How to Be a Frugal Back to School Shopper

Even though you may not be ready to think about sending children back to school, now is a good time to think about buying school clothing and supplies. With a little forethought and a plan, you can get everything your children need to head back to school in the fall without going into debt. You may even be able to include some of those designer "necessities."

Tackle the Essentials First

The secret to keeping a handle on back-to-school spending is to go into it with a plan.

– Take stock. Schools often send a list home the last day outlining the supplies children need when they return to school in the fall. Figure out what you already have and what could be swapped among your children. Once you have taken an inventory of clothing and supplies, you can determine what more you’ll need to buy. Note: Some school items may be tax-deductible in some states, so keep receipts.

– Plan ahead. Make a list of what each child needs before you shop. Determine how much you can afford to spend on each child. Stick to the list. If you have difficulty staying within your budget, consider purchasing some items at rummage sales, consignment shops or second-hand stores. Avoid shopping when you are tired or you may be tempted to overspend just to get shopping out of the way.

– Comparison shop. Chances are, you can spread out many purchases throughout the year. In addition, school supplies go on sale by mid-September, so it isn’t necessary to buy everything your children need before school starts. In fact, buying over time lets you take advantage of sales and specials throughout the year.

Get Children Involved

The most important aspect of staying within budget is to remember that you are in control. Children may want all the latest trends. It’s their nature. You don’t need to give in to their every whim; nor do you need to be hard-nosed and quash all their wishes. Get them involved in planning and paying for the more expensive, trendy items.

Tell your children what you can afford to purchase. If they demand the latest footwear or a popular item of clothing that threatens to blow the budget, suggest that children put part of their allowance or paycheck toward the purchase. Also, let them know some other item may have to be eliminated because of the more expensive item. You can also put specific items on a waiting list. Often, if you delay purchases of the trendiest items, children lose interest and forget how important the items once seemed. If you can establish your spending limits, make a plan and stick to it, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to break the family budget. Jim Larranaga is executive vice president of Priority Publications, a Minneapolis-based publisher of financial newsletters. Courtesy of ARA Content,