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?

Our Cross Country Move: One Year Later

Almost one year ago, our family made the move from Chicago to Tucson, Arizona.  Honestly, I wasn’t that excited to be moving so far away from my family in the Midwest, but we thought the move would only be for two or three years.  The move was a smart choice for my husband’s career (something we still believe), so I tried to make the best out of it.

Now, a year later, I’ve found that a cross country move can evoke a wide range of positives and negatives.

The Positives

Cross Country MoveKeeping in touch with relatives is easy, thanks to technology.  My mom has made the trip out to Tucson three times in the year we’ve been here, so we’ve been lucky to see her so frequently.  Because of the cost of taking our family of five such a distance, we only expect to be able to travel to see her once a year.  She’ll likely cut her trips down to once or twice a year to see us from now on.  However, thanks to Skype, keeping in touch is easier than ever.  Whenever the kids miss grandma, we just Skype with her.

Having a back yard is priceless.  In the Chicago suburbs where we lived, we just had a tiny patch of yard.  Since we were renting, we couldn’t do anything with it.  Now, we have a full back yard for the kids to play in and we have three garden beds (though we’re still learning how to grow anything in this crazy desert).

A cheaper cost of living rocks.  No surprise, Chicago was expensive.  We could never own a house because property taxes alone were $12,000+ a year, and starter homes in less than ideal conditions were easily $350,000 as a starting price.  In Tucson, we’re able to own our own home, and the property taxes are a fifth or less of what they were in Chicago.

The Negatives

All health insurance policies are not the same.  My husband’s health insurance policy in Chicago was generous, but we always found it very annoying that medical bills were not paid until 9 to 12 months AFTER the appointment.  (Illinois’ tight budget was the reason.)  When we moved here, I was impressed that our bills were paid within a few weeks.  However, we pay more to insure our family here, and fewer expenses are covered.  We did not estimate just how deeply medical bills would impact our bottom line, and right now we’re recovering financially from the nearly $5,000 we had to pay out of pocket for the first four months of medical expenses in 2015.  (These expense would have likely been much less with our Illinois insurance.)

Moving is SO expensive.  We originally hoped to only be out here for two to three years, but moving cross country is so expensive.  Now I find myself hoping we stay here five years so we don’t have to spend so much money to relocate so quickly after relocating here.  We need time to recoup our expenses.

Moving cross country has been an experience, but despite the expenses, we’re still glad we did it.

Have you made a large move?  What did you learn a year or so into relocating?  Would you do it again if you had the choice?

Do Your Kids Do Chores?

I recently saw an article on Yahoo! that said only 28% of today’s kids do chores versus 82% of kids from our generation.

I don’t know about you, but I had chores when I was growing up.  I took care of our pets, washed the dishes, and helped clean the house ALL day on Saturdays.  (I still have nightmares about cleaning each and every slat on our huge stereo.)

My kids are definitely part of the 28% of today’s kids who have chores.  My 10 year old is responsible for doing three chores a day including things like vacuuming the living room or his bedroom, emptying the dishwasher, and cleaning the bathroom.  My younger kids are 6 and 5, and they’re responsible for two chores a day including picking up their toys, cleaning their rooms, putting away clean clothes, and feeding the cat.

Kids do ChoresWe have our kids do chores because we want them to learn to be self-sufficient, and we want them to understand that there are not always people there to do things for them.  I plan to work with my oldest this summer to teach him how to prepare some basic meals.

Repercussions for Kids Who Don’t Do Chores

But what about the other 72% of kids who don’t do chores?

One of my friends had surgery recently, and she had trouble getting up to prepare her food.  Her boys are 17 and 13, but neither of them could make her anything while her husband was at work because they hadn’t yet learned to cook.  Her son had to go to the store to buy some frozen meals for her.

And herein lies the problem.  “Too often children leave home for college unable to look after themselves adequately.  They have to rely on junk food or expensive ready-made meals” (Yahoo!).

If your children do not have the most basic of skills to care for themselves, when they’re adults their lack of skills can cost them a small fortune.  You likely know of people who don’t know how to cook, so instead they fill their grocery carts with frozen meals or go out to eat every night.

Even worse, your adult child may be so cozy at home that he never leaves!

Parents Sacrifice Now So Greater Rewards Can Come Later

My guess is that many parents don’t give their children chores because training them to do chores properly takes time, sometimes a few weeks to a few months.  It can be a painful process.

Gina Gardiner, author of the Yahoo! article, states, “Many parents I believe are suffering from the ‘It’s quicker, easier and less hassle to do it yourself syndrome.’ Of course, it takes time to teach children how to do chores and a real commitment to motivate children to do the chores and understand why it’s important—but it is well worth the investment.”

I know that is why I have neglected to teach my oldest to cook and why I’m waiting to do so until the summer when we’ll have more time.  Teaching him to cook will require patience on my end (and perhaps his, too), but it will be well worth the time and effort.

Do you require your children to do chores?  If you don’t, why not?