Budgeting for Back to School

‘Tis the season! Back to school is fast approaching. Can you believe it? Where did the summer go?

For some of us we’re mourning the end of summer, but for a lot of us, we are itching for our kids to head back to school to give us a bit of a break. Or maybe you’re heading back to college or university yourself and you’re excited for the new journey but also concerned with the cost.

No matter which team you’re on, it’s time to think about back to school and what that means for your budget. Budgeting isn’t usually anyone’s favourite thing. Let’s face it, we don’t have the time to think about it, or at least we claim we don’t but really we just don’t want to deal with it. However, back to school can be costly and financially stressful. There are so many things our growing kids need and the list can seem bottomless. 

Previously we had talked about some of the biggest expenses when it comes to going back to school such as:

Electronics
If your kid is young enough to not need these yet, that’s great, but the time is coming so you should start planning for it. Specific software, accessories, warranties, or whatever the case when you’re heading back to college in-particular can blow your wallet quick. Saving on electronics can be challenging, but if you plan in advance you’ll have the ability to keep your eyes on the sales and savings leading up to back to school. When you’re in a hurry and purchase last minute, you won’t have time to shop around and find the best deal. 

Tuition
Unfortunately you can’t really save much on tuition. However, there are usually different payment options for paying it, so make sure you look into what options are available to you at your school. Another way to cut costs is to look in advance for scholarships or grants that you can apply for. Usually applications for these are accepted well in advance to back to school, so make sure you are on top of it so you don’t miss out on essentially free money. 

Textbooks
Textbooks are ridiculously expensive no matter what your program. Unfortunately these overpriced books are necessary for your success, but how can you save? First off, look for used versions of the books either in your school bookstore, online, or from previous students selling them. Next, wait until school begins before you buy your books. Often times you don’t actually need them for your course, or hardly refer to them, so make sure you get your teachers recommendation before you go and spend an arm and a leg on the books.

Here are some other tips for saving money when heading back to college.

But you are probably wondering what are biggest tips are for building a budget for back to school time and sticking to it. Whether heading to university or sending your kids off to elementary school, here is our advice for building a budget and sticking to it when spending. 

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.

Start early but hold off

The summer goes by so quickly. Like how are we almost in September already? So when the end of August comes, you’re often scrambling to get all the things you need for back to school. To make this process less overwhelming, start thinking about back to school time in advance. I know it’s tough to think about fall when you’re enjoying the summer, but it’ll really help you save, and stop you from going crazy and scrambling at the last minute. 

To start, think about how much you can afford to spend on back to school, and divide that by each kid. Also take a look at what your kids actually need or what they want. Can you reuse stuff from last year versus buying everything new? Buy the absolute necessities and leave the rest of the items on your list to see if the teacher requests it, or they actually need it once school is in full swing. Holding off can also mean you hit better sales and savings!

Involve the kids

Don’t just involve your kids in the shopping aka the fun part, but also in the preparations and budget making. This can be a great opportunity to teach them about money and how much they are spending on the things they want vs. need for back to school. Get them to create a list of all the things they want and go through it with them identifying the wants versus needs. Then breakdown how much they have to spend and how much all those things will cost them. This will help things be put into perspective for them. 

If you’re going off to college, this can also be a valuable lesson. We lack financial literacy training in school and you’ll want to set your college student off on the right foot heading into a very expensive few years of school. 

Get creative

Look for ways to cut costs and save money. The biggest part of your budget for back to school will likely be clothing. However, there are so many ways you can buy clothes other than buying brand new or a full wardrobe. Ask around to friends and put on a clothing swap, go to second hand stores, garage sales or even cheaper stores than your typical brand names. Especially if your kids are still growing and these clothes won’t last them long. Also, remember to ask yourself what the kids need verses want. Could they make do in their summer sneakers for the fall too versus buying a brand new pair? 

Look for sales 

This seems like a no brainer but still, many people leave back to school shopping for the last minute so they can’t cash in on sales. Keep your eye on sales and key items that you want to buy for your kids. When you see a good deal, stock up. For example, is your kid likely to go through multiple sets of pencil crayons during the year? If you see them on sale, buy a couple of sets. However, make sure you aren’t overstocking too many things you’ll never get to or need. 

Don’t just think about shopping

With September hitting, you automatically think about all the things you need to head back to school and into fall but you also forget that there are several other expenses that come along with fall such as extracurricular activities starting back up. Make sure to not overlook this when budgeting. What equipment will your kids need? When are fees due? To save money in this area: 

  • Look for coupons to save on activities, classes or sports. Groupon is a good place to start!
  • Find equipment that is secondhand through friends or stores like Play It Again Sports
  • Plan ahead and register early to catch early bird pricing 
  • Look at volunteer opportunities with your kids teams or organization for a chance to get a discounted rate or other perks that can help financially 

Outside of preparing your budget for back to school spending with your little ones, let’s also look at what it’s like to prepare your budget and get ready to send your teenager off to college for the first time. Post-secondary education is pricey, so it’s important for you, and your future student to get ready and think ahead financially. Here’s some steps to work through: 

Set your goals

Before you start anything you’ll want to outline your goals. You should be setting both long-term, and short-term goals, and also in-between goals for when you aren’t in school and out for the summer months. To determine your goals, think through 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 that field? Would you need to relocate? Live at home for awhile? Etc. 
  • Can I work part-time or full-time while in school? 
  • How many hours will I have to devote to school work 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? For example, your RRSP
  • How will I go about saving for what I want without going into debt? 

These are just some things to ask yourself to get your juices flowing when it comes to setting your goals. Most importantly, don’t only focus on the short-term but also your future so you are prepared when you graduate.

Outline your expenses

Expenses in college 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. Predictable expenses are: 

  • Tuition 
  • Rent
  • Utility bills (if not included in rent) 
  • Groceries
  • Public transportation or gas money/car expenses
  • Books or supplies 
  • Cell phone bills
  • Dental and health care and/or insurance

Lay out all the known expenses you’ll have and although these may change or fluctuate, you’ll have a good idea of what money going out will look like. Also, ensure to leave some flexibility when it comes to thinks like books or supplies coming up that weren’t expected or for a new semester.

Determine your income

Now time to balance your budget. Where will your income be coming from and how much money do you have saved or coming in? Add up all your above expenses and see if you breakeven, or need to save or make more. It’s likely you won’t breakeven as a student just from your summer job so you’ll need to look at other ways to get income such as loans, scholarships, getting a part-time job, etc. 

If you are in Ottawa and need support in making ends meet, look into how to get an online loan in Ottawa with us. 

Saving, planning, and budgeting for back to school can seem exhausting, and often we forget about it because we’re so busy in the summertime that all of a sudden back to school hits and we don’t know where it came from. Being ahead of the game and prepared, and not leaving everything for the week before Labour Day can really help not only your sanity, but also saving money and finding the best deals so you have more money to save for experiences and fun things with your family.

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