Back to School Spending Survival Guide

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It’s only a matter of time before we need to put away the sunscreen begin thinking about the dreaded back-to-school shopping. That means looking forward to a major outlay of money for school supplies, new clothes, activity fees, and other school-related expenses.

On top of the notebooks, shoes, jeans, and backpacks, more and more parents are being asked to support schools by helping stock classrooms with art materials and cleaning supplies. And those folders, pencils and paper towels can add up to real budget-breakers.

In 2010, the National Retail Federation projected that the average American family spent more than $600 on clothes, shoes, supplies, and electronics during the back-to-school season, making it the second biggest consumer “event” of the year. (You can probably guess what the first one is!)

But unlike the holiday season, this time of year often catches people unaware – how many families plan for back-to-school spending in our annual budgets? According to relationship-and-money experts Bethany and Scott Palmer, better known as The Money Couple, even if you haven’t been saving your pennies for the annual trip to the school-supply aisle, you still have time to plan for these expenses and make sure you don’t end up with a battered budget.

Here is The Money Couple’s Back-to-School Survival Guide:

1. Decide who will do the school shopping.

Clear communication will prevent doubling up on items, or worse, spending more than you need to! Once you decide who will do the shopping, talk through what you expect to spend and make a list of items you need to prevent overbuying. This is particularly helpful if one of you is a Saver and the other is a Spender. The Saver needs to understand that yes, your child really does need a fresh box of crayons and not a bag of broken stubs from under the couch. And the Spender needs to understand that the 24-pack on sale for a quarter will work just as well as the 150-count tower of rainbow colors that costs 20 bucks.
 

2. Involve your kids.

The Money Couple is the first to admit that shopping for school supplies with the kids in tow can be less fun than a root canal. But getting the kids to help with the shopping can teach them some valuable lessons. When kids choose their supplies and clothes, they are likely to take better care of them. Shopping with you also teaches them how to spend wisely. Talk them through your decisions. Would it be better to buy a pack of six small erasers for two-dollars, or a pack of two large erasers for one dollar? Do they need new tennis shoes for the first day of school, or can their current pair get them through the first couple of months? Getting kids involved makes you think through your purchases more carefully – and that can only help your bottom line.

3. Start early.

You don’t have to wait until the last week in August to gather school supplies. Starting early gives you the advantage of spreading the expense out over a few months. And many retailers hold their first big back-to school sales in late July, giving early shoppers a little more bang for their buck.

4. Talk about it.

The Money Couple finds very few couples who ever talk about back-to-school spending. Usually, one person does the shopping and doesn’t think twice about it. But when that $600 jump shows up on the credit card bill, there’s bound to be an argument! So avoid the potential conflict this change in your monthly spending can bring and talk about it now, before a single pencil is purchased.

Money Huddle Tip: Take some time during your next Money Huddle to look over your list of school supplies and expenses. Talk together about what you could spend right now, what can wait a month or two, and how you can make up for this bump in your monthly spending.

 

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