How to Manage the High Cost of Back-to-School Expenses

Do you remember the back-to-school excitement?  Your parents likely took you out shopping for new clothes and new folders, pens, pencils and other supplies.  While you couldn’t wait to get out of school in June, you were equally excited (at least temporarily) to go back in August or September.

Yet, now, many parents may dread the back-to-school season because of the financial burden.  Yahoo! recently reported that the average back-to-school price tag for a high school student is $1,402!  That includes the cost of back-to-school supplies, musical instrument rentals, sports and field trips.

If the high cost is concerning you, especially if you have more than one school-aged child, there are plenty of ways to save.

Back to School Supplies

manage back to school expensesWhen it comes to back-to-school supplies, there are several cost-cutting measures you can take.

Shop the sales.  Target, Walmart, Office Depot, they all offer back-to-school supply sales.  Cherry pick the best deals, and you won’t have to pay much for school supplies, especially when you can get notebooks for .05 a piece!

Check out the dollar store.  Your local dollar store will have school supplies at a fraction of the cost of retail.  This is a great one-stop shopping place to go if you don’t have the time to cherry pick sales.

Clothes

Buying your kids new clothes for school can really eat into your budget.  Try these strategies:

Take inventory first.  Before you buy any clothes, take inventory.  You and your child can look through her closet and see what clothes are still in good condition.  You  may find you have very little to buy.

Stagger your purchases.  There’s no rule that says you have to buy all your child’s back-to-school clothes the week before school.  Buy some jeans and long sleeve shirts before school.  Then, in October or November when the weather cools, buy some sweaters.  Stagger your purchases based on need and sales.

Buy second hand.  Another option is to buy second hand, either through a consignment store or a place like Goodwill.  You can also try joining and buying from Facebook groups selling the brands of clothes you like.  You’ll save a bundle!

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are important for your children’s development, and in the high school years, participation also helps to round out their college application.  Yet, extracurriculars can be expensive!  The key is to find ones that your child enjoys and that you can afford.

Look for free extracurriculars.  Especially when children are younger, look for things that they can do for free.  When my son was young, choir was free, but after school gym cost money every month.  He joined choir, and then later he also joined Art Club, in part because it was free.

Choose one extracurricular.  As your kids older, choose one extracurricular activity that they excel at.  Have your child focus on that one.  Then, you only have one expense to pay versus three if he was on a sports team every season.

Have your child become a teacher.  Has your child been taking piano since she was five years old?  If she now has 10 years’ experience, she could start offering lessons to younger students to help pay for her own lessons.  There’s nothing wrong with a high school student helping to pay for her activities and interests.

Combine these strategies, and you’ll find your back-to-school expenses are much more affordable.

What are your favorite strategies for saving on back-to-school items?

Are You Ready for a BIG Emergency?

Are you ready for a big emergency?  Do you have the required 6 to 12 months’ emergency fund?

I can hear your groan now.  Who has enough extra money to put aside 6 to 12 months in the bank?  If you have expenses of $3,000 a month, an ample emergency fund of 6 to 12 months would be $18,000 to $36,000.  Definitely not small change.

An emergency fund is hard to build, and that may be part of the reason why many people never even try.

Big Emergency

Original image credit: https://flic.kr/p/7KLtYi

But there will be an emergency that will occur sometime in your life.  You will need that money.

Financial Death by a Thousand Nicks

We relocated to Arizona 10 months ago.   Doing so drained our meager emergency fund.  For a few months, we were doing pretty good and getting back on our feet until we started facing endless financial nicks—braces for our son, $2,000 in medical and dental expenses, $1,500 in car repairs, etc.  The last five months have been financially very difficult.

If we would have had a 6 to 12 month emergency fund, our job now would be to rebuild the emergency fund, not do constant damage control.  I think it will be a few more months until we are financially in the clear, assuming no other major expenses come up.  Meanwhile, we feel extremely vulnerable financially.

The Big Emergency Worst Case Scenario

However, our current financial difficulties are nothing compared to what others face.  My daughters’ therapist is living a financial nightmare.  Her husband had a stroke and now has locked in syndrome, which means he has his full mental faculties, but he can’t move his body.  He is no older than 40.  No one would expect this to happen.

The therapist’s life now is driving to see her husband and advocate for him as well as juggling the finances of losing one income as well as the rapidly mounting medical expenses.  She does work but has had to take frequent days off.  Even with a Go Fund Me page that brought her nearly $50,000 in donations, I have no idea how she is handling the expenses.

