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Budgeting for Back-To-School Supplies

Back to school supplies via BigStock

Guest post from Trisha of Finances With Funk:

I know! I know! The last thing you want to think about right now is back to school.

But if you don’t, you could be left scrambling for the extra expenditures and missing a great opportunity to teach your kids or grandkids about budgeting.

Here’s how we do it at our house:

Step 1:

Take a look at your own budget and set a dollar amount that you can afford to spend on each child for all back to school necessities.

Yes, if you have teenagers and 2nd graders there may be a difference between the amount each needs, and that’s OK. You know what’s appropriate for your family.

Step 2:

Start putting away a little bit every week or pay period for the next few months to fund those expenses come August.

Just take your total budgeted amount and divide that by the number of pay periods you have between now and then.

Step 3:

Plan a back-to-school shopping trip with your kids.

Discuss, with your kids specifically, what they are going to need, and then make a list to bring along on your trip.

Example: 2 pairs of shoes, 2 new pants, 2 new shorts, 2 nice shirts, 3 new t-shirts, new Backpack and lunch box.

Step 4:

Decide where you are going to shop and help them prioritize.

Are there some things you can look at higher end second hand shops for because they are set on a very specific more expensive shoe? Allow them to help with the decisions in that process.

With teens you can put their money into their own account (Like a MONEY account from ING) or on a Prepaid Visa Card that they will need to keep a record of in a checkbook register. If they choose to spend over and above what you have told them is their budget then they can use their own money to do so.

Step 5:

Go shopping and have fun.

Make a day out of it! Plan a fun breakfast out if you can or take a lunch for a picnic in the park to break up your trip. Or if you can afford to, make it a little weekend trip.

Step 6:

Immediately after your trip start, planning for next year.

It is much easier to find an extra $30 a month than to wait until June and need to come up with a $100 or more.

Trisha Funk is a momma to 4, wife to 1, small business owner x2, financial coach, and author at Finances With Funk. She is passionate about helping others gain control of their finances and living a life free to be obedient to their purpose God created them for.

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  1. Sarah says

    As a Teacher and a Parent I have some opinions about supply shopping.
    #1. Buy only what the child needs if you can’t afford it do not buy it. Schools have funds to help those who need the additional items on all those long list so if you can’t afford it do not buy it.
    #2. That said if a teacher for a math program says the child needs a certain calculator then they need it and if you can swing it buy it for them (put the serial number and model number down mark the child’s name on the item and give the teacher the serial number for the calculator for you child) After I paid for four calculators I offered to do a book with this information for the teacher and once we went around and marked all the calculators the stealing stopped.
    #3. Supplies a child needs to get through the first day, pen , pencil paper folder , lunchbox , some new clothing. This should make it even in a high school first day.
    Put aside at least $30.00 extra for each child as you will have things that come up that you will need to buy

  2. Betsy says

    Another important tip–take stock of the supplies you have from the previous year. I know growing up, we didn’t get a new backpack, ruler, scissors, binders each year–certain items, if taken care of, can last several years. Don’t buy a new binder every year just because it’s on the list when you have a perfectly good but not brand-spanking new one from last year. I taught middle school, and it was absolutely sickening the amount of supplies I got to take home on the last day of school when they kids were “cleaning out their lockers”–rulers, compasses, protractors, paper, pencils, erasers, pencil bags and boxes, etc. They didn’t want to bother taking it home, and they knew Mom would buy them a new one in the fall anyway—-

    • says

      That is also a great time to find required reading books. Years ago (I know things are more digital now) I would help the high school librarian go through all the lockers on the last day of school. In addition to great supplies which were deposited in the teacher work room, we found hundreds of paperback books. She was able to check these out to the students with just an old library check out card. If they weren’t returned it was no biggie, but it saved many students from having to buy the books when the school would only allow 10 copies to be in the library’s catalog system (for 600 required to read it).

