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Queen of free: School yourself on how to save

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I don’t want to admit it anymore than you do, but summer is speeding to a rapid close. And if you needed any further proof of the fact the days are flying by, head to your local big box store where you’ll find aisles being assembled filled with pencils, pens, crayons, rulers, backpacks and binders.

Yes, before we know it, kids all across the U.S. will be rising in the early morning hours, trading their lazy summer days for rides on the bus, freshly painted classrooms and teachers who are excited to aid them in another year of academic success.

And yet as a parent, you may already have a wee bit of dread in your heart. The “unexpected” yearly back-to-school expenses pile up quickly. How do you keep from going crazy, or worse, bouncing a check with your school but still have your student well prepared for the new year?

I’m so glad you asked.

Evaluate what you already have. There’s no need to buy a new backpack, lunch box, ruler, scissors, jump drives, etc. if last year’s is in working condition. The same goes for uniforms or basic clothes such as jeans and T-shirts. Take an inventory now of your supplies and clothes. Then you’ll be ready to prepare a shopping list based on what you need and not what you want.

Set the expectation. While they’re cute as a button, One Direction won’t give your little princess more academic success. Nor will Batman help your prince fight bad grades. Before you hit the aisles, if you plan on purchasing character-based items, set a limit. Usually we keep things plain jane around these parts, but one folder of choice isn’t out of the question (with royal approval, of course).

Wait a little while. If your student does need a new backpack, see if you can wait out the first six weeks-ish of school. By then, the back-to-school sales will be over and many items will be marked down on clearance. More than once I’ve picked up a great clearance deal at the Children’s Place on backpacks or lunch boxes, made even sweeter by their frequent 15 percent off coupons that you can even use at the outlet mall.

Stock up. It’s the best time of the year to buy crayons, markers, glue and more. It’s not a bad idea to snag double the haul while you’re in the superstore. Midyear, your student will need to re-stock and the prices will be more than double.

Hold the jeans. It is h-o-t,

h-a-w-t, HOT hot hot hot in Indiana when school starts. So as unbelievably cute as that new fall wardrobe is, avoid it like the plague. Instead, hit the clearance rack and snag some end-of-the-summer bargains for the first month and beyond. We tend to purchase one special outfit for the first day (which is also the official picture day uniform), and keep everything else at a minimum. When the weather turns cold, crack out last year’s wardrobe and see what can work and what needs passed along before you hit the mall.

Budgets are the bomb. You’ve heard me say it before, but budgets are the new black (a color that works well with budgets, we’ve found). Seriously, you’ve got to plan for back-to-school. While you can control how much you spend on supplies by hitting the sales, you can’t control book fees, PTO fees, etc. So you must plan. I tend to budget at least six months out at a time so that we can see extra expenses coming and keep them from catching us off-guard. As usual, cash only in the store is the best way to go to keep your spending on track when it does come to supplies and clothes.

Need or Want? Ah, the age old question that even toddlers are familiar with: “Is it a need or a want?” It’s easy in the aisles to give way to every temptation. But if you’re going slay the debt dragon or just manage your resources well, it’s a necessary mantra even for the big people, too. Reign in your spending by taking three to five items out of your cart before you check out from a store. Be intentional, money saving lords and ladies. Otherwise, your cart will be piled high with things you won’t even end up using.

Follow these simple tips and your back-to-school shopping will go as smoothly as possible. Getting the kids out of bed on time so they don’t miss the bus? That one is completely on you.

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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