Smart and Simple Back to School

Smart and Simple back to school
According to The Wall Street Journal, parents can plan to spend around $700 on back to school costs this year. Ouch! To make matters worse, evidently kids are “demanding” cell phones and other electronics from their parents for school.

School district budgets are tighter than ever so parents are expected to contribute more supplies.

Holy Busted-Budget, Batman!

What’s a parent to do? Follow these 9 easy tips to keep the back to school budget in check…

Smart and Simple Back to School

  1. Reuse items from last year. Go through last year’s supplies and examine back-packs, lunch boxes before heading out to buy new ones. (Sew your own lunch sack with these instructions.)
  2. Check in with teachers. Plenty of schools never update the ‘school supply list’ that gets mailed out. Check in with the teacher on what they actually need.
  3. Clean out the closets, first. Kids don’t need an entire new wardrobe to start the school year. When school starts, it’s usually hot and summery. Wait to buy new clothes when they’re needed – if at all.
  4. Make a wardrobe list – and stick to it. This is especially helpful when shopping with teenage girls. Trust me on this. Have a plan before heading to the mall.
  5. Shop second-hand, first. If kids are paying for their own clothing, they’re more likely to hit second-hand stores for the latest fashion items.
  6. Steer clear of the dollar bins. According to Danielle O’Doherty of My School Supplies, we should steer clear of the dollar bins. We’re often seduced by the inexpensive pricing only to get a poor quality product. Look for brands that are endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council – who recommend sustainable forest products. Look for their seal on the back of paper and pencils.
  7. Use coupons – for items needed. Don’t stock pile or buy items unless they’re truly needed. Likewise, buy items year-round – when they’re on sale and you know you’ll need them.
  8. Volunteer. Have older kids and teens volunteer for an organization that helps those in need. My kids help at a clothing center before we back to school shop. This helps them appreciate what they have already.
  9. Do kids really need cell phones and electronics for school? Yes, cell phones are convenient but are cell phones really needed? And, they cost – a lot. They’re also very distracting at school! What’s wrong with kids paying for their own cell phone bills? Nothing at all. Don’t forget, there’s still a telephone in the school office.
Pens for school or work!
Don’t let me buy pens. I love them!

Hold tight to those purse strings and keep those wallets in the pocket! School spending may be at an all time high but that doesn’t mean you have to participate.

What are your tricks for reining in back to school costs?

Go Gingham related links:

How to save money on your smart phone bills – great tips from readers!
What does it mean to budget? Find out here!
Budgeting and how to track expenses – Part 1
Budgeting and how to track expenses – Part 2
Budgeting and how to track expenses – Part 3
How finances figure in frugality
The key to saving: frugal living is the key to saving

7 thoughts on “Smart and Simple Back to School

  1. Hi Sarah,
    I have some suggestions for parents who have to buy textbooks, especially for college. (I’m currently working in a college bookstore)
    Be sure to look into ALL options – you can rent textbooks, new or used, not all are available. Check with the school bookstore. The company I’m working for will price match for sites like Amazon, Chegg, and Barnes and Noble and if they have a better price than your store, they will match the price and take off an additional 10%. Buying or renting online is not always your best option.
    But, you need to do your homework. Go to the college bookstore website and find the books needed for the class, then find them on Amazon, etc. Make sure the ISBN numbers match and if it’s a rental that it is fulfilled by Amazon or whomever, not the general marketplace (it will say so on the page of the particular book). Either print out the page or put it on your smart phone and take it with you to purchase. For an example, there is a freshman math book that is often required (new) and by price match you can save up to $60.
    Ask at the bookstore if all books are actually required by a professor. Sometimes, one professor may not use all the books listed for his/her class. Or ask your student not to open any shrink-wrapped books until after the first day of class and ask what books are actually required. There is usually a grace period for returning books and getting a full refund.
    You will need a credit card and driver’s license for rentals, but your card will not be charged unless the book is not returned or is badly damaged. I was surprised to learn that students can lightly write in rentals or highlight, but cannot write answers in them (that would be a cause for ending up purchasing the book)
    KEEP THE RECEIPTS, and be sure that any books rented are returned by the deadline set forth by the bookstore. And, at the same time, turn in any purchased books for some money back.
    My suggestion is to rent all the college textbooks you are able. It is a better deal.
    I’ve also learned that this is information parents and students are not necessarily given. Renting books was new to me last year (as a parent) but working in the store, I’ve learned all this other information that is freely given.
    The bottom line is to do your homework BEFORE you arrive (or send your child) at the bookstore. It can be overwhelming and doing this can save headaches and time (another savings).