  3. Andrea says

    One way to spread out the cost, especially on clothing, is to think about only what the child needs for the first month. This allows you to take advantage of clearance sales. Also, if you wait to shop at the beginning of October, there will likely be more winter styles available.

  4. Kristin says

    I am a first grade teacher and I always recommend that parents buy some extra of the supplies to replenish their child’s supplies in December. There are great deals in the summer for back to school but not so much in December. I ask them to get extra crayons, glue sticks, pencils, and markers to keep at home. I will send home a note before the winter break letting each parent know if their child is running low on supplies. Some students will need replenishment and some won’t, a lot of it has to do with how “hard” they are on their supplies.

    I have taught at only charter schools and both have approached supplies completely differently. In my state, Florida we can’t require students bring supplies it has to be done on a donation basis. However, I think a lot of parents don’t realize that if they don’t provide supplies then the teacher is the one providing the supplies, out of their own money, for those students. We do NOT have a fund to help students who don’t bring their own so it really is dependent on the school. The last school I was at the parents were amazing about bringing in supplies and donating extras but the previous school not only were we not able to send home a supply list… the parents paid a supply fee, the teachers never saw the money and we had to purchase everything we needed out of our pocket.

    All of that being said, my list is not very long. I try to make it very cost efficient for parents but on the other hand everything that I have on there is on there for a specific reason not just to make you spend your money.

    • says

      Our school has a long list of required supplies for each age group. Parents certainly can apply for “aid” if they cannot afford the supplies, but the list is non-negotiable. The home and school association (PTA) puts together “packs” for parents to pre-order, which are $50-$80, depending on the grade. I can usually buy the school supplies for about $30-$40 per kid, watching the sales.

      We’re in an awesome school district, and the supplies are all pooled and need to be exactly the same. (24 count crayola, orange pocket folder, 12 count crayola colored pencils, etc.) I’ve just started my shopping, as the sales have started. I go to multiple stores and I don’t bring the kids with me, since they really get no choice in any of it!

      I don’t buy any “back-to-school” clothes, since we go back to school in mid-August! It’s still hot, and they wear their normal summer clothes! One year I bought new jeans for everyone in late July, and by the time they were wearing them (in late September) they were too short! I just buy clothes when my kids need them, and that works for us!

    • Jessica says

      My oldest is getting ready to go to Kindergarten. I’ve seen some districts with very extensive lists, including things that I cannot figure out what they have to do with supplies necessary for educating a child. I understand erasers, crayons, pencils, a notebook for Kindergarten. But what do they do with Ziplocks? Hand sanitizer? Plastic spoons? Does the school not have soap for children to cleanse their hands with and is the cafeteria out of utensils?

      I also remember having to buy my own $110 graphing calculator to take trigonometry in high school. We used an engraver to scratch my name into it and the cover and I kept it in my locked locker and only took it out for math class. I took it home each night also. I had it through freshman year of college, and then it bit the dust.

      • says

        My daughter just finished kindergarten. They used the plastic spoons for snack time in the classroom — so be aware you may be packing a snack in addition to lunch. They used Ziplocks for things like holding the examples of items that began with a certain letter that they pinned to the bulletin board for whatever letter they were studying at the time. As for hand sanitizer: think small children, germs, winter colds — and how many of them do you think the teacher wants to let go to the bathroom at the same time, over and over again.

        I had my high school scientific calculator for over 20 years and only lost it a year ago. (Dropped it, I think, in a drugstore parking lot where I was using it to tally up my deals shopping list.)

      • says

        My last job before staying home with the kids was at a PK-K school. Before taking that job I thought many of the same things you did! We used ziplocks for organizing many items around the classroom. All sorts of learning activities have small cut out pieces and parts that need to be kept together. Some science projects require them and your children will probably bring home items they’ve made in the ziplocks.
        The hand sanitizer is because several classes of kids can’t get through the bathroom efficiently to wash their hands before lunch. They need it before using the computers in the lab and if due to scheduling they have PE back to back with lunch. It’s better to spend the $1 on the hand sanitizer than have your child losing 10 mins of learning time waiting to wash his/her hands. They can squirt it on as the kids go through the door and they wash while they walk down the hallway :-)
        Plastic spoons can be used for measuring, for motor skills, for crafts and numerous math activities.

