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Doable Money-Saving Tips for Back-To-School from a BTDT Mom

Doable Money-Saving Tips for Back-To-School from a BTDT Mom

By Kelly Whalen

With back-to-school time here it’s a good time to talk BTS budgets. From the super specific back-to-school lists to the must-haves it can seem like back-to-school equals an empty bank account. While it’s true, it costs us a little more at that time there are some smart money moves you can make this fall to save some dough.

Tip #1: Skip school lunches.

For most busy families an easy way to save time is to have kids buy their lunch at school. But have you added up the cost? Whether it’s a basic meal or your child is fortunate enough to have an array of healthy lunch options to choose from it can add up fast! My daughter was regularly spending $4 per lunch last year! That’s $20 per week and definitely not in our family’s budget. The solution? Packed lunches. It’s less expensive, healthier, and you can save the difference.

Don’t want to pack lunches yourself? Don’t do it. Since my kids were in 1st grade the expectation has been that they pack their own lunches. Sometimes that means they go to school with a yogurt and an apple, but they quickly learn. Especially if you use tip #2.

Tip #2: Extras come out of the kids’ money.

Want to buy lunch all week or spend extra on the chandelier for your locker (yes, it’s a thing)? Kid, that comes from your budget, not the family budget. While it may seem a little extreme it’s an effective way to teach your kids about the value of money. They value their money much more than they value yours! This came in handy when my daughter needed a second (and then a third!) binder last year. I provided one, but she beat up the first one so badly she had to spend her own money to replace it. By the way, why are binders so expensive?!

Tip #3: Put kids in charge of their back-to-school budgets.

Before you hand them a $100 and send them into the wilds of Target’s back-to-school aisles it takes a little prep. This may be tough to do at first, but we’ve successfully used this method for a number of years and it’s incredibly helpful in getting kids to understand costs, learn how to price hunt, and evaluate quality of products, too. Read more about putting kids in charge of their back-to-school budget here.

Tip #4: Shop later in the season.

I know they say the early bird gets the worm (or the last 12 pack of Crayola classics), but when it comes to back-to-school you may want to wait. Supply lists from schools are often put out to help parents and students come prepared, but my family’s BTDT experience has shown us (this applies to preschool all the way through high school) that many items on those lists never get used. Instead start with the basics, hold onto your receipts, and go shopping once you have a ‘this is what my teacher really wants‘ list. When it comes to clothes you can often stretch summer wardrobes well into the first weeks of school since it’s still warm out. Waiting will lead to big discounts as retailers make space for holiday merchandise and winter gear. If your kids have uniforms you may need our next tip.

Tip #5: Thrift, buy secondhand, or look for freebies.

If your kid’s school has uniforms you may want to consider shopping secondhand. Often kids grow out of uniform clothes before they even get wear and tear. You can also shop thrift sales, secondhand stores, and yard sales for supplies and needs at a fraction of the cost of new. ThredUp, eBay and even Facebook offer ways to save online, while you may try Facebook or your local neighborhood group for freebies.

Tip #6: Embrace spending where it counts.

While there are plenty of ways to cut costs and save on back-to-school there are a few ways I don’t recommend cutting back. Good shoes and a great backpack should last all year (and the backpack should last multiple years!). We always plan to spend a little extra to support our school and teachers, too. Whether it’s buying extra tissues for the classroom or contributing to funds that go back to students or into the school it’s important to give back to the places and people that give our kids so much.

What are some ways you curb back-to-school spending?

Photo source: Depositphotos/Tinkerbell77


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Published August 31, 2017. Last updated August 6, 2018.
About the Author

Kelly Whalen

Centsible Life

Kelly Whalen started writing about personal finance and family life in 2008-a year after her family moved into a ‘fixer upper’ that turned out to be a FIXER UPPER (purchased right befor...

Kelly Whalen started writing about personal finance and family life in 2008-a year after her family moved into a ‘fixer upper’ that turned out to be a FIXER UPPER (purchased right before the markets crashed). Between remodeling costs, her then role as a stay-at-home parent, and four growing kids her family’s bills were overwhelming. So, she did what she does best- researched and read everything she could and shared solutions that worked with family, friends, or anyone who would listen. From that desire to share her website, Centsible Life, was born. Over the last nine years she has written about personal finance, family life, and crafted a career born out of a need to improve her family’s finances.  Kelly lives in Minneapolis with her four kids, husband, and one fluffy dog.

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1 Comment
  • amakaye

    September 1, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    As an elementary teacher, I’m going to disagree with #4, at least for younger kids. I put a lot of effort into making my supply list contain only those items that the students need. We then spent a great deal of time the first days of school organizing those supplies (setting up binders, labeling notebooks and folders, etc.). When multiple students don’t have their supplies, it makes that process much more complicated. Then I also had to keep track of who didn’t have what, who still needed to put the tabs in their math folder, etc., as well as find time to do those things when the supplies eventually did come in. Yes, keep receipts, and yes, ask questions (maybe email the teacher beforehand asking if they created the list or if there are things on it that won’t be needed–I know in some schools/districts it’s just a generic list and not classroom-specific), but in many cases, the list is the list for a reason. 🙂