A Dozen Ways to Stretch Your Back-to-School Budget

Families, Food and Fitness November 29, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

A Dozen Ways to Stretch Your Back-to-School Budget

There is no doubt that we are living in tough economic times. With the cost of gas increasing and grocery bills on the rise, families need to watch how they spend their dollars. The end of the summer means a flurry of shopping activity for many families as they prepare their children for the start of another school year. The question is: how can families stretch their school shopping dollars? This is a good opportunity to help children understand how to determine their needs, make decisions, understand the value of money, and a few budgeting basics. Following is a list of suggestions that may help families conserve their time, cash, and energy while shopping for back-to-school items.

picture of children blocks spelling budget

  1. Start by taking an inventory with your child of clothing and backpacks they currently have. Which clothes and backpacks can be used to start the coming school year? Make a list of items you have and items that are needed before school starts. Can some of the items be purchased at a later date?
  2. Know your school’s dress code policies and restrictions before you start shopping. Find out what students are permitted to wear to school and about other rules regarding dress and backpacks.
  3. Recycle clothing and backpacks whenever possible! For example, denim pants that have a hole in the knee can be cut and hemmed into shorts. Can used textbooks be purchased for college students rather than new ones? Use your network of family and friends to see if they have articles of clothing and books that can be passed-down to younger children.
  4. Set a budget for each child’s back-to-school needs. Consider shopping without your child. If children shop with you, make sure they are aware that their clothing choices must remain within the family’s budget.
  5. Save gas by doing some comparison-shopping online. Look online for sales, coupons, and offers for free shipping. Online shopping can save gas dollars too!
  6. Check for sales at discount department stores and office supply stores before you start out on your shopping trip. Make a plan of how you can shop for what you need in one day if possible. This will save you from using gas by running to the store multiple times for one or two items.
  7. Consider locating second-hand shops, consignment shops, local church clothing exchanges, and hospital thrift shops. Look for quality clothing at a reasonable price. Thrifty is the new chic this year!
  8. Plan to purchase basic items needed to start the school year. Since the weather is still warm at the start of school, delay purchases for winter clothing until it is on sale. Make the clearance racks your first stop when you enter a store. You may be surprised at the values you find there.
  9. Resist impulse buying! Stick to your list of needs to avoid over spending.
  10. Don’t buy everything today your children need for the entire school year. Create a spending plan that coincides with your budget so you can pace out the expenses.
  11. Pay for items with cash if possible. Use a credit card if you can pay the amount charged in full, or set aside more than the minimum payment each month until the debt is paid. Get ready for next year’s back-to-school expenses by starting a holiday savings club. Holiday savings club payments usually come in early October, which is just in time for cooler weather clothing needs.
  12. Prepare family lunches at home to save extra dollars. Make lunch menu planning and food preparation a family event. Purchasing food at a local supermarket and preparing it at home saves money over spending extra dollars on ready-made, convenience and restaurant foods. Save money by sending food to school in reusable plastic containers and insulated food storage bags that can be used throughout the year. At the end of the day, throw away food leftovers that have not been refrigerated after lunch. Follow important food safety guidelines by keeping cold food cold and keeping hot food hot when preparing food to be eaten away from home.

For additional information:
CB08-FF.12. U.S. Census Bureau News, Facts For Features. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. June 2008

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.