        Chances are your childrens’ K teachers will be much more creative and put the supplies to good use than any at other grade level. It’s just part of their gift that makes them qualified to work with little ones!

      • says

        Oh, the hand sanitizer and kleenex and zip locks are an important part of those school supply lists! The school budget doesn’t allow for those purchases, and teachers often restock these supplies on their own dime.

        I always ask my boys in January how the kleenex supply is holding up! I usually send in a few extra boxes mid-year, and the teachers are always appreciative!

        One of my boys is always quick to tell me when something runs out…like red pens, or colored pencils, or whatever. I think it sends them a powerful statement when we make stocking their classrooms a priority…and we take their education very seriously!

    • Leslie says

      Our school supply list is the same for each school within the district, so if one or two schools use a certain item and our school doesn’t, we still have to buy it. There were a few items that my daughter came home with at the end of the school year that hadn’t been used. This just changed a couple of years ago, before each teacher or school made their own list.

  5. Marcelaine says

    When I was growing up, we always felt like we needed a new set of everything at the beginning of each school year–new box of crayons, new colored pencils, new markers, and so on. At the end of the year I know some of those supplies would still have worked just fine for the next school year, but I would have been mortified to bring anything but a new box of crayons to school the next year. I would love to teach my children that there’s no shame in using the same perfectly-good box of crayons for another year instead of adding the old ones to the dead crayon bucket. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to accomplish this?

    • Davonne says

      Maybe tell them that they can get half of the items new and reuse the other half of the items from the previous year, then let them choose which items are important to have new of. Or just give them a set dollar amount they can spend on supplies (but make sure it’s not enough money to purchase everything brand new) and let them figure out the math to decide what can be reused.

    • Ana says

      If you can afford all-new supplies, but just want to encourage them to be more thrifty, you could always set a budget you are comfortable with, and let them know that they can keep whatever they don’t use up on school supplies (but they have to end up with everything on their list one way or another).

      They get to choose what they need new versus what they are willing to re-use, and maybe they’ll be motivated to search sales flyers and find the best prices for the supplies they do want to buy new.

    • Lynn says

      We were the same way growing up! I don’t know how old your kids are, so it may be too late but if you can just start from the beginning it will help. My 6 year old doesn’t really know any different, we don’t make it a big deal so she doesn’t either. I told her how I was washing her backpack so it would be ready for the new school year and we went through her supply list together to see what she already had. For example, my daughter has to have headphones for her computer time – there just isn’t any reason to buy a new pair every year and I have just explained that to her. She never says anything about it because she doesn’t know any different. So there are some new things and some things from the previous year (at my kids age, crayons don’t even make it a whole year!). I believe it also helps that our family lives like this all the time. We often talk about recycling and reusing items, so she also sees it in action on a regular basis.

    • Jen says

      I remember being a kid, for some reason it just feels SO good to have new sharp crayons! Now, my son is using the same great quality Lands End backpack he’s used for the past two years, but he has to have shiny new crayons with sharp tips. I just get them when the 24 pack is on sale for like a quarter. I think that and perfectly clean new folders are the most important. Used art boxes and scissors are fine though.

    • Heather K. says

      With my kids, I have been very open about talking about money, family finances and budget. They see us being careful with money, shopping deals, using coupons. It just becomes our family’s culture. As they get older, this becomes their norm too.

      My children completely surprised me when at the end of last year, they cleaned out their school stuff and put items that could be reused into the school supply stash. Not something I told them to do, it is just what they grew up around. I bought new school shoes for my son last week, it was shocked that shoes cost that much even though I used gift cards. He told me that he would be wearing his old ones until they fell apart before wearing the new ones.
      So, I think it is about encouraging a culture of frugality in all areas of life because it will rub off on your children. Don’t think it takes extra work, it is just about living your life by your code. But for crayons, I would buy the shiny new box. They are dirt cheap on sale.

