Question: I'm starting school shopping for my children, but don't want to blow my budget. Do you have any tips for keeping my costs down?
Answer: Back-to-school shopping can be a big expense, but there are ways to keep your costs down.
The first step in saving money while back-to-school shopping is to take an inventory of what you have. Go through your child's closet and see what still fits. Separate the items into "keep" and "get rid of" piles and make a list of what will need to be replaced.
Try to figure out how many of each item is needed. For example, three new pairs of jeans, 10 pairs of socks, seven new shirts. It will be much easier to look at your list while you're shopping to see how many of each item you need to pick up, instead of trying to figure it out in your head.
Set a clothing budget for your child before heading out to the store. Check the sale ads and comparison shop. Make a list and see which store has the best prices on what. Utilize any store coupons or store savings cards that you may have. Factor the discounts into your estimation on what you'll be spending.
While back-to-school shopping and if your budget allows, check out some of the summer clothes on clearance. Most summer items are deeply discounted at this time of year, but can still be worn for the beginning of the school year. See if you can cross anything off your list in the clearance section.
If your budget is tighter than usual this year, consider buying things secondhand or selling or trading the clothes your child outgrew. Check out local thrift stores or secondhand sales. Gather up a group of your friends and share the clothes your child outgrew.
Don't forget to figure out what other supplies will have to be purchased. Most school websites provide school supply lists by grade. Get the list and start to tackle it. In most cases, things your child used the previous school year can't be reused. As you make your list, consider stocking up on items like folders, crayons, glue sticks and pencils. These items are usually discounted for back-to-school shopping sales and can be purchased for less money now than during the school year when they need to be replaced.
When shopping for school supplies, consider purchasing items that may last longer, like a plastic folder compared to a cardboard one. It may cost slightly more, but you most likely will not need to replace it during the school year.
Don't forget to check out the dollar store for items. You might not purchase everything on your list there, but check out their selection and see what makes sense to get there.
It's also a good idea to think about all the activities your child will be involved in during the upcoming school year. In some cases, there is a fee that goes along with these things or purchases to make to participate, like uniforms. Try to get an estimate of how much extracurricular activities will cost and start planning for it in your budget.
After school starts, go through your receipts and lists of what you purchased and where from. Notate anything you did this year that worked well. Paper clip your notes and receipts to your datebook or calendar for next year. You'll know what works and you'll have a better idea on how much you can expect to spend and maybe will be able to plan ahead for back-to-school shopping 2014.
Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). For more about the Agency's services, visit www.advantageccs.org or to access the free online budgeting tool go to www.onlinebudgetadvisor.com. If you have money or credit management questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Provide your name, address and daytime telephone number. Ms. Murray tries to reply to all inquiries but she cannot always respond.