…and we go from watching Snow White to living that famous song.
Just like a little member of the Seven Dwarfs, my oldest son will be marching off in only a couple weeks. For him it’s the first time. For me, because I work with families who go through this every year, it’s old hat. Well, not exactly old hat (it’s always different when it’s your own child heading off…where does the time go?).
Let’s talk about the financial aspects of preparing a youngster for school. As a matter of fact, my wife just emailed me this long note about the various types of backpacks. Ugh.
As a parent of a young child headed to school for the first time, I’m concerned about going overboard on all the expenses – there’s a difference between necessity and would be nice if… so let’s break down Back to School costs into a few categories.
1) Expenses associated with classwork – Markers, paper towels, pens and pencils. These are necessary and thankfully, pretty inexpensive. For my son’s schools, they’ve prepared for us a list of the five to ten things he needs to bring. The key is to not overspend or overbuy. If the teacher says “an 8 pack of crayons” you don’t need to, nor does the teacher want you to, buy the wiz-bang 64 pack with the automatic crayon sharpener. Save the money. Look for tax holidays to buy.
Many states participate in these by making back to school costs tax free. Check this Bankrate post: Sales Tax Holiday to see if your state has a tax holiday.
2) Costs to clothe your child. I recently saw an ad for Walmart regarding their back to school clothing prices and how affordable they are. I remember when I was a kid-I would never be caught dead in non-name branded clothes, and I successfully broke my parents budget every year complaining until I got what I wanted! Don’t fall for this trick! Children, especially younger ones, need quantity, not quality. Spend money on good shoes, but don’t go crazy buying up too-cute name-brand clothing. Consider Costco, Walmart, Sam’s club etc, or thrift stores, discounters or hand-me-downs. Ignore Banana Republic, Neiman Marcus, or Saks. Of the big box discount retailers, I like Costco – it has superior customer service and a terrific return policy.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the newspaper, you may save a ton of back to school money looking for coupons in the Sunday paper advertisements over the next couple of weeks. Consider the cost of the paper a good investment!
3) Finally, there are the “at school costs” like lunches, after school costs, and field trips. These things you need to start budgeting for today. Our school has a hot lunch program that we can pre-pay for substantial discount. The problem is that the food is less than nutritious, so we’ll be skipping that. But for the last 5 years, our son has been getting lunches at his daycare and we have to provide those now. The other “unknown” is the cost of the occasional field trip or afte school activity. Prepare for them now and you won’t be surprised when they show up later!
Ask older parents how much money they spent the prior year on these activities for ideas on exactly how much you should be prepared to spend.
Back to school shopping and planning can be a fun and exciting time for both parents and kids. The key is to not go overboard in your excitement!
Photo: School Bus: Cole 24_
Those are my three favorites. What are your favorite back to school tips?