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Back to School Savings Tips for Military Families

Row of school buses.

It's that time of year again for adults and kids alike: the beginning of the school year. Back to school can be a challenging time on your expenses, especially when you're a military family. You may have just moved to a new assignment and had to get rid of last year's school supplies during the move. Kids quickly outgrow their clothes, and are often influenced by the media and their peers about what they think they should have.

According to this article, back-to-school spending is $26.7 billion market, and that's down from previous years. It works out to be $634.78 per child, making back to school a very expensive time. Meanwhile, plenty of families are struggling with high debt and high interest rates, which makes these expenses even more challenging.

But just because the average spend per child is $634.78 does not mean you have to spend that much on your own kids. Manage your back to school budget with our tips for military families. Learn where to find bargains and deals for school supplies, specific resources and organizations for the military, and what kind of savings you can find as an adult going back to school (both on the GI bill and as a military spouse).

School Supplies Shopping

For many people, school has already started. This is now the perfect time to go shopping as stores will want to clear out their merchandise. Dollar stores and other discounters are a great source for school supplies.

If you are a military family, you're guaranteed to know other military families. Team up together and make a run to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club. Since the items are already discounted because they are in bulk, you'll save even more if the costs are shared between multiple families.

Finally, try asking for free items in your local Craigslist site or Freecycle mailing list. There's a good chance that another family will have school supplies that they don't need. Through Freecycle, I've even managed to receive a laptop and a printer—for free.

Resources for Military Families

With constant moves, your own military community may have supplies or clothing that they would like to unload. Sargeslist is a military version of Craigslist: created by military members for military members.

If you are a military family struggling with funds for school supplies, find relief through Operation Homefront's Back to School Brigade. This organization helps military members and veterans with many financial and psychological needs, and it also provides free school supplies to K-12 military kids. Find your nearest office, and explore some of the other resources they have for military members struggling with finances.

Back to School for Adults

It's not just kids who can look forward to a fresh start in September. For adults who are returning to school, tuition will be the largest part of your expenses. From the GI Bill to private scholarships for service members, much of your costs can be reduced.

Before you go, educate yourself on how the GI Bill actually works. Military spouses also benefit—there are educational resources for military spouses when they return to school too.

On a final note, the best way to save money on back to school is to not spend money at all. What can you reuse from last year? What can you swap with other families? By being creative with what you have, you might discover that back to school doesn't have to be that expensive after all.

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Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.

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