Getting Your Back To School Budget Ready

Back to school can be an exciting and stressful time of year. Finally your kids are out of your hands, back in a classroom, and you don’t have to think of ways to keep them occupied every day anymore. However, with back to school comes the long lists of things you need to purchase for your kids to be successful in a new year in the classroom.

Backpacks, pencil cases, school supplies, textbooks, the list goes on. It’s said that on average a family will spend $662 USD for elementary students, $1,000 for middle school students and $1,480 for high school students in back to school shopping. Whether your kid is in grade one to heading off to college, the back to school budget can be eye opening and overwhelming. Thankfully there are some ways to cut corners and cut your budget/spending.


Start early but hold off

The summer flies by so quickly, you blink and before you know it you’re at Labour Day weekend and you have no idea where the summer months went. School supply shopping can be a lot, and your list can keep growing and growing, especially when you have multiple kids in your household. To make this process less overwhelming, start thinking about back to school early. Not only will you beat the lines in the stores, you’ll also feel more prepared and less like you’re trying to cram everything into a couple days.

To start, think about how much you can afford to spend overall and then look at what costs you have for each kid. Also, take a look at what your kids really need versus what they want. When you’ve worked out your wish list and budget a bit, you’ll also want to potentially hold off on certain items. Buying things just because you think they’ll need it is a waste of money. Instead, buy the absolute necessities and leave the rest of the items on your list to see if they are actually things they need or their teachers request. Holding off to can mean that you might hit even better sales once school starts and more of the back to school items are on sale!

TIP! This back to school calculator might help!

Involve the kids

Don’t just involve your kids in the shopping part of back to school, but have them join in on the preparations as well. First off, they’ll learn lessons on budgeting and creating lists, as well as differentiating between wants and needs. Use back to school shopping as an opportunity to lay a foundation for helping your kids develop money management and organization habits early. Even if your child is going off to college, it’s important now more than ever for them to understand the budget and the costs that are going to come with post-secondary education.

To start, here are some things to work through with them:

1) Set a realistic back to school budget before you go shopping, and have your kids prepare the budget with you. By sitting down with your kids and breaking it down with them in an easy, and fun way, your kids will better understand and respect the things you are buying them. Also, they will learn valuable skills that will prepare them for life.

2) Take a printout of your estimated budget with you and have your kids enter in all the actual expenses/money you spend. This not only keeps them busy in the store, but instead of tossing things in the cart with absolutely no idea of the cost of it all, isn’t going to help anyone down the line.

3) Encourage kids to the follow that budget, you can do this by stressing to them if they want a more expensive item that it may mean not getting something else. Teaching them a little give and take, versus showing them that no matter what they want, they’ll get will teach them to be humble, and more conscious of the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees.

4) Teach kids about how to cut costs and look for deals. You can do this by having them go through flyers with you and looking for coupons or sales. When in the store, compare the cost of the different brands available and show them how it can be exciting to save money because you’ll have more money left for other things.

5) Take the time to show children how to differentiate between needs and wants. This is so important! What supplies/clothes do they need, and what ones are just nice to have, and why?

As kids get older you’ll be able to introduce new skills and things to help them continuously learn more and become more responsible with back to school shopping. By the time they’re in high school you can get them to create their own budgets with a limit of how much they have to spend. You can teach them about different ways your family gets money, and explain to them ways other families might get money like Payday loans in Canada. All these things are great lessons to make your kids money conscious early on.

Get creative to save money

Look for ways to cut costs and save money. The biggest chunk of your back to school budget will likely be clothing. However, there are so many alternatives to buying a brand new, full wardrobe. Ask around to friends with kids and put together a clothing swap, check out cheaper/inexpensive stores, or even second hand stores and garage sales. It’s amazing what you can find when you are on a mission to not spend a fortune. Also, take a hard look on what your kids really need. Sure it’s nice to have new clothes, but if there summer running shoes still fit, why buy another pair?

School supplies can be the same, if your kid still has school supplies left from last year that are perfectly fine, hold off on restocking everything until they actually seriously need it. Plus, there are some supplies your child may not actually need. For example, they may want markers but you might learn on the first day of school that they’re not allowed to use them.

Look for sales

Planning in advance for back to school can be great, because it gives you time to keep your eyes on sales that come up throughout the summer and leading into back to school season. When you see a good deal, stock up. If you know your kid is going to grow throughout the year, buy some bigger clothes while they’re on sale. Look up coupons, groupons and online deals too, and make sure to price match or compare products in other stores. Also, remember that your growing child doesn’t need all designer clothes, there can be a lot of nice things that you can find in Walmart or Target.