    I apologize for this being so long, but I think it’s good information to get out there.


  2. I appreciate your advice and Carroll’s, above. My kids aren’t in high school/college yet, but it’s good info to keep in mind. I had no idea you could rent textbooks.

    Now that my son is in middle school, I don’t think I can get away with buying up a size or two like I did while he was in elementary school (at least for jeans!), but for younger kids, that’s always been my technique. Short and long-sleeved t-shirts, jeans, athletic pants can be purchased for a fraction of the cost off-season (last fall I found a $1/item sale at Penney’s–I stocked up for a few years on shorts and t-shirts for both kids). I pull it out when they need new clothes. I have found out that you are right–it’s usually hot when my kids return to school so shorts and t-shirts are still the most appropriate. I generally get my son one new t-shirt for the first day of school (he’s not very into clothing). I take my daughter out shopping for one new outfit for school where SHE gets to pick out–otherwise, I pick out all the clothing. You have to start out young if you want to get away with this–I never allowed my kids to be picky about their clothing–so on the one occasion where my daughter gets to pick out her outfit, it’s a big treat. She never argues with me about clothing otherwise (she’s 8–I’m sure that will change as she gets older). I DO buy decent quality sneakers for my kids and I take them shopping to do this, as a good fit is important–they have sneakers and dress shoes for church and that’s it, shoe-wise.

    I have found that Kohl’s will have backpacks on sale after school starts but you have to check often to catch the sales (we make our kids use theirs till they wear out!).

    I’m interested in hearing other’s thoughts on cell phones for kids.

    Good thoughts, Sara!


  3. Thanks for these textbook details, Carroll. Having JUST done this for my freshman daughter, it is shocking. Even though we used these strategies, her books were over $1,100 for the first term. Another strategy for future buying once you get on campus, is to buy directly from other students for the price they can sell back to the bookstore, which is less than the used price in the bookstore.

    And one more note. We went online to order books and where all we were going to get them from for the best prices. I decided to think about it overnight, as I sometimes do when buying something for over $1,000 for the first time. During that time, a couple of the cheapest alternatives were snapped up, which ended up costing about $50 more in total. So, in this case, the early bird gets the worm – do not hesitate!


    1. Michelle, that is an excellent point. Some people have come into the store saying “I saw it for thus and such a price” and when it gets looked up, the price has changed. However, there was one (only one mind you) where the price had gone down.
      It’s like buying airline tickets online.


  4. I agree totally with your recommendations!

    Instead of purchasing multiple, cheaply made backpacks over the years( the cheap ones sometimes don’t even make it through the year)
    we purchase a backpack from LL Bean at the start of Kindergarten. They are classic, well made, and they will repair or replace the backpack for it’s entire lifetime! We avoid patterns or more trendy prints and opt for solid colors.


  5. School classroom supplies this year were cheap as I had quite a few of the items already at home. The expense that is killing me is my son’s uniform tips this year since our charter school moved 15 miles away and opened another location 5 miles away from our house. Besides opening a brand new campus again, this one has all different colors than before and will only allow school colors on campus so new sweatshirts, new coat. Thank god it won’t be cold enough for those tool November so we started with 3 shirts and will slowly be adding to it. Because of uniforms and he’s 8 I do buy his shirts big so we get at least 2 years or of them. And in the past we had uniform swaps which are a huge help.


  6. Thanks for the great tips, Sara! I always appreciate hearing how you manage things like this. There is so much angst around going back to school that it is tempting to sooth the kids with promises of new stuff! Totally the wrong message!


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