      • L says

        My kids also reuse what they can from the year before. We usually stock up on notebooks, looseleaf paper at this time of year. But the colored pencils, markers, if they are in good condition, will be reused. My kids are older and haven’t needed crayons in a few years, but would replace those if they were worn as those are very inexpensive (a quarter?) It is amazing how many notebooks come home at the end of the year with only a few sheets out of them…. The kids enjoy strolling through those back to school aisles, even if we don’t have to buy that much.

  6. Elizabeth says

    Our schools give us huge lists and the elementary schools collect everything and then distribute it randomly to the children in the class so ‘reusing’ supplies from the previous year that are still good isn’t an option so I use those at home for the various projects that come up. Sadly though I haven’t seen good sales before our kids go back in the second week of August. This year I decided it wasn’t worth the headache holding off and running all over town looking for 2 3 hole punched red pocket folders or some other specific item they always call for that every other parent is scrambling for. I get clothing as needed for the kids throughout the year because I never quite understood buying new wardrobes at the beginning of the school year… new shoes yes but anything else eh. I’ve also found I don’t take the kids out with me school shopping for the pure fact every store is a mad house and my sanity is worth more than my money. – The silly thing is the schools around here ask for 16 count crayons which are 99 cents while the 24 packs of crayons are 25 cents so friend of mine is buying 24 crayons and removing 8 crayons from each box LOL which is brilliant in my mind. – Worst has been middle school every teacher has been demanding 1″ to 2″ binders for their classes and students aren’t allowed to have multi-subject binders… I mean what the heck! In any case I said heck with it had a few items around the house like tissues since I go to Sam’s and buy boxes in bulk and spent $65 on my two kids for now until Middle School open house where I get the individual class item lists which stacks on top of their general list. ~ I need to buy stock in #2 pencils ~ Happy shopping folks!

  7. says

    We have (quite happily) set the standard for our kids that school supply shopping is NOT clothes shopping. Those are two different funds. We buy clothes as they are outgrown not to start the school year. This saves us big time. As a teacher, I do not run to the store to buy new clothes for myself for the start of the school year and my kids have not expected it. As they get older, if they decide they want a first day of school outfit they will be welcome to buy it themselves as it is really a want rather than a need. My kids never seem to need new clothes at the beginning of the school year-usually in February! new clothes (or new used clothes) are fun whenever you get them! :)

  8. says

    Mine wear uniforms, so I shop our used uniform sale at the end of the year for some awesome deals! For supplies, we got our lists at the end of last school year, so I’ve just been adding one or two items every week during my normal grocery trip (Walmart) to spread it out over the summer. I’ve barely noticed the increased expense, and have almost everything purchased with a month to go!

    • Lynn says

      My daughter’s school does the same thing and it is great! People are often surprised to hear I probably end up spending less on school clothes by my daughter wearing a uniform. Her uniforms from last year still fit so we didn’t have to buy any this year. I set aside money each month for her school expenses, so when I do need to buy new uniforms it will be taken care of. You also make a good point about the school supplies – after we go through what we have and determine what we need, I start watching for great deals on the items and do a little at a time – nobody says you have to buy everything in one shopping trip. I also stock up when crayons are say 5 or 10 for $1, I buy them. My daughter is only in first grade, so she often needs an extra box sometime during the school year, plus this year I already had what I needed and didn’t have to buy any.

      • Anitra says

        I am definitely surprised that you spend less by having a uniform. My daughter is starting preschool at a PK-8 school with a uniform, and I was not prepared to drop quite so much money on uniform clothing! At this age, I don’t expect most of it to even last the whole year, much less into next year. I’m looking at my local consignment stores for clothes that fit the uniform, but the pickings have been very slim. I’m hoping it gets better in the next few weeks, otherwise she will start the year with a few Old Navy polos (which I bought online today), 1 skirt and 2 pairs of pants.

