

Prioritize sports and extracurricular activities

Are your kids into sports? Music? Art? Dance? Gymnastics? Those extracurricular activities can really add up. So what are the costs of signing up for one or more extracurricular or sporting activity during the school year? Financial experts advise parents not to overextend the family budget by saying ‘yes’ to everything. Rather, really help your child understand their passion and what would make the most sense to participate in by age group.

And remember, some downtime between school and activities is a healthy option. “It’s really important for kids to understand opportunity costs and the power of choices—if I play in an expensive traveling sports league, then I cannot also buy a guitar and pay for music lessons,” says Phillip Hansen, financial advisor for CUNA Mutual. “And there have been countless studies on how stressed and anxious kids—and parents—can become if over-programmed and over-extended financially. Letting kids be kids with lots of ‘white space’ on the schedule will make for a relaxed and creative school year.”

Bottom line

Kids can be expensive! With a little pre-planning, budgeting, honest family discussions, and prioritizing interests and passions, the 2019 school year can be a breeze financially. Happy back-to-school, Mom and Dad!