Association of Military Banks of America

How to Avoid Breaking Your Budget with Back-to-School Shopping

By Amanda Mitchell, AFC®

It is finally August! And with August comes the beautiful anticipation that soon, our babies, whom we have spent the entire summer entertaining and playing referee for, will return to school. I don’t know about you guys, but I am PUMPED for back to school. Is it just me, or did this summer feel like it has been 500 weeks long? Maybe it was because we recently experienced a tough PCS, I don’t know. All I know is that I am definitely ready to hear the glorious sound of school bells and experience a bit of silence. As excited as I am for education to resume, I also dread the school shopping required to do so. As a mom of three, it can get pretty expensive. Each grade comes with a mile-long supply list. On top of that, they have all outgrown every shred of clothing they own. It can be a bit overwhelming to feel as if you are hemorrhaging money left and right on all of these supplies. So, it’s time to get a game plan so you can approach the supply aisles with confidence. Here are a few tips to help you keep a couple of bucks in your pocket:                  

Reuse and Recycle.
Take stock of what you have leftover from last year. Reusing what you can from the previous year can save you a ton of money. Consider getting thrifty and shopping at consignment or thrift stores.

*Pro-tip*: Opt for solid colors and patterns over buying supplies with popular cartoon characters on them. It makes things easier to reuse the following year when your kid outgrows the current trends.

Create a back-to-school budget.
You already know the best way to stay on track of your spending is to create a budget. Start by determining how much money you have available for school supplies. Then make a list of all the things you need to purchase. Include estimated costs for each and then compare that total with your available cash for supplies and adjust as needed. Here are a few resources for creating a budget:

Prioritize your list.
School supplies are expensive no matter how many children you have to buy for. Prioritize your list so that if you need to spread out shopping over a few weeks, you are ensuring you get the most important items first.

Shop sales, but beware of clever marketing.
Almost every store that sells school supplies will inevitably have a back-to-school sale. Taking advantage of sales prices is a good idea but beware of clever marketing that can play to emotions. We want what is best for our kids, and marketers know that parental guilt is powerful. This is why it is so important to make a list before you head out. Lists help us to avoid impulse shopping.

Check to see if your state has a tax-free holiday.
Some states help parents and caregivers out by designating a specific couple of days as tax-free to help you save money on essential items. To find out if your state has a tax-free holiday and when it is, visit your state’s tax administration website or click here for a convenient by-state list.

Check for free supplies programs or military discounts.
Check with organizations such as Operation Homefront’s Back to School Brigade to see if there might be a free school supply event at your installation. Also, many big-box retailers, such as Kohl’s, Old Navy, and Columbia, offer a military discount. Don’t be afraid to ask if a discount is offered, the worst they can say is no!