The weather still thinks it’s summer outside, but in the eyes of many school districts, school is just days away from a new calendar year. Even if your area isn’t there yet, you’ve got only a few weeks left — maybe a month, if you’re lucky.
Somehow you must come up with creative ways to get clothes, school supplies and more, without breaking the budget. Here’s a start, before your kids trudge off:
*Clean out their closets. Not only will it give them a clean place to start the year from, but you can donate their gently-worn items to help other kids get a new start. That way, everybody wins.
*What do they really need? If it’s jeans, you shouldn’t be at the shoe store, buying sandals. Know what clothes they’ve got, so you don’t buy extras or duplicates. (Five-ten days’ worth is a good starting point. Add more as needed, or so you don’t have to wash as often.)
Sometimes it’s best to wait until school actually starts, to double-check what’s really essential. This can especially be true for the college-bound. Case in point: a dorm room you’ll be sharing. It’s far too easy to spend money on duplicate items that roommate’s parents have also purchased. Buy the essentials– and wait for the rest.
*Hand-me-downs. Invariably, my school year started with a huge box of dresses and other items from my older cousin, who had a great sense of style. (Meanwhile, she was getting items from her older cousin. I didn’t mind — those items would eventually come to me!) What could you ‘borrow’ from your kids’ older cousins, siblings or personal friends?
*Office supply and discount store sales. Office Max, Target, Wal-Mart and others have incredible prices on pens, pencils, glue sticks, and a boatload of paper and notebooks right now. Check for sales (they generally change on Sundays), visit your coupon drawer…and get ready to save anywhere from 30-70% on supplies. (Get some extras and put them away for Christmas stockings, too.) Warning: stores are counting on you to buy extra non-sale items to make up the cost. Unless it’s essential, grab the sale stuff, pay for it, and you’re out of there. You can always come back later.
*Ready to shop? Make a map. Don’t drive until you know which stores you want to visit. Often you can drive from one to the next, saving gas and time.
*Buy multiples whenever possible. It isn’t just underwear and socks that’s cheaper by the pack. Are your kids’ favorite snacks on sale? Buy a case, if it’s something that will keep and/or store easily. Punch cards for school lunches, bus rides, etc. are cheaper, generally, when a week or a month’s worth is purchased.
*Think layers. Thin shirts, t-shirts and light skirts now — when the weather gets colder, you can add leggings, sweaters and hoodies. Layers let you automatically adapt to the temperature, no matter how warm or cool it gets.
*Look for “free with” or BOGO (buy one, get one free) items. At the very least, you should be getting cash-back or reward points with a credit card on your purchases. Go here for the most up-to-date info on cash-back credit cards.
*Let your kids help pay. Give them extra tasks for chores, or encourage them to find part-time work for extra cash. You can also:
*Let them decide how to spend the money you give them. Figure out your budget. Emphasize what purchases are critical — then let them decide how they want to use it. Remind them that if they buy a t-shirt or two, then blow the rest on a new skateboard, you are not going to buy extra socks or underwear to rescue them. They will have to make do until the next semester.
This is a great way to teach your kids independence. And that, if you think about it, is the ultimate goal.