Back-to-school budgeting saves parents stress, money - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Back-to-school budgeting saves parents stress, money

Small savings can add up if you take a little time to create a back-to-school budget and stick to it. (Source: Lyn Lomasi/Flickr Creative Commons) Small savings can add up if you take a little time to create a back-to-school budget and stick to it. (Source: Lyn Lomasi/Flickr Creative Commons)

(RNN) - For most families, back to school is the second-biggest chunk of special-event and holiday spending, right after the winter holiday season that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

The average family with kids in K-12 will spend $630 in preparation for the school year, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation. That’s down from last year’s average of $669.

In total, Americans spend about $25 billion each year on school supplies like clothes, electronics and supplies.

It’s easy to overspend but a little planning can help keep the cost down without shortchanging your young scholars.

First thing, get your kids to try on all their school clothes. Keep the stuff that fits, donate the stuff that doesn’t fit or is worn out, and make a list of what needs to be replaced. Consider buying fall jackets in the summer, before prices rise as temperatures fall. Be smart about buying shoes. Kids’ feet grow fast, so don’t spend too much on sneakers or dress shoes they’ll grow out of in a few months.

Make a budget and stick to it. Don't bring younger children with you when you go shopping. It’s hard to keep spending down, and it’s almost impossible if you have a begging child with you. A mix of brick-and-mortar and online shopping will likely produce the best results. Check for coupons

Time your purchases to make the best buy. Many states have tax-free holiday that can save you up to 7 percent in some states. Shop around, check online ads and store sales - many large-box retailers offer discounts on selected clothes and supplies. Some stores, like Target and Staples, have store credit cards that offer a 5 percent in-store discount. But pay them off immediately, so you don’t lose any of that discount by accruing interest.

Pay cash if you can, but use smart credit if you can’t. Wallethub.com suggests several with low introductory interest rates, low or no annual fee, cash back and rewards bonuses. You'll need above-average credit to qualify for these cards, and as always, pay off credit card debt promptly, or those “savings” are quickly consumed by interest.

Consider waiting for the supply list from the teacher. Or check with the school to see if you can get one early to avoid the rush. - or don’t buy more school supplies than you need - if your kindergartner needs the eight-color box of crayons, don’t get the 64-color box. Reuse durable supplies like scissors, rulers, pencil boxes.

There are two schools of thought on backpacks and lunchboxes. When the kids are young, it’s best to buy new ones every year, because they outgrow those just as they do clothing.  Once they get older. Livingonadime.com says to consider buying a more expensive item that lasts longer - L.L. Bean, for example, offers a lifetime guarantee on no-frills, high-quality backpacks you can also use for hiking and camping.

Don't fall victim to clever marketing. Get what you need at the best price, and Family Circle warns, don’t buy items just because they're trendy. Be careful with purchases of electronics - spread big-ticket purchases like computers, pads and smartphones out over holidays and birthdays.

Make one trip for the big purchases. One big, long shopping trip is not as stressful as spreading out the pain, and it's easier to stay within your budget. Buy basics in bulk: pencils, paper, art supplies, notebooks, etc. Check your supermarket, particularly if you belong to Costco, Sam's Club or similar outlets.

You might want to schedule an annual contribution to the kids’ college funds. This should be considered a vital part of your child's education budget. If you can't afford to make one big payment annually, choose a monthly payment payroll deduction. You should evaluate your savings at least once a year, and now is a good time for that.

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