Saving for the School Year? What You Need to Know

School supplies and a child.

Recent inflation has had parents a little more stressed than usual about budgeting for their kids’ school year. Those in the know took advantage of state sales tax holidays that temporarily reduced the tax rate for school supplies and certain clothing. (If not, make a mental note for next year.)

This time of year can be stressful for any parent of school-age children. A lot more is often expected of parents than in the past, depending on your school and community. Many Americans shopping around for inexpensive school items will eventually turn to sales, coupons and cheaper alternatives. Between enrolling kids in classes – or possibly sending one off to college – there’s a lot to think about. In addition to budgeting for supplies, it’s also a good idea to start saving for the rest of the school year if you haven’t already.

Budget for Back-to-School Expenses Beyond September

When we budget for the school year, we set aside dollars for those annual back-to-school expenses. During this upfront planning, keep in mind that you want to make your money for education-related items last throughout the year.

Before you buy everything on that list, take some helpful tips on how not to overspend:

  1. Check out last year’s supplies. Just because something has been used once or twice doesn’t mean it should be chucked in the trash.
  2. Avoid shopping for everything at one store. Instead, take a look at the cost of pens, notebooks and other supplies so you know where the best deals are. Buying in bulk is one possible option for saving on things like pens and markers that never go out of style.
  3. Ask about free resources. School libraries might be able to supply some books your kids will be reading. Find out what resources are available in your local community.
  4. Buy second hand. Just because it’s needed doesn’t mean it has to be new.
  5. Skip some expenses. Some teachers’ suggested items are just that – recommendations. They may not all understand the financial constraints you may be experiencing. Just be sure to double check with the school so you’re still getting the necessities.

Once you’ve got the initial supplies covered, it’s time to consider what may be coming up later in the school year – and how those events will affect your pocketbook. Will there be field trips or events that come with a price tag? If your child is athletic or into school plays, will uniforms or costumes also be expected?

This will likely require contacting people at the schools where your children attend and making sure you know what to expect in the coming months. Try to get a heads up on the little things that may come your way. That way, if some of them look a little too pricey, you can start looking for alternative means.

Contact Organizations that Provide Financial Assistance in Illinois & Midwest

Are you having a hard time covering the bills? You’re not alone. Groups like Back 2 School America (formerly Back 2 School Illinois) plan to distribute supplies to struggling families, including over 30,000 back-to-school kits full of kids’ school supplies. The group recently expanded beyond the state of Illinois. Community partners like the YMCA may also be able to fill in the gaps for those remaining hard-to-afford items.

Teach Kids about Saving Money & Personal Finance

If you have older kids, then it’s also a good idea to teach them about the value of a dollar and how to save up those dollars. For instance, you could involve them in online searches for the best deals on certain supplies. Many people learn through experience. Bring your kids with you so they see how the process works. They will start to notice the differences in costs and where the savings are. This doesn’t just teach them about school supplies, but it helps older kids learn to budget so they can become more financially responsible adults.

Create Smart Financial Habits for Yourself & Your Family

The beginning of the school year is also a good time to examine your own spending habits. Some parents are opting out of credit cards to get their debt under control so they can have a more financially stable household. If your teenage kids are starting to make money, teach them about prepaid debit cards – available at local Currency Exchanges – so they don’t just carry their cash around in their pocket. Not being able to spend more than they have will help ensure they don’t overspend on lunch and after school snacks.

Your neighborhood Community Financial Service Center (CFSC) can provide a whole range of financial services, including a place for you to load up that prepaid debit card, all under one roof. To set up a prepaid debit card or take advantage of our many convenient services, find the nearest CFSC location to you and stop on by!

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