Nine Ways to Trim Your Back-to-School Budget

Aug 01, 2014

MoneyLife100 The National Retail Federation predicts that combined spending for back-to-school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion, or $669.28 per family, on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5 percent from last year. That’s quite a bit of money for many Pennsylvania families, so it’s best to try and stretch your dollars as much as possible. Here are nine ways to ace your back-to-school budget problems.
  1. Check the closet first.

    It often seems young children grow out of their clothes quicker than you can buy new items. But before hitting the shops, check to see what still fits and what is worn out. Maybe an older sibling's gently-worn clothes could be used to supplement a younger child's back-to-school wardrobe. Also, don’t forget to check out some resale shops for clothing at a fraction of the retail price.

  2. Create a spending plan.

    After taking your home inventory, figure out how many pairs of pants, shirts, socks, etc. your child needs, and create a spending plan. Remember, buying mix-and-match clothing may be less expensive in the long run than buying pants that can only be worn with certain tops, and vice versa. Also, make sure to consult the school's dress policy ensure that your child can wear what you buy.

    Other items to include on your list besides clothing and shoes are sporting or hobby equipment, class supplies, and electronic devices and computer equipment. For the college-aged student, dorm rooms are mostly furnished, but they may need bedding, grooming essentials, and cleaning supplies. By connecting with roommates early to discuss refrigerators, microwaves, and decorations, expenses could be shared. No matter the age for whom you are shopping, have a plan in hand before heading to the mall.

  3. Start a back-to-school swap.

    Instead of buying all new items, organize a way to trade among families in your neighborhood, church, PTO, or athletic group. There are also several online swapping sites, such as, to consider. Remember, items should be in like-new or good condition.

  4. Involve your children.

    This is an excellent opportunity to teach your children money management skills. Comparison shopping, distinguishing needs from wants, and sticking to a budget can all be taught during back-to-school shopping. By including your children in the process, you will help them learn life-long financial lessons early.

  5. Make sack lunches.

    Making meals at home can be less expensive and are often times more nutritious. You can get older kids excited about taking their lunch by getting them in the kitchen and letting their creative juices flow. With younger kids, give them special surprises, such as cutting their sandwiches using fancy cookie cutters or including a personalized note. Also, buying in bulk can save you money. You can make your own snack-sized portions using reusable containers.

  6. Keep your eye out for deals.

    Children don’t have to start the first day of school with a closet full of new outfits. Buy necessities prior to the first day of class, and then keep an eye on sales, coupons, online Groupon or Living Social type deals and other bargains throughout the year. Plus, if your child experiences a huge growth spurt, you won't have wasted your entire year's clothing budget at the beginning of the school year. 

    If you buy out-of-season (buying winter clothes in the summer and summer clothes in the winter), you can estimate what size you think your child will be or you can buy a couple of sizes larger and give your child room to grow. It’s best, however, to only use this strategy with clothing basics. Buying trendy items means you run the risk of buying clothes your children won’t want to wear because they are no longer in style.

  7. Limit shopping on campus.

    For the college students, stores on campus are convenient, but that convenience comes with a price. They aren’t trying to be competitive with their pricing. Try to purchase most items off campus if you can.

  8. Buying isn’t the only option.

    College students can often save money renting textbooks or buying ones that have already been used. They can also earn money back by selling unwanted books at the end of the semester. Something to also consider is using digital textbooks when available. You’ll save money and room in your backpack. Also consider the free pens, pencils, notepads, and other items you may get from vendors or during conferences that could be used as school supplies, especially if these things are just collecting dust in your office.

  9. Consider student discounts and buying used.

    Many large retailers such as Microsoft, Apple, and Dell offer deals for students. You might consider doing some research for such deals before making any major purchases. Additionally, compare prices of new versus used or refurbished computers, laptops, smart phones, scientific calculators, tablets, etc. Sometimes buying a refurbished model is better because the kinks have been fixed.

Your Local CPA Can Help

Whenever you’re trying to cut costs or plan for your future, your local CPA can offer the expertise and advice you need. Contact him or her with all your financial questions. To find a CPA in Pennsylvania by location or area of expertise, ask family and friends for recommendations or use the CPA Locator

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) is a premiere statewide association of more than 22,000 members working in public accounting, industry, government, and education. Founded in 1897, the PICPA is the second-oldest state CPA organization in the United States.

Money & Life Tips are a joint effort of the AICPA and the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.