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Simplifying Back-to-School Shopping & Your Summer Budget

Personal Finance
Back-to-school scene with mother saying goodbye to daughter on the first day of classes

Is back-to-school shopping an integral part of your budget? Or do you improvise every year as the expenses build up?

By now you're likely well acquainted with the delicate financial planning of parenthood. According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2017 Back-to-School Survey, parents of students in elementary school through high school planned to spend an average of $688 per child on supplies, clothing and electronics. Adding some line items to your summer budget — or even during the school year, if necessary — can help ease the burden and maximize your kids' excitement when it's time to start spending.

Basic Supplies

According to the NRF survey, parents planned to spend an average of $114 on school supplies such as notebooks, paper, pencils, lunchboxes, folders and backpacks for each child. There are two schools of thought on the best way to acquire all these supplies. One is to stockpile basic items whenever you see them on sale throughout the year. The second approach is to wait for each teacher's specific list of supplies. This way, you can avoid mistakes such as buying a calculator that doesn't have the required functions for your child's high school math or science class.

Pro parenting budget tip: Some schools offer a specific school planner for kids to write down their homework, test dates and schedules, which can cost between $10 and $20. Some classes also require additional lab fees and donations. If your child participates in organized extracurricular sports, dance or music activities, consider budgeting for team, studio membership or varsity athletics fees, physical exams, equipment and competition and travel fees.

Clothes & Uniforms

A back-to-school clothes shopping trip is a big summer budget line item, and parents in the NRF Survey planned to spend an average of $239 on clothing and another $131 on shoes for each child. It's a great idea to combine store coupons with sales at your favorite stores and your state's sales tax holiday to stock up on items kids always need. To avoid spending the entire budget in early fall, consider also waiting until October, when fall clothing goes on sale, which could also give you a chance to grab a few key items kids may really want after seeing what everyone else is wearing at school. Remember that trips for haircuts and new glasses or contacts may also end up in your budget.

Pro parenting budget tip: Some schools charge extra for physical education class uniforms starting in middle school. Extracurriculars may also incur costs for uniforms, practice jerseys and specialized shoes and socks.

Computers, Calculators & More

The NRF showed that parents planned to spend an average of $204 per child to provide kids at increasingly younger ages with state-of-the-art computers, laptops and tablets in addition to the usual calculators. The best deals on laptops and computers also happen during the back-to-school shopping season, when the new models are released (and not on Black Friday, as it turns out), so you may want to take advantage of those deals.

Pro parenting budget tip: Parents usually make the decision that a child has reached the age at which he or she needs a cell phone at the beginning of a school year, so consider factoring in the cost of a phone and monthly billing, if that's you.

Routine and unexpected back-to-school expenses are equally inevitable come early fall. Preparing for them in your summer budget can help simplify the process and allow your family to focus on the excitement of the new school year — or even put the money you save toward larger educational expenses like college.

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