It’s that time of year again. The time retailers (and our bank accounts) know that we’re gearing up to spend in droves. Back-to-school shopping is second only to the December holidays when it comes to spending. We are set to throw down more than $600 per family this summer on clothes, electronics, books and other September needs (National Retail Federation’s annual Back to School Survey).
As demanding as it is, September spending does not have to be a setback. There are ways to make sure that when the school year—or any other spending ‘holiday’—rolls around, you are in great financial shape to meet it, without having to borrow. Here is how to create a family back-to-school budget, and stick to it!
- Bring the Kids on Board. In high school, I was responsible for my own back-to-school purchases and I remember being so proud to show Mami how much I got for $100. She made sure we all knew that sticking to a budget was something to be proud of—it’s a skill. Budgeting is also family business! Don’t shield the kids from the work involved in making sure your dollars stretch. This is a valuable time for lessons about money, spending and budgeting. Set up an individual budget for each child and get him to understand that you’re all in this together as a family mission. Can you do it? Heck yeah.
- Kids, Meet Your Closet. How many of us are guilty of going shopping without looking in our own closets and drawers first? But, I bet we all make sure to at least peek in our fridge before heading to the market… Pledge to do the same thing with your kids’ closets. ‘Shopping’ your closet can be fun. In our family, we’d go through what we had already in order to get an inventory and create a list of ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants.’ What’s missing? What’s outgrown? What needs to be replaced? Part two of this step: Know the difference between needing a pair of jeans and needing that pair of jeans. Your budget will help your child understand that there is a lot of give and take in spending. For example, if they spend $20 less on a pair of pants, they can buy another shirt instead. Make a list before you shop, attach it to your budget, and let the savvy shopping begin.
- Have Your Own Extreme Couponing Strategy. There are so many ways to never pay retail that it’s almost impossible to not find savings somewhere. However, the key is to not drown in deals, causing you to lose precious time (time = money!). There are three main ways to save on back-to-school: sales, coupons, and social media. First, scan for sales in Sunday circulars and on retailer’s websites. Sign up for email alerts from your favorite retailers and comparison shop online. Combine sales with all kinds of coupons—coupons from sites like DealCoupon.com, Coupons.com, and CouponCabin.com as well as promotional codes that you can find at sites like RetailMeNot.com and FatWallet.com. Then, look to ‘friend’ your favorite retailers on Facebook or ‘follow’ them on Twitter. You’ll get access to Facebook/Twitter-only sales and promotional codes to add to your coupons and sale-shopping.
- Don’t Buy Everything at Once. The month of September sometimes feels like a drop-dead-deadline. We see it as a date when everything must be bought, pronto, as though we somehow don’t have access to pants after September 1 of each year. Silly! Especially with big and small retailers online, you can shop anytime. And the best time to get the best deals on back-to-school is actually after school starts. For items you don’t need on day one, hold off until late September, early October when the big sales happen. You may not have the best choices when it comes to sizes, but on a tight budget, this shopping strategy can be just the right fit for you.