Don’t just think about shopping

With September hitting, you automatically think about the back to school clothes and supplies you need. What’s often overlooked in preparing for this busy time of year is all the sports and extracurricular activities that start too. You also need to think about the cost of equipment, registration fees, and everything else that goes along with it. So start to think of ways you can cut costs in this area of back to school expenses too. You may want to:

– Look for coupons to save on certain activities, classes or sports
– Find equipment that is second hand either through friends or stores like Play It Again Sports
– Register early as there may be early registrant discounts
– Look at volunteer opportunities with your kids teams/organizations for the chance to get a discounted rate

Going off to college

Creating a back to school budget when heading off for college is a whole other ballgame. Post-secondary education comes with a hefty price tag so it’s important to budget for your son and daughter pre-moving out, as well as make sure they understand what that budget is too, after all, they are an adult now. Here are some tips for budgeting for college…

Set your goals

Before you start anything, you’re going to want to outline your goals. You should be setting long-term, short-term, plus in-between goals for in-between terms and while school is in session. To determine your goals, you’ll want to lay out some of the following:

– How long is the course you want to take?
– How many hours a week will you have class?
– What do you hope to do when you graduate?
– What is the employment rate in this area? Would I need to move? Or could I live at home to pay off debt, etc.?
– Can I work part- or full-time while in school?
– How many hours will I have to devote to homework or studying?
– Will I need a car for school or my future job?
– When do I want to start saving and investing in my future beyond school? (Ex: RRSP)
– How will I go about saving for what I want without going into debt?

These are just some questions to ask yourself to get the juices flowing when setting your goals. The most important thing is to think about not just the short-term goals, but also the long-term goals. You want to be prepared for when you graduate if you’re going to have additional expenses to get yourself on your feet in your career, like moving to a new city, or the chance of not being able to find a full-time career right away.

Outline your expenses

The expenses when pursuing post-secondary education can seem endless, but do your best to lay out all the expenses that you know of to help you better understand the amount of money you’ll need. Expenses that you’ll be able to predict are:

– Tuition (make sure to pay this on time or you could be charged additional fees and interest)
– Housing/rent payments: Will you be staying in residence on campus or renting your own place? To get an idea of rent costs in your area, scour the internet on real estate listing sites and places like PadMapper or Kijiji.
– Utility bills (if not included in rent)
– Weekly grocery allowance: Will you be splitting groceries with roomies? Is there a food plan on campus that you can pay into? Look at your options and see what makes sense for your budget.
– Public transportation or gas money/car maintenance
– Books or supplies that are required for your classes
– Communication services like internet and your cell phone bill (cut costs by asking for a student rate)
– Dental and health: Do you have insurance, if not, estimate what this may cost you by looking into the prices of the services and prescriptions you require

Determine all of the things you know you’ll definitely have to pay for and record the costs as accurately as possible. Some expenses will likely fluctuate month-to-month like utilities for example or food, but make an estimate, and you can always alter these costs as you gain a better understanding of what the average amount will be. Make sure you also leave some flexibility when it comes to these expenses, for example, books and supplies may cost more one semester than another, so you want to ensure you have budgeted some extra cash just incase.

Determine your income

Next it’s time to balance your budget. This will be the step to help you understand where your money is going, where your money is coming from, and where you need to cut back. Add up all the above items that are pre-determined or fixed costs, and minus that from your income or how much money you have saved or will be making that will go towards your education and living costs.

It’s likely that since you are a student or soon-to-be college student, you aren’t going to breakeven with just your income from your summer job so you’ll need to look at other sources of income in order to make ends meet. Here are some places to start:

Scholarships and grants:
There are a ton of different scholarships and grants out there that can help you pay for school, and the best thing about them is that you don’t need to pay them back. Essentially they are free money. What many people don’t realize is that you don’t necessarily need to have the best grades to get a scholarship/grant. There are so many different requirements for applicants for this sort of money. For example, you can get a scholarship for the time you volunteered in high school, for extracurricular activities, for academic achievements in different areas, and for specific programs you are applying to at college so ensure that you seek out what’s available in your province, as well as at the school(s) you’re applying to. 

Let’s face the facts, for many post-secondary students, it’s just impossible to make ends meet without going into some debt. Over 40% of students that graduated in Canada between 2009-2010 used some sort of loan to finance their education. There is nothing wrong with applying and taking a loan to finance your education but it is important to understand how much you actually need, what and when you’ll need to pay back the loan, and the interest it’ll accumulate until you pay it off.

Loans provided by the government such as OSAP are structured to benefit students. They are received based of the financial need of the applicant and their parents. Recipients won’t need to start paying these back until after graduation and they won’t incur interest until then as well. Payday loans in Canada however will have different requirements in the fine print, so make sure you educate yourself on the details before making a decision on what’s right for you.

Is your family going to be contributing to your post-secondary education? If so, you need to determine how much they will be able to contribute towards your education and also, if they expect you to pay them back in a certain time frame or at all. Your family can be one of the most valuable and easiest sources of money in some cases because you don’t have to worry about being in debt with a bank or collecting interest.

Personal Income:
What do you have saved for your education? Take a look at your savings, and determine how much you can allocate to school. If you don’t have a ton, or are still looking for ways to make ends meet, you may want to consider getting a part-time job while you are in school to help you have a consistent income and stream of some added cash coming in to help you pay the bills. Most campuses have employment services right on campus, allowing you to get a job close to home/class.

