Back-to-School…Back to Debt?

Going back to school suggests it is the end of summer and the beginning of school supply sales, material lists from new teachers and classes, and long lines at school supply stores.  Children disappointed by the finish of their summer vacation are encouraged with the purchase of new clothes, books and occasionally, treats and impulse buys.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American shoppers spent $7.4 billion in family clothing stores to get ready for the 2010 back-to-school season. Families spent another $2.2 billion in bookstores during the same period.  But this year, you may be wondering how you will be able to get everything your children need without getting into too much debt.

You are not alone with this concern. With nearly 20 million American students heading for college and another 55 million children and teenagers in K-12 schools, parents often have to work hard to find the extra cash necessary to buy books, clothing, backpacks, shoes, and everything else today’s students need to succeed in the classroom. Here are some simple strategies you can follow to help you beat the back-to-school debt blues: 

Don’t Buy Anything You Already Have           

It is tempting to purchase all new school supplies for your children, regardless of whether or not you already have them at your home.  For example, what kind of shape is your child’s backpack in? Is it ripped or can he/she use it again for the coming year?  Just because your child wants a new backpack does not mean you must purchase one.  Remember, you are teaching your child financial responsibility when you use what you have.

Look at your pens, pencils, erasers, folders, binders, clipboards, calculators, and anything else you receive on the supply list from your child’s school. If you can reuse or use something you already have, do so.

Buy What is Essential

Review the supply list or the college needs list with your child.  Purchase only those things that are most necessary to start the year.  You can spread out the purchase of supplies over a month or two (or longer).  For example, your child doesn’t need to bring two Kleenex boxes and two packages of markers on the first day of school.  Send them with one of each and then send another pack or box later.  Getting only those things that are essential to the first couple of weeks of school will help soften the “supply list” blow to your family’s finances.  

Pay With Cash

As soon as you have determined what you must purchase for the first few weeks of school, set a budget and stick to it.  Avoid using anything but cash unless you must make a larger purchase, such as a laptop computer or software program; credit cards are best for these purchases.  Bring the budgeted funds (in the form of cash) with you to shop as that will eliminate impulse purchases with your children and help you focus on getting the best deal possible.  When the cash is gone, the shopping stops.  It is that simple. 

Pay Into a Back-to-School Savings Account

If you know you have trouble saving money, a great option is to ask one of our representatives about setting up a savings account specifically designed for back-to-school savings.  You can set up automatic deposits to that account, saving money over the course of the year.  That way, when back-to-school time arrives, you will not be as stressed over how you will pay for everything needed. 

Make Back-to-School a Great Experience for Everyone

By thinking creatively and limiting your spending to only what is necessary for the first couple weeks of school, you can spread out your back-to-school expenses throughout the year and stay out of debt.