‘Back to school’ doesn’t have to be ‘back to broke’ with these tips

A UAB personal finance expert offers easy and creative ways to save a buck when buying new supplies for school-aged kids.

Slowly but surely, “Back to School” displays are popping up in stores. But if back to school means back to budget woes, one University of Alabama at Birmingham personal finance expert has tips to help stretch a dollar.

back_to_school_savings_sAdding up all the costs – supplies, clothes, shoes and electronics – highlights how expensive it can be to go to school. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2013 Back-to-School Survey, families with school-age children will spend an average $634.78. Total spending on back-to-school is expected to reach $26.7 billion.

While the NRF said that spending is slightly down from last year, UAB Collat School of Business Instructor Elizabeth Turnbull, M.B.A., explained that planning and preparation can help further reduce money spent.

“When the list of required supplies comes in from teachers, try calling a parent whose child recently graduated that grade,” Turnbull suggested. “Often they will be able to share if their child used all items from day one of the school year, or if some can be purchased later on.”

Other ways to not strain the budget include getting the kids involved with the shopping and savings.

“Set your budget amount and have kids who are old enough gather weekly sales fliers or go online and see if they can find all items under budget,” Turnbull said. “If they can, let them keep the difference or receive a treat – this gives them incentive to find it cheap and it teaches them budgeting.”

Another frugal game can include reusing items that may not need replaced each year, like a backpack or lunch bag.

“Offer kids an incentive to reuse old items to get more use out of pricier items,” Turnbull said.

Other tips include:

    • Use promotional products like pens and stationary that are already lying around the house
    • Buy in bulk with other families and split the cost; if you have multiple kids, keep a school supply basket or closet to save bulk items
    • Instead of buying new art supplies, go through crayons and markers the kids already use at home
    • Do not forget stores where everything costs a dollar; they often will have school supplies
    • Purchase supplies that do not have famous cartoon characters; plain is often cheaper

    “The website Pinterest can help offer tips on jazzing up plain items purchased,” Turnbull added. “It can be fun to get together with other parents and their kids to personalize supplies.”

    Turnbull said the more the kids are involved with purchasing, the better off they are for the future.

    “The earlier you can figure out how to get them to budget, the better they’ll be in the long run when it comes to their own personal finances,” she said.