        I’m definitely going to introduce the concept of “school clothes” and “play clothes”.

        • Andrea says

          Keep an eye out for clearance in September. You may be able to pick up some larger sizes very affordably. We did uniforms for two years and I didn’t find them to be more expensive than normal clothes.

          • Anitra says

            I will definitely be keeping an eye out – but my daughter is only in preschool and I don’t want to buy too far ahead. It’s the size 5 (her current size) and 6 that are particularly hard to find at a good price – I see uniform-appropriate clothing in size 7, 8, 10 all the time at the consignment store and yard sales.

        • says

          I know it won’t help you any this year, but if your school does a used uniform sale definitely shop it! At ours this year I got 3 jumpers (the plaid type; Catholic school), a pair of shorts, and a few shirts for under $30. I anticipate that with moving buttons and unhemming the jumpers, those will last two years (at which point we’ll move to a different style jumper and I’ll resell these).

          I think part of the problem people run into with uniforms (and why they can seem expensive) is that some schools give so many options – pants, shorts, skorts, jumpers, polo shirts, button down shirts, sweaters, etc etc etc. I decided to just have my daughter wear the jumpers (with a short sleeve button down when it’s warm, turtleneck and tights when it’s cold), and that simplified shopping for us a lot!

  9. Jen says

    Or you can do what I did and come home one night to find out your MIL already bought your kid’s entire list! WHOO-HOO!! :)

  10. Heather K. says

    As far as school supplies go I have been stocking up thru the year with the OfficeMax specials and Maxperks rewards. I proabaly save 2/3 off of retail this way. So one week it may be printer paper, notebooks, and glue sticks. So the printer paper winds up being free or close to free with Maxperks, poly covered notebooks for $1 a piece and pack of 3 or 4 glue sticks for 25 cents. I will get the most allowed thru mailorder such as with the notebooks, I believe there was a limit of 2, then I will go to the store and pick up two more.
    These are lost leaders, as the store hopes to pull you in with the specials so you will buy more, but I don’t. I focus on those lostleaders all year to add to our school supply stash. With our 4 kids, they know when they get their supply lists for the year to go thru the stash and get what they need. Write down what we don’t have that they need. The list is usually quite short at that point.
    This plan also puts the kids in charge of their supply list, and I just have one small list to take to a store to finish it up. Then thru the year, as they need more paper, pens, folders, and gluesticks, they just go into the stash and refill. I don’t get nickel and dimed this way for bits and pieces along the way.

  11. Marie says

    My kids are just starting kindergarden and I was surprised by the supply list. Why would they need 8 boxes of 8 count crayons? And really the 24 box is a quarter but the 8ct. is .99cents and NEVER goes on sale. Plus I have twins so that means 16 boxes of crayons!!!
    However, for the other items I buy when they are the lowes price for the season which means i don’t buy everything now. I’ve also been buying school supplies for two years so I have alot on the list already.
    One tip is to look at the list for the following grade and if you can afford it now get it now and have it for later. We can’t always expect that we’ll hit the great back to school sales. I do feel like schools are getting a little ridiculous with what they are requiring but because parents haven’t pushed back schools have taken more advantage of what they ask for.
    As for shoes now is a great time to hit Target as most shoes have gone 70% off. I found converse sneakers for $7. They were over $27 originally.
    Plannig is always key. And being willing to wait and not buy everything at once pays off hugely!

    • Kristin says

      I always request 2 boxes of 24 crayons for my 1st graders, you would really be surprised how quickly they go through them. Many students need more then the 2 I ask for.

      I know the K teacher in my building asks for the 8 count because it avoids less confusion in regards to color identification. Eight boxes seems a little excessive, maybe 4 would make more sense in my eyes.

    • L says

      I would maybe buy the 24 count crayons since they are way cheaper. If they only want certain colors, they can pick those 8 out from the 24. Seems like a lot of money otherwise for crayons.

