Ah, back-to-school season. Your child is anticipating the academic year ahead of them, and for parents, too, this can be an exciting time. But it can also be an expensive one — especially when you get blindsided by costs you weren’t expecting. Here’s your guide for how to handle unexpected back to school expenses.
Where To Start
A new school year can mean new activities and interests — many of which demand dollars. Talk to your child in advance about what they think they might be interested in, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at truetrae.com. “Especially as they get older, they might not be talking to you as much about things they deem important,” she says. “Keeping those lines of communication really open can help you as a parent anticipate what the costs might be.”
The school will likely provide a list of necessary supplies. But there’s nothing wrong with writing to your kid’s teacher — even during the summer — and inquiring about needs, especially for items that are generally more expensive, like field trips and technology.
Also, keep in mind that when you’re trying to anticipate costs, one of your best sources of wisdom is your spending history. “I would look at your back-to-school shopping costs from last year. See what you spent on that you didn’t anticipate, and factor those items into your budget if you need them again,” says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert at andreaworoch.com.
Extracurriculars = Extra Costs
Your kid’s extracurricular activities always seem to inspire activity in your wallet. For activities like dance and gymnastics, you may have to purchase costumes for performances. And for things like Model UN, your child will need business attire. Also, if your child is an athlete, you’ll likely have to pay for equipment. “Nowadays, especially since the recession, a lot of schools can’t cover the cost of uniforms, and in some cases even basketballs and footballs,” says Bodge. And if you’re buying something like cleats, it can cost you again later in the year when your child grows out of them. “Don’t overspend now, assuming that these supplies are going to carry you through the year,” Woroch warns. Activities often require ongoing expenditures. Instead, keep an eye open for neighborhood sales and swaps where you may be able to use last year’s equipment to give you a leg up on this years, financially.
Clothing: At First, Less Is More
Even though you may be tempted to snap up every possible outfit your child may need for the year while the summer sales tax holidays are in full swing, hang onto a portion of your budget for later in the year, advises Bodge. Why? If you live in an area with regular seasons, better deals on cold weather clothing happen later — in late September and October. Plus, if you wait, your kids have an opportunity to go to school, check out what everybody else is wearing, and see if they want to hop on a trend. You can ensure you’re spending money on things they like wearing and will actually wear.
Technology is likely an integral part of your child’s educational experience — especially if they’re in grades five or above. It’s quite possible they’ll have homework requiring a computer and assignments to print out at home. In other words, if you realize in October that you’ll need to purchase a laptop you hadn’t planned on, that can be a major hit to your budget. To prevent a possibly stressful surprise like this, make sure you reach out to your childs’ teachers or school in advance.
Avoid The Big Shopping Spree Before September
These next few weeks as you’re strolling through the mall, you’re likely to be bombarded with colorful back to school sales. You may be tempted to start shopping for everything on your list right then and there, but prices are expected to drop throughout the month of August, reaching a low in early September, says Bodge. And even once you think prices can’t get any lower and you’re ready to shop, make sure you compare prices online before making a purchase — especially with big ticket items like a laptop or phone.
Also, if you want to minimize the hassle of returns and items that don’t fit, try to shop with your child. “Bringing your kids shopping with you — even if it seems like a pain — is good bonding time. And it shows them what shopping is,” Woroch says. Giving them a budget will instill in them the idea that money is a limited resource. Plus, if your child can watch you in action making efforts to save (using a coupon, buying on sale), that will give them an appreciation for the value of money — something that not nearly enough kids will be taught in schools.
With Molly Povich