Shut the front door! — You spent how much for back-to-school?

I WILL NEVER FORGET THE DAY I RAN INTO THE MOTHER COMING OUT OF WAL-MART.  SHE HAD JUST MADE AN EXTREMELY LARGE PURCHASE OF SCHOOL SUPPLIES TO DONATE TO A GIVE-AWAY PROGRAM AND SHE  WAS LAMENTING THE COST OF HER OWN BACK-TO-SCHOOL ITEMS.  While there  certainly are costs, I could not fathom the amount of money she had spent on supplies, fees, and clothing for that school year for her two elementary school-age children.

When I sat down and thought about it, I realized why my bill was a little different.  Between raising my own child and working with other families, here are some principles we put into place to try to keep our costs down:

  1. Start at home — The school supply list says you need x, y, and z.  Guess what?  We already have those things — especially the basics!  We made a game of how many sets of crayons and colored pencils we could make out of what we already had at our house.  Sometimes I just clean things up and he thinks they are new.
  2. Hand me downs — Hand me downs work!  Within your family, your neighborhood, or your church.  The Boy (age 8) has no siblings at home, so he hands down to himself — last summer’s every day tennis shoes become his gym shoes to star the year.
  3. Make it a game — The Boy has had one back pack — since preschool.  He’s going for the record and wants to use it at  least his entire elementary school career.  It looks pretty good and it just might make it.  We use a sharpie to write the year inside of it to mark his progress.
  4. Make an inventory — It really helps to know what you have (supplies, clothes) before you buy.
  5. Thrift it — ALL YEAR LONG  — Whether you go to traditional thrift stores, garage sales, or even the clearance bin — think ahead and remember to “get it while the getting’s good!”  Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for school supplies, required books, and shirts with your school logo on them.
  6. Let your kids help — Help them to understand the budget.  The Boy likes the shopping game and understands that he can get A LOT more if he uses his money wisely.  He also likes to be able to pick out clothes that he likes.
  7. Shop the catalogs and make a “look book” — I get catalogs from the major brands that we like.  Every year, The Boy goes through and picks the items and outfits that he would like to try to find.
  8. Work ahead — If you can get the school supply list at the end of the school year, do it.  When my pocket-book allows it, I buy classic pieces even if they are five sizes to big.  I’m lucky with a boy.  He can always wear nice button down shirts, quality jeans, classic sweaters, khakis and the like.
  9. Don’t make yourself feel deprived — Brands are important to kids and it is important for them to fit in.  There are plenty of brand named items on the shelves of thrift stores, if you look.  Also, thrifty doesn’t mean that everyone has to know it.  Make sure that you make a good judgement — an inexpensive brand named item in poor shape is NOT a good deal.
  10. Talk to instructors — Last year’s uniforms in a tech program may be appropriate this year too!

Above all else, be aware of programs that may reduce your costs — Some schools offer the opportunity for kids or parents to volunteer in exchange for waiving a fee.   If you’ve had a sudden change in income, you might not realize that you are eligible for Free and Reduced School Lunches did you know a family of 4 can make up to $42,643 and be eligible?  Some schools and communities also have programs available that reduce your costs for after school care, school supplies, shoes, clothing and tutoring.  Take advantage of it — in many cases it helps assure continued funding!

So while it can be very expensive to go back to to school, make it your choice to decide how, when and how much you will spend.  How do you save money on back to school?

T and The Boy

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