Five Back-to-School Budgeting Tips

Five Back-to-School Budgeting Tips
Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

A new school year is fast approaching. Is it time again for back-to-school shopping? Here are five tips to help you keep a handle on your budget.

  1. Know how much you can afford to spend.

First determine what you need to buy and what you can use from last year. Then determine how much you can afford to spend. Also consider how much autonomy you will give each child to pick out his/her own things. By giving them each a set amount of money to spend, you may be amazed at how well they budget their money if it means getting a few more outfits!

Set the money you budgeted aside in a separate savings account. Set up automatic transfers when you get paid. Having a dedicated account for back-to-school shopping creates a “mental accounting” for this money.  After school starts, you can use this account to start saving for Christmas presents.

  1. Take advantage of sales tax holidays.

back to school shoppingnIn my home state of Oklahoma, our tax-free shopping weekend is August 4-6 but only clothing and shoes up to $100 are exempt from sales tax. We can also drive to Texas the next weekend (August 11-13) and take advantage of their tax-free shopping. More is covered – clothing, backpacks, and school supplies up to $100. To get the complete list for all the states, go to www.taxadmin.org/sales-tax-holidays.

  1. Can you wait until after school starts?

There are many reasons to try to hold off buying until after school starts:

  • Your kids can see what the other kids are wearing.
  • You can take advantage of discounts after school starts.
  • There are always Labor Day sales.
  • You can see if you really do need the items on the school’s supplies list.
  • For children starting college, you may want to wait until you see where they will be living. Your daughter may really hit it off with her roommate and they may want to decorate their dorm room together.
  1. Use online shopping to your advantage.

It is quite possible that you can get many items cheaper online. For clothes, have your kids try them on in-store first to make sure of size. Look and see if there are any online coupon codes – many do not work but you never know.

  • Don’t forget about shipping costs.
  • Make sure you know the online vendor’s return policies.
  • Allow yourself enough time to comparison shop.

But be wary. Take steps to avoid identity theft.

  • Make sure the website is a legitimate vendor.
  • Be careful when inputting your credit card information. To avoid giving the vendor your information directly, use PayPal whenever possible.
  • While the new credit cards with embedded chips (i.e., the new “dip” cards) make it difficult for thieves to steal your credit card numbers from physical stores, you do not get those protections online. [Read more HERE.]
  • If you think you are a victim of identity theft, go to identitytheft.gov to report it.
  1. Be prepared to pay your bills.

Pay off your credit cards right away – use them like a debit card. Take cash if you don’t think you have the discipline to stick to your budget. If your child really wants something, set up a payment plan for him/her to pay you back.

I’ll end this post the same way I started it. Remember that savings account you set up earlier? You set the money aside for this, so use it.

Visit my Basic Financial Management page for more information.