Financial Tools for Back to School

This article, created by Tompkins Financial Advisors, was originally published in Tompkins Weekly on September 8, 2021

It is that time of year again… back to school! Every year this event ends up costing more than most parents want to spend, and every year it gets more expensive. Many of us here at Tompkins are also parents, so we can certainly empathize. Here are some tips and tricks to assist in school saving and budgeting.

Maximize the Time of Year for School Planning

  • Tax Season
  • If you are able put aside your tax refund for August/September’s higher than normal spending, take the opportunity.
  • If you cannot put aside the whole refund, or you do not get a refund, consider starting a school stash account. Set aside a regular amount to deposit from every pay period. Even if it is a small amount, the extra padding will surely help ease the big spend on deck.
  • Tax-free Days/Weekends
    • Watch for deals for large school purchases on tax-free days or weekends. While New York State doesn’t currently offer this, a short car ride to a neighboring state can yield serious savings on laptops, computer desks, and expensive clothing or gear.
  • End of Sport Seasons
    • Hit the used sport stores right after a season is over when everyone is getting rid of their gear. Buy for the upcoming year and pack the items away, including ones in bigger sizes you’ll need in the future.
  • End of School Year
    • Do not toss or recycle unused supplies that are sent home at the end of the school year. Instead devote a bin to school supplies that continues to grow (throw any extra items you acquire in the year as the year goes on), and check out its contents when prepping for fall start. You would be surprised how many supplies you have when you gather them all in one spot.

Get Those Deals

  • Shop Around and Price Match
    • Most big box stores offer price matching, so find the best deals ahead and save some time and energy with a one-stop-shop.
    • Always log into the store app while you are shopping in-person. If you find the same product but a cheaper price online, ask for a price match.
  • School Clothes
    • Find deals for a few staple items the kids always need to buy for the start of school year, and add ancillary items as more income becomes available. They grow so fast that you want to minimize the chance of having a surplus of expensive new clothes all in one size to start, only to have to spend again once a growth spurt hits.

Shop With an Open Mind

  • Consider buying in large quantities to get deals. Try getting together with a friend group of the same age and grade for similar supply needs. Buy in bulk and divvy up the tab. This is especially helpful if you have only one child or children of varying ages with different supply needs. You do not need 10 glue sticks for one child – we all know they dry out before they’re used!
  • Be open to buying generic brands, looking at all types of stores including thrift shops, and coupon clip. Many supplies are similar in quality no matter if name brand or not, and can be found in some unlikely places for good prices. The drug stores even run great school deals, for example.

Stagger and Stick to Your Spending

  • Purchase the required school supplies on the list, and then hold off on buying more. It is best to find out what is truly a need for the class if it is in addition to the supply list. By that time, most stores have significantly marked down school merchandise and you can get even better deals.
  • Know what is in your family budget to spend and do not succumb to impulse purchases. This is something that is great to get the kids involved in, and is a great early lesson in money management. Have each child assist you in searching for the product prices, finding the best price, writing it down on their supply list, and then totaling it up. They will have a great sense of pride in checking off the items, making sure they cost what they expected, and seeing if they can stay within their budget for the shopping trip.
  • Select as a team the few special items that may cost a little more for the kids. If children know they have the autonomy to allocate the funds to what they hold most important, they will begin to understand the concept of “needs” and “wants” spending. Knowing these are “special” items that are out of the norm let them know they may not be always part of the yearly purchases.

These helpful hints will remain consistent from year-to-year, so be sure to keep this list handy for future school years. 

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