Managing back-to-school expenses

According to the National Retail Federation, the average cost for back-to-school spending this year is projected at nearly $670 per family with children in grades K-12, which means U.S. families will spend a total of $26.5 billion for K-12 children. With college-aged kids added in the mix, that number is expected to soar to nearly $75 billion.

The greatest cost for back-to-school shoppers is clothing and accessories, followed by electronics—costs that tend to dip into one’s wallet all at once. However, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist Elizabeth Kiss said it pays to spread out the back-to-school buying process.

Budgeting back-to-school expenses includes activities, paper and supplies, in addition to the clothing, she said. Even if an item is not part of the budget at the moment, it might be in the future. Determine what you realistically have to spend right now and in the next couple of months.

Prioritize your purchases, Kiss said, determine what items are at the top of your school supplies list and begin checking prices. Basic supplies typically come first, and clothing can often wait.

“You may not need to buy school clothes,” Kiss said. “You can probably get by with spring and summer things before you need to head into winter clothing. That means you have an opportunity to plan ahead, watch the sales, and look for coupons and other bargains.”

Taking inventory of the previous year’s existing supplies and clothing is a good place to start, she said. Make a list of items that are needed, and fill in with new purchases. Also, beware of bargains.

“Kids grow, and if you buy it now, by January it might not fit,” Kiss said. “It’s not a bargain unless you have a younger child who might grow to fit it.”

With clothing purchases, shoppers can plan ahead, she said. Don’t buy it until you need it, and plan your buying around sales. Some regular sales to consider are Columbus Day sales, Thanksgiving and end-of-the-year holiday sales, Presidents’ Day sales and spring season sales. It pays to browse sales before doing any shopping to get an idea of what’s out there.

Plan ahead for shopping trips

If local shopping is limited, buyers often plan to make a day of back-to-school shopping, including a drive of several miles, Kiss said.

“If you’re going to take children, plan ahead for their needs,” Kiss said. “Don’t try to power through it. Plan to take breaks. Bring snacks. Drink enough water. Your group will be less frustrated if you acknowledge that.”

She said it’s a good idea to talk with your junior high- and high school-aged children about spending expectations.

“Always let them know what you’re willing to do and what you expect them to do, or if there’s some give and take where that might occur,” Kiss said. “You provide the basics, and if they want something beyond that they need to either work or save up gift money.”

Determining the difference between want and need is a large factor in back-to-school shopping, she said. Wanting athletic shoes and needing soccer or football cleats, for example, are different situations.

“We all want our children to make a good impression,” Kiss said. “We all want them to have what they feel like they need and maybe what they want.”

However, she said, if the cash isn’t on hand, consider telling your child what you can spend now and think about what you will have in the future rather than charging it to a credit card.

Spreading out back-to-school purchases can be a sensible approach, and it can take some of the pressure off parents and students. Consider giving some clothing items as holiday gifts, and think about shopping garage sales and local resale shops.

“It’s really a matter of setting your own limits and doing the best you can to stick to what’s reasonable and realistic,” Kiss said.

More information on money management is available at local county and district extension offices, and on the K-State Research and Extension website,
– Story from K-State Research and Extension

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