This post was written by Marie.
Who wants to think about Back to School when we are mired in the dog days of summer? Not many – but by planning ahead now you might find ways to lessen the expenses you will face next month and use the annual experience as a teachable moment in your child’s personal finance education.
Parents already know that back to school time is the second most expensive time of the year (right after the holidays). According to the July 15, 2010 Back to School Survey from the National Retail Federation, the average family spent around $600 per child for back to school needs, split between clothing (37%); electronics (30%); shoes (17%) and school supplies (16%).
Here are a few money tips to help you plan your back to school activities and maybe reduce that $600 per child amount.
Involve Your Child in Planning and Budgeting
If you believe in using allowances as part of personal finance training, letting your child take on more and more financial responsibility with an increasing allowance can help them be prepared to make good budgeting and spending decisions when they are on their own. Let your pre-teen and/or teen spend their own allowance on clothing for back to school and don’t jump in to bail them out if they make choices they regret!
In “Back to School Shopping Can Be a Good Finance Lesson For Children” published on NewsOK, the author suggests that additional lessons can be learned such as:
- keeping within the budget
- using what they already have
- deciding between needs and wants
- shopping for savings by comparing prices, using coupons, coupon codes and other discounts and making sure they are buying the teacher specified items
- deferring spending until they are sure about what is wanted or needed and
- learning to give by having them donate last years clothing.
Get together with friends or neighbors to do a clothing exchange party where each one brings a number of nice used clothing or school related items and leaves with a different set they can actually use.
Learn to love hand me downs from relatives. Don’t be afraid to let the grandparents chip in. I love to shop garage sales. In our neighborhood folks buy really nice name brand clothing for their kids. I get great, nearly new stuff for my little grand-kids at next to nothing prices. It’s fun for me and it saves my children shopping time and money.
Let the kids see what is the ‘in’ thing at school by waiting until afterLabor Day to buy clothing at retail stores – that way they know they will be cool!
Band with neighbors or friends to buy school supplies in bulk – then spit the cost between you. Bulk buys can be a lot cheaper.
Don’t Pay Retail
After you have identified what is needed by doing an inventory of what the kids already have that can be used or re-used and by getting together with friends, relatives and neighbors, you may be ready to hit some of the retail stores to buy the clothes, electronics, shoes and things.
When you do, go on tax free day. Ryan Himmel, CPA, personal finance expert, and the founder of BIDaWIZ.com suggests that you can save from 4 – 9% on qualified purchases (even if you aren’t a student!) using tax free days. Here is site that has tax free days by state listed for 2011 .
Go armed with coupons and coupon codes and your kid’s student id (or your teacher id if you teach) and don’t take the kids unless they are spending their own money.
If you know you are going to want to have a tutor for your child this year, use a college tutor.
“Private tutors can cost up to ninety dollars an hour. Check with your local college for students who are majoring in the subject your child needs help with. You can usually hire someone for about twenty dollars an hour.” says Jeanette Pavini from Coupons.com. This can save you having to take out a direct loan.
By paying college tuition at the state university with a cash back rewards credit card (and then paying the balance off before any interest charges came due!!), my sister-in-law earned enough cash to take the family to Hawaii!! What a deal.
Use your card for the other purchases you make as well.
Know Where to Get the Money
If you or your student are funding college expenses, be careful of where you go for money first. According to Simple Tuition you can save money by following the below sequence:
- Use free money (scholarships and grants)
- Partake in federal work-study programs
- Use cash (yours, your parents or other cash that can be had)
- Use low, fixed interest rate loans that don’t accumulate interest while you are in school (like Perkins and subsidized Stafford loans)
- Unsubsidized Stafford loans
- Federal Plus loans
- Private loans in the student’s name
Rent Don’t Buy
If your child is wanting to take music lessons, think about renting the instrument instead of buying. We did this and were glad of it as our youngest switched instruments a couple of times!
College students have the option of renting books now. There are multiple online sites that let students rent, buy used or sell books. Some of these are Chegg.com, RentScouter.com, and Bookrenter.com
Buy don’t rent
If your child is off to college and you are interested in real estate investments, consider buying a house in your child’s college town. Your child can live there and you pay yourself the dorm fees or apartment rental plus, your child can line up roommates and you can get rental money from them as well.
One of my relatives did this for the four years their son was in school. They actually went in together with another parent to buy the house. They sold their half back to the other parent when their child left college.
Plan ahead for back to school, but until then, enjoy your summer!
What back to school tips do you have?
I’m saving money on my son’s school clothes this year by waiting. I did buy him a few new shirts and jeans, but last year I spent a ton of money and he outgrew everything by October. And he’s outgrown much of his wardrobe since school got out in May! It’s such a good idea to swap with friends or shop yard sales – kids grow way too fast.
@ Andrea – good for you! It’s great if you can get things at yard sales or a swap if your kids will wear them. Sometimes they get to an age where they get pretty picky about their clothes!
For college, I would remind people to rent textbooks, not buy. If you must buy, go to Amazon and buy used for much cheaper!
Robert – too true. I found out about Chegg.com when my two daughter-in-laws went back to college for nursing degrees. No such thing existed when I was in school.
Great tips on involving the kids in the process! You can never start too early!
That’s the way I see it as well. Let them learn by doing, mistakes are usually much cheaper when kids make them, than when adults do!
Thanks for the renting books tip for colleges. Going to have to check that out for my son!
My 2 daughter-in-laws rented their college books (I think they used Chegg). They seemed happy with it.
My two daughter-in-laws rented their college books (from Chegg I think). They seemed satisfied with it.
As college students look out for the ebook versions of the physical books. This works out so much cheaper than second hand book buying. During my postgraduate degree I was amazed how many of my course text books were online for free limited downloads or minimal costs.
Hari – thanks for sharing your experiences with this!
Jeans usually go on sale in October after most people have bought their jeans. If possible just buy the bare minimum now & get more jeans in October. In many places it doesn’t start to get colder until the end of Oct. anyway.
Maggie, excellent point! I know it stays hot here well into mid October most years.