As summer days start to shorten and Labor Day looms closer, it’s time to start thinking about back-to-school shopping. But for many parents, the start of the school year brings with it a steep financial hurdle – from covering the cost of school supplies to school lunches. So how can you prepare financially to make sure your child is prepped for the upcoming academic year?
Iesha Vaughn, Banking Center Manager at our Avondale Meadows banking center, shares her own strategies for budgeting for the year ahead.
“I’m a single mother to two wonderful children,” she shared. “My oldest is grown now, but my youngest is eight – and it can really be hard covering some of the initial costs at the beginning of the school year.”
“You know, it’s changed so much since I was in school, or even since my eldest was in school,” she added. “Now you have to buy shared classroom supplies – right down to the dry erase markers.”
Supply costs and needs vary by school district and will increase for each child you have – but Iesha said you should plan to spend $50 to $150 on school supplies alone at the beginning of the year.
“And that’s not counting uniforms or anything else – so that cost can be a huge barrier to some families,” Iesha explained. “I know it’s not an insignificant chunk of my own budget – but after two kids, I’ve worked out some strategies to help my family get through the beginning of a school year with minimal impact to our finances.”
The most important way to prepare for a new school year is to plan ahead, if at all possible. Iesha recommends having a separate savings pot – whether that be a savings account, an old coffee can, or a piggy bank – and adding $5 to it every time you get a paycheck.
“It’s a small amount that can add up really quickly, and having that money separate from funds set aside for bills, living expenses, or other savings will really help ensure that you have a small stash come the start of the school year,” Iesha said.
Then, when you get your child’s school supply list, go through it carefully and sort items based on what is an immediate need and what can wait.
“So, a backpack, pencils, paper – those are all things your child will likely need on their first day of school in order to succeed,” Iesha explained. “Things like tissues and markers can probably wait a few weeks or months if you’re not able to afford them right now.”
Iesha also encourages parents to think about the school year ahead and try to anticipate any upcoming costs.
“Does your school have planned field trips? While the cost of those is relatively low – maybe only $10 or so – if you’re on a tight budget you may still want to plan ahead for that cost if you can,” she said. “Or, does your child want to participate in sports? In band? Those come with costs and considerations you’ll want to carefully consider.”
She also recommends parents plan out how they’ll handle lunches. Will your child purchase lunch from the cafeteria? If so, how often, and how much money will you allot them each month? Or will they take their lunch to school?
“My son takes his lunch every day, because it’s a lot cheaper in the long run and easier on my budget,” Iesha shared. “But you do have to plan ahead for that, and make sure you’re adjusting your food budget to match.”
“Of course, when it comes to lunches, a lot of schools have free breakfast and lunch programs for all students,” she added. “If this is a real stressor for you, I highly encourage you to reach out to your child’s school to see if the school either offers free lunch to all students, or, if it’s only to qualifying students, what the criteria are so you can see if your child qualifies.”
However, Iesha’s biggest tip is to shop smart.
“I am a big sale shopper,” she said with a laugh. “I wait until school supplies go on sale and then I fill up my cart. I actually tend to over-buy because I know that some families may not be able to contribute to classroom supplies – so I make sure that, if I can, I buy a few extra of each item.”
She also buys her son’s school uniforms ahead of time – right when things are going out of season and are therefore deeply discounted.
“I buy shorts in Fall and long-sleeved shirts and jackets in Spring and Summer,” she said. “It’s a bit tricky because my son is still growing – but I try to plan for that, too.”
Iesha said she buys clothing a size up.
“And then I have my fingers crossed he’ll have a growth spurt,” she joked.
If not, a lot of children’s clothing – particularly items meant to be used for school uniforms – have adjustable waist bands to accommodate for growth.
And when it comes to everything else?
“I’m a big couponer,” Iesha shared. “From food to supplies to clothes – I’m clipping and buying things as I can as they come on sale with coupons. It’s really one of my biggest savings strategies.”
Look for free items
For families who may still struggle to cover the cost of supplies, Iesha recommends looking for ways to cut costs entirely by finding free items.
“There are a lot of really great organizations that run backpack, school supply, and school uniform giveaways where you can get all these items for free,” Iesha said. “If you have multiple kids in school, you may need to go to multiple giveaways – but it’s a really great resource that’s available in almost every community. Just keep your ears open for ones happening in your area, as they usually start in late summer.”
To help cut costs at the beginning of the year, Iesha adds that she often saves unused school supplies from the previous year.
“Personal-use school supplies are probably always going to be the same – you need paper, you need notebooks, you need pencils,” she said. “If you have any of those left over, start your school supply list off with those. They’re still perfectly good and useable.”
It’s ok to ask for help
And, it’s ok to ask for help. Iesha said she wants people to know that it’s ok to reach out to family and friends for help if you’re having trouble covering an immediate need.
“If you have those support systems, it’s ok to lean on them from time to time,” Iesha said. “I know it can be hard to ask for help, but just remember that we all need help at some point in our lives – and that’s ok.”
There are also resources to help you get your finances on track so that you can build a little more wiggle room in your budget and create a little more financial stability.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local banker. That’s what we’re here for – even if it’s little things,” Iesha shared. “There’s a customer that comes to my bank every month, just to go over her budget and get our advice on where she should make adjustments. She’s younger and, when she started coming in, she wasn’t in a good spot. But she’s been slowly gaining that financial stability and her credit score has been steadily going up. She’s really happy about what she’s been able to accomplish, and I’m so happy we’ve been able to help her prosper in this way.”
Our bankers are always happy to sit down with you and talk through your budget, help you plan for the school year ahead, or help you plan your future.
“We’re always here to help, no matter what you need – we’re happy to listen and to work with you on whatever you need,” Iesha said.