A Simple Back-To-School Budgeting Strategy


The strategy is simple: Include the kids.

During this recession, it seems as though many budget-conscious families are looking for a way to limit the spend-fest that distinguishes back-to-school shopping. There are plenty of ways to save on this yearly event, but one way to help ease things for parents’ pocketbooks is to set a budget—and require the kids to pay for anything that exceeds it.

Over the years this tack has worked well for Janet Barton, of Tremonton, Utah. Only the youngest of her four children is still in high school (“Once they’re 18 and out of the house, they’re on their own for school clothes”), but she says that requiring her kids to make their own choices, and even contribute their own funds, has not only spared the budget at back-to-school time, but has taught her children to be savvier shoppers overall.

“Every year, we gave our kids $100 to spend on new school clothes,” Barton says. “This year my youngest will get his $100, and that’s it.” If her children wanted to spend more than that amount, they did it on their own. “If the kids bought the brand names or more clothes, they had to save up and use their money.”

Barton says that she tried to teach her children the value of looking for good deals. “You can get one brand name shirt, or you can get three of these other shirts, that look just about the same.” While this worked with two of her sons, Barton says her youngest son is more fashion conscious. And, she adds, her daughter almost always had to have the name brand. “But that’s fine. You make your own choices. And you spend your own money.”

As part of trying to instill bargain-conscious habits in her children, Barton made sure to take them to the sales. “We went to the mall, true, but we also looked for the great deals. When most of my kids were school age, and we lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho, JC Penney (Stock Quote: JCP) had the best sales. Now I guess we’ll go to Kohls, Ross, Marshalls or TJ Maxx (Stock Quote: TJX). The choices for less expensive clothing have certainly improved over time.”

Barton also heads to the outlet malls on occasion. “It’s too much of a hassle to drive two or three hours to shop the outlets most of the time,” she admits. “But if we were visiting family near the outlets, we would check them out. Getting jeans for my tall, skinny boys has always been more of a success at outlet malls.” In the end, she points out, it’s about being aware of where you will find what you need at the best prices. Driving a long distance isn’t always worth the savings, since you might end up paying for more gas.

But how did the Bartons come up with $400 for school shopping every fall in the first place? “We are probably a more budget-conscious family than most,” Barton says. “We decided what we were going to do, and then the amount became part of our yearly budget. Like car insurance or some other regular