Of course, this is a worst case scenario, but still, an emergency fund to liquidate in this situation would be nice.

Take Baby Steps to Reach Your Goal

Right now, my husband and I are struggling to stay out of debt.  So far we’ve succeeded, but we’re right on the edge.  Still, our plan is to put a small amount away in our emergency fund, say $50 a month.  Something is always better than nothing.

In the next few months, we’ll amp that amount up to a couple of hundred a month and keep increasing as we are able.  We won’t have a sizeable emergency fund anytime soon, but we will have some money put aside.

Too often, it’s easy to look at your finances when everything is going right and say to yourself, “We’re doing alright.  I can afford to splurge.”

But that’s short-sighted thinking.  Look at your finances and ask yourself how would you be financially if you had several smaller emergencies of a few hundred or thousand dollars or if the worst case scenario happened?

My advice is to wait to splurge until you have that emergency fund.  Trust me, one day you’ll be glad.

Do you have a 6 to 12 month emergency fund, or do you find it too difficult to achieve?

Stretching Your Produce Budget Further

Anyone who has made a simple budget has struggled with making their food budget fit with the rest of the budget.  If you attempt to eat healthy, one of the biggest components to a food budget is the produce.  Stretching your produce budget can be somewhat difficult.  Growing seasons are short, and the cost of produce keeps going up.  But, there are a few things we can do to stretch that produce budget, and make it a bit easier on your overall budget.

  1. Stretching your produce budgetStock Up on Sale: buying your produce on sale allows for you to stock up when the item is cheaper, then store it until you need it.   Canned produce is really easy to store.  Frozen only requires a freezer.  And if it’s the fresh stuff, there’s a few things you can do to store a surplus when you do pick it up in season and on sale.
  2. Canning for stockpiling: When you’ve got a surplus of produce, one of the best things you can do is can it to preserve it for another day’s use.  Canning only requires a few pieces of equipment, and a little time learning the process, then you can be off to the races filling your pantry shelves with preserved fresh produce to use later in the year when produce is much more expensive.
  3. Freeze it: Every year, around the end of summer, corn pops up in the backs of pickup trucks and in the farmers markets.  Compared to the rest of the year, it’s really cheap, and it tastes so good!  Unless we want to eat nothing but fresh corn, though, the season is fleeting, and we’re left with no other corn but the commercially canned or frozen corn you can get at the supermarket.  It’s just not the same.  Last year, we bought a whole bunch of corn (4-5 dozen), shucked them all, then cut the kernels off and combined them in a huge stockpot with some butter, a little bit of salt, and a little bit of water, and then cooked it for a little while.  Once it was done, we let it cool off, and then filled quart size freezer bags with the corn and froze it.  Now, if we want a little taste of that sweet summer corn, we just grab a bag, heat it backup and eat.  We did similar things with pumpkin, squash, zucchini, and a whole bunch of other summer fruits and veggies.  All it takes is a little bit of prep time and the freezer room to enjoy the flavor of fresh produce all year round.
  4. Grow it: If you already grow a garden every year, this might seem like a no-brainer of a tip.  But, growing your own garden can be an excellent way to stretch your produce budget out.  Last year, we enjoyed an abundance of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, jalepenos, cucumbers, and even an eggplant or two from our tiny container garden.  This year, we’re planning on consolidating down to a smaller selection in hopes that we’ll have some extras that we can can as well.
  5. Find a Farmer’s Market: Buying your produce from a local farmer can often be just as cheap as buying at the supermarket.  In some cases, if you order ahead, you can get a deal on bulk orders of produce which is great if you are planning on canning any of it.  It’s also fresher since it only had to make the trip from the farm down the road instead of the farm across the country.  It’s not always a great way to stretch the produce budget, but if you want high-quality produce that will last longer before spoiling, it’s a good place to check out.
  6. Pick it Yourself: A reader on twitter commented that I’d forgotten to add the u-pick farms.  I hadn’t really forgotten them, as they just don’t exist in my neck of the woods and the cost to drive to the nearest one would negate the savings.  But, if you have a u-pick farm nearby, it’s an excellent way to get out of the house, pick a ton of fresh produce (fruits usually) and save a pretty big chunk of change.  Many of the farms only charge about 1/3 of the cost at the grocery store!

Extending your produce budget is important, not just when there are droughts, but as a way to provide healthy options for you and your family to eat year round.

What do you do to stretch your produce budget?