Stick to it and adjust where necessary

Your back to school budget is likely going to change throughout your post-secondary education, however, there is no point in making a budget if you just plan on ignoring it and spending whatever you want. Once you lay out your budget, do a one-month trial which will help you try to determine if your budget was practical. Do your best to stick to what you laid out and see where it may need to be adapted for the rest of the semester or school year. To help you track your budget and stay on top of it, here are some tips:

Be honest with yourself
If you laid out your budget and notice that consistently you’re overspending in a certain category it may be time to reevaluate this line item. First off determine if it’s something that you “need” to spend money on like hydro or if it’s something like eating out at restaurants. If it’s something like entertainment which you don’t necessarily need, reevaluate how you can cut costs and stick closer to your budget each month. For example, if you find you’re buying a lot of your meals out, find easy recipes you can meal prep at home for the week, or suggest to your friends that you make dinner one night at your place instead of going out. If you for some reason absolutely can’t live without whatever you’re overspending on, you’ll need to adjust your budget to fit that new expenditure and figure out how you’ll make ends meet with the new cost.

Set up auto-withdrawals
Whether you are saving for something in particular or just ensuring you have enough money set aside to pay tuition or other major bills, setting up auto-withdrawals or transfers can help you stay on top of this and easily save. Whether you set up your account to automatically withdrawal every paycheck or before bills are due, this will help you stay on top of what is in your account that you can actually spend versus what’s set aside for bills. It can also be helpful to set up auto-payments for bills too so you don’t accidentally miss a deadline and get charged interest.

Make an account just for bills
One way that helps people keep their budget straight is to have a seperate account or two for different aspects of your life. For example, you may have a general account with money you can spend on entertainment, and then an account with the money you need for bills, tuition, textbooks and other necessary expenses. This helps ensure you don’t “accidently” spend the money you needed on something that wasn’t necessary like a dinner out with friends.

Plan your meals
One of the biggest culprits to overspending each month is food. Often we will buy a coffee here or there, buy lunch on campus, etc. and before you know it you’ve spend hundreds of dollars in a month towards just food. However, if you are more conscious about spending on food you’ll easily cut down this expense. Some ways to help cut down this expense are:

– Pack your own lunches when you’re not going to be home for lunch
– If you’re too busy to cook during the week, pick one evening and meal prep lunches and dinners for the week so you have them ready to go
– Buy food in bulk when applicable because often times you can save money this way, especially for items you buy consistently
– Shop at the cheapest grocery store and price match items to get the best deal
– If you have to go out for dinners with friends, eat before you go and order something small like an appetizer

Break up your spending
There are always going to be things you have in your life that you need to pay for, so breaking those expenses up as much as you can will help you make ends meet more easily. For example, if you know you need to buy a bunch of new art supplies for a class you are taking, instead of buying it all at once, start with the things you really need and then add the other items as the course progresses and as you need them. This will help bills seem less daunting and also help spread out your cash a bit more.

Look at your social calendar
Especially when you’re away at college and meeting new friends, it can be hard to say no to social activities and you don’t want to have to. However, there’s ways to not spend a fortune and still have a social life. For starters, if there are things you want to do in a week or month that cost money, throw in some budget-friendly activities instead. There are so many free and inexpensive things you can do to have fun, you don’t always need to be spending money.

Wait it out
You don’t always need everything right then and now, sometimes waiting it out for something you really want or need can be beneficial. For example, you might not want to buy all your textbooks before you start any of your classes because you may learn once the class starts that you don’t really need it. Or how about that new pair of pants that you’ve convinced yourself you need in the window at your favourite store? Waiting until the end of season could mean they go on sale!

Track your spending
It’s one thing to set a budget and “think” you’re staying within it versus actually “knowing” you are sticking to it. Tracking your spending can help really ensure you’re staying on track with your budget. Record all the things you spend money on no matter how big or small, there are several apps out there that help you easily do this so you have no excuse to not a) know what your budget is, or b) go over it.

Don’t lose sight of your goals
This can be one of the most valuable things to keep in mind when you’re struggling to keep on track with your budget. It’s important to not lose sight of why you have a budget and what it is that your money is going towards and why. You are paying for your post-secondary education which will help you land a career and help you fund your life and lifestyle for years to come. These goals will change as you age, for example you may be saving for a house, a car, or a trip, but it’s important to always remember the end goal and why it’s important everytime you begin to question if you should be wasting your money on something outside of your budget.

Realize that it might take a few months before you get your budget exactly right but try your best to stick to what you laid out before adjusting, and we promise that you’ll be glad you have a spending structure and an idea of where your dollars are going. Also, the benefit of figuring out all this stuff before and while you’re in school is that you will also be preparing yourself for the real world upon graduation. Who wants to be an adult that’s clueless with money and trying to figure out finance 101?

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