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Queen of free: Plan your budget for back to school

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No one wants to admit it, but it’s that time of the year again.

Aisles of backpacks and lunch boxes, crayons and pencils are popping up in the superstores. The office supply stores have launched into their weekly sale cycles that include items for as little as a penny.

Whether you want to contemplate how quickly the summer has passed or not, in three very short weeks, many students and teachers will head back to the classroom. If you’re not intentional with your time and money, you can easily overpay for all of the needs your kids have, from clothes and shoes to folders and protractors.

Not only can you score some of the best deals of the year during the back to school season, you can also maximize what you already have. But to save money and your sanity, it’s going to take a plan. Let’s begin the back to school budgeting process together, shall we?

Since you have a couple of weeks of time, the best way to get the most bang for your buck is to do some serious research. Before you place a single item in your cart, it’s a great idea to evaluate both what you’ve spent in the past, what you already have and what you truly need.

You spent what?

Now is the time to dig through last year’s records to begin to get a good handle on approximately how much some of the fixed expenses associated with heading back to school are. When you’re building your budget, consider the following traditional “start up” budget categories: Text book rentals, PTO membership fees and gym uniforms. Some schools also have their school pictures taken on registration day, so if you want to purchase copies, build that expense into your overall budget. If your children typically eat a plate lunch at school, be sure to remember that weekly cost, too.

Get good estimates from last year. Either dig through your budgeting software, old receipts or even online bank statements from the prior year. While you’re poking around, see if you can gauge how much you spent on items like school supplies and clothes, too. This will help you wrap your mind around what an appropriate amount to budget will be.

Take an inventory

Good news! You probably have many of the items your children require to head back to the classroom located in closets and cabinets, desks and drawers of your home. It’s time to sort through last year’s leftover supplies and check to see which clothes fit and which don’t. Block off an afternoon per child to sort through clothing first, seeing what still fits and what will need replaced. Keep a good written list of both what you have and what you might need. A solid wardrobe of 4 to

5 pairs of pants, 3 to 4 pairs of appropriate length shorts, 5 to 6 shirts,

and, of course, an assortment of socks and undies. Don’t forget to try on shoes, too.

After assessing the wardrobe, begin to check last year’s backpacks and lunch boxes. It’s debatable whether they truly need replaced. You might need to give them a little love, breaking out the Magic Eraser to clean off black smudge marks and built up grime. Check the zippers, clear out old papers and supplies. Even if they need replaced, use last year’s backpack at the start of school. Try to wait a month or so after school begins and pick up a new bag on clearance at the fraction of the price. The same applies to lunch boxes.

Certainly, you don’t have to send your children to school with broken crayons and eraser-less pencils; however, many school supplies — like scissors, calculators, flash drives and rulers — can be used year after year. Be sure you know exactly what you have before you begin buying all of the great deals in a frenzied fashion.

Check list (twice)

After you’ve had the opportunity to truly gauge what you already have, then check the school’s official supply list. Rather than waiting to grab one in the aisles, look on your school’s website or the end of the year newsletter to see what is required for your child’s classroom. Be sure to note specific name brands, quantities and sizes. Nothing is worse than purchasing the wrong product, for both the time and potential money that you might lose.

Build your master list utilizing the results of your personal inventory and the classroom requirements to avoid duplicates and overspending.

Back to school budgeting doesn’t have to break the bank. Keep good records for future years’ spending and be intentional with the dollars you spend. You’re sure to score high marks in savings when you do!

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net

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