7 Back-to-School Financial Tips

Schoolchildren with backpacks
Cut your costs by first shopping at home — many families can find barely used school supplies or hand-me-downs tucked away in closets that could save a lot of money on back-to-school costs. (Adobe Stock)

It's hard to believe another summer is almost in the books. It's back to school time. Although we are no longer participating at our house, I remember the meetings, the school supply lists and, of course, my kids' vision of what they would "need" to put together a successful year in the classroom. Put it all together and add in a robust dose of inflation and you might be scrambling for tips and tricks to get through it all without sabotaging your finances.

Here are seven ideas to help.

1. Start early. While this tip may not directly save you money, it will reduce stress and could produce some indirect savings. Imagine driving to seven different stores to track down every item on your two-page list of mandatory supplies. Yes, you need the box with the specific required Crayon color combination for your child. If you are late to start shopping, you may have to go to multiple stores and, beyond the wasted time, you could be burning through a lot of unnecessary inflation-impacted gas. Early is now.

2. Make a list. You can make any type of shopping more efficient and less costly by starting with a budget and building a shopping list. This will keep you on track and allow you to avoid impulse buys. Do it yourself, or better yet, if your kids are a bit older bring them in on the exercise. This technique works for shopping anytime, but the money lesson angle is especially relevant as you outfit to go back to school.

3. Shop at home or close to it. Being the oldest child, I didn't get to experience in-home hand-me-downs. However, my frugal mom didn't miss out on the opportunity to tap our network to expand her options. Either way, you could save a lot of money. Heck, make an event out of it. A back-to-school flea market/neighborhood barbecue combo could equate to good times and nice savings.

4. Visit a resale store. Resale or thrift stores offer a great way to save especially if you shop one to two seasons ahead when demand is low. Look for winter items in the summer, and summer items in the winter. You may also be able to sell any of your extra or unneeded items to the store...ka-ching.

5. Start finance school early. As I noted earlier, let your kids have a stake in the clothes or additional supplies they want to buy. Letting a child buy some items with their own money teaches great money management lessons and helps them realize how financial trade offs really happen.

6. Timing matters. Based on my conversations, people are a lot more focused on their spending these days. It's just a reality of today's inflationary environment. That means leveraging your community's tax-free shopping holidays or other seasonal sales.

7. Check with the school on technology. These types of purchases are usually best done through the school's recommended vendor so the technology application, software, security and integration with the school network are verified. It's no fun to save a few dollars and then realize the item will not operate on the school's platform or network.

Back to school is a hectic time. Make sure the pace of your spending does not reflect the pace of your life as you prepare the kids for an exciting new year.

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