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By Charlestien Harris

Although all of my children are grown and gone, I do have grandchildren and they all have back-to-school supply lists that need to be filled.  Preparing to send your kids back to school can be stressful if your finances are already tight from dealing with the effects of the pandemic.  So, have you thought about setting up a back-to-school budget?  Think about it, you budget for everything else, why not for this time of year as well.   

As with anything you start, you need to have a plan.  By writing down the cost of each item on your list, you can target how much your total budget should be to cover those costs. Create your budget based on regular retail prices rather than current sales. Overestimating your expenses may give you some wiggle room when it is time to shop.  

Back-to-school shopping without a budget will only set you up for overspending. Therefore, it’s important to set a spending limit and be disciplined enough not to go over it. Make sure your limit is high enough to include the items you have on your list.  If you realize you can’t afford everything on your list, don’t fret!  There are several ways you can get school supplies without breaking the bank and some are even free!  Check out the tips below.

  1. Back to School Events

Let’s begin here because this tip will save you the most money.  Many local organizations are sponsoring back-to-school supply events that are free to the public.  They offer a variety of free school supplies along with food, school uniforms, haircuts and family-friendly activities.  You typically can find out about these events via local newspapers, posted notices, social media, church bulletins, and of course a favorite of mine–word of mouth. 

2. Buy Generic & Compare prices

Some of us are stuck on brand names, but another tip to help save you money is to buy generic. A store brand can offer items of similar quality and variety. Comparing prices can also be a big savings tool to help you to stay within your budget.  While out comparison shopping, don’t forget to visit thrift stores or the dollar store. These stores can offer hefty savings on some name brands as well as generic brand items that are on your shopping list. 

3. Buy in Bulk

Shopping at bulk warehouse stores can also help save money because there are certain items on your list that your child may use throughout the school year.  If you have more than one child needing the same items, bulk warehouses are definitely a great place to shop. 

4. Use Coupons

Try taking advantage of coupons, rebate sites or cash-back apps such as Shopkick, Fetch Rewards, and Rakuten.  Those savings can really add up when trying to stay within your spending limit. 

5. Shop During Your State’s Sales Tax Holiday 

A number of states offer the opportunity for their residents and others to save on school related items purchased during a special weekend designated as “tax free”.  School related purchases are given special tax breaks when purchased during that time.  You should check your state government website for additional information about this event. 

6. Wait to Purchase Some Items

Who says you have to purchase everything right now?  You may be able to delay some purchases until later or until needed.  This might give you extra time to save up additional funds to purchase those items.  Also, some items may be out of season and may go on sale at a later date. 

7. Create a Sinking Fund

A new idea I just discovered is creating a sinking fund.  A sinking fund is a pool of money that you add to over time to break a large expense into more affordable chunks.  This tip can be very helpful because it allows you to pre-plan for your upcoming expenses and it helps you to stay within your budget. 

This final idea isn’t an official budgeting tip, but something you still may want to consider.  You could ask other parents in your social circle if they have unused or gently-used supplies your child could have.  Leftover supplies are sometimes thrown out and could be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of especially if it saves you money.  When my kids were growing up, hand-me-downs really helped when it came to saving money and staying within my back-to-school budget. 

Either way it goes, you can stay within your budget, if you make some specific moves to accomplish your back-to-school savings goal.  This month, you should encounter enough sale promotions that you will most likely not have to pay full retail price for anything.  For more information on this and other financial topics, you can contact me at 662-624-5776 or email me at  Until next week, stay financially fit!