It’s hard to believe that it’s already August, which means the back-to-school shopping season is in full swing. For kids, Summer ending may be a bummer, but for many parents, having the kids out of the house each day is a blessing. That may be true, but for parents on a budget, it also means that yearly stress of finding the money to outfit your kids with all the supplies they need–not to mention the clothes, accessories, and trendy technology they may be begging for to “keep up” with their peers.
So for parents without much extra to allocate, here are some budgeting tips that will not only help you find the money you need to make the school year a success, but also spend it wisely so you don’t break the bank browsing the back-to-school aisle.
As Summer winds down, so does your Summer savings category in your budget. You’ve played high-roller with a big Summer vacation, you’ve hit up all the amusement parks and concerts, and now you need to ride out this last month pinching every penny. Fear not, because Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of low-cost fun around your neck of the woods.
Whether it’s a family or neighborhood potluck picnic, playing in municipal pools to beat the heat, exploring your region’s natural beauty, or finding fun and free activities put on by your city or county, there are countless ways to live a dream Summer with you and your whole family without breaking the bank and while still saving for your upcoming back-to-school expenses.
Hopefully you’ve been budgeting all Summer to help you manage your expenses while still having some fun. But experienced budgeters know that the same budget doesn’t always work every single month of the year–as seasons change, so do our bills, our spending categories, and much more.
So rather than react by changing your budget once Fall hits, be proactive and update your budget in anticipation of your upcoming needs. Track down how much you spent last year on various expenses and adapt your budget to meet those needs–or to start saving for them now if you’re not prepared. This can include saving for back-to-school expenses, finding room in your budget because of lower child care costs, and much more. By playing offense instead of defense, you’ll find yourself prepared for the new season in no time.
New back-to-school clothes are the sort of expense that isn’t strictly necessary, but really helps any kid feel their best and set them up for success in the new school year, so we get why so many parents want to help expand the wardrobe come September. But that can cause huge anxiety–after all, name-brand new clothes are expensive, and you’ve got a budget to keep.
Thankfully, thrifting is trendy right now, and that means thrift shops are full of cool, gently-worn clothes that your kid can mix and match to create stylish outfits all year round. Gone are the days where the popular kids all wear the exact same expensive uniform; eclecticism is in and taking your kid to a great thrift store can help them expand their closet with a less-than-expansive bank account.
Inevitably, your kids will beg you for plenty of back-to-school goodies that they “just have to have” in order to stand out or impress their friends. Sometimes it’s something expensive like a trendy backpack that “all the cool kids” have, or sometimes it’s something small like name-brand crayons.
Now we’re not made of stone–we know that your kids have a point sometimes! (Think back to when you were a kid–how jealous were you of all the kids who came in with Crayola?) But if you give in to everything they say they “need” to be cool, you’ll break your budget in no time at all.
But what kids often want more than anything else is to be given autonomy and control over their lives. So rather than just saying “no” unilaterally, offer them a choice: Maybe you say “you can have Crayola crayons or that cool pencil topper. Which do you prefer?” Or maybe you teach them how to budget: tell them that they have $100 to get a backpack, a binder, and a new shirt, and let them decide whether they want to spend it evenly, or get that one really nice piece and accept generic for the rest. By simply giving them a say in what they’re getting, you have a much better chance of getting all the supplies bought without anyone throwing a tantrum.
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