    • Anna says

      Are the 8ct crayons the washable kind? If so, maybe that’s why the younger grades are asked to get those. Dunno.

  12. Amie says

    As a teacher, I advise parents to buy extras of the cheap things that your kids will need all year – filler paper, pencils, etc. when they are on sale. I’ve never taught at a school that has a special fund to purchase supplies for students. Teachers usually end up buying those things. I understand that a lot of the people may be struggling financially, but I’ve had students who don’t even bring one pencil for the entire school year because their parents expect schools to provide them and students who need pencils daily because they don’t keep up with them. Now is the best time to buy these things and if you can get extra to donate to your child’s class it is a huge help. I’ve had some wonderful, giving, parents who donated and helped me provide for the students without supplies.

  13. Ann says

    So many different ways for different families I guess. To save money I rarely find it economical to go out and buy everything in one day. Make a budget? Yes. Put money aside in savings? Yes. But more times than not in our geographic area you don’t get the best prices by going out and blowing all in one day. I teach my child to plan ahead, not just by saving but by watching sales in previous months and slowing essentially building up a stockpile of what they will need for the coming year. I keep receipts so if anything does not fit 60 or so days later we can return it.

    My only issue with school supplies is that certain things have to be name brand – school list says “Crayola” etc., “Bounty” paper towels, etc. I want to respect the teacher and teach my kids to follow the rules, but c’mon even with the awesome back to school deals some stuff is much cheaper than Crayola.

    • Kristin says

      Some stuff is cheaper then Crayola however I always specify Crayola on my lists because it’s much better quality and lasts longer. For instance, I have seen Rose Art crayons last only a month or two while many times a pack of Crayola crayons can last at least until winter break.

      So, in the long wrong buying Crayola really is saving you money.

      • Kristen says

        Many school supply items have brands that are far superior to others. Some brands of markers, crayons, colored pencils, and regular pencils just don’t work as well as the top brands. My daughter is only in 1st grade, and I’ve found school shopping to be very inexpensive so far. I don’t buy new clothes right before school though, I always buy end of season clearance the year before. I think the strangest thing on her list this year was 20 glue sticks LOL

  14. J in VA says

    I recently bought a “new” older washer to replace my 10 year old front loader that was not worth fixing. I had not bought non-HE detergent in a while and was really surprised at how large the scope was.

    Comparing my old HE scope with the new: first line (for med load) 1 1/2 HE scoopes; second line(large load) 2 HE scoopes and the third line (heavy duty load) 3 HE scoopes. I think it is no accident that the lines were VERY hard to see and the third line was at 2/3 the size of the scoope. How many just fill the cup up and wash away??

    I was using 1 1/2-2 scoppes based on the load size–I think I’l try 1- 1 1/2 and see what happens.

  15. Amanda says

    I have to disagree with alot in this post! I just (as of last night) finished school supply shopping for my 4th grader and kindergartener. I added up everything and spent only $12.78 for ALL of their supplies. Yes some items I already had in my stock (ziploc bags) bt I did add in how much a paid for such items.
    I NEVER take my kids with me to buy supplies. We are all about function. They do not need a $2 folder. The ones on sale for $.15 are perfect. No fancy notebooks either. We also keep our backpack until it dies. This will be my sons 4th year with the same backpack. I bought a very nice camo print backpack @ Children’s Place on clearance for $6 and it’s still in perfect shape!
    We live in a district that requires “Campus Wear” which is pretty much uniforms. Yup, our public schools require uniforms. I have purchased ALL clothes for this year for a total of $150. I always watch out for sales and clearance on items I know that can be used as campus wear. I took advantage of Children’s Place Monster sale and got tons of campus wear approved clothes for cheap! My kids get ONE pair of tennis shoes and one pair of dressier shoes per year. I guess I’ve been lucky that they don’t grow out of them too fast! I took advantage of the Reebok Groupon and got very nice shoes for $25 per child.
    If you make your child take care of their supplies and clothing they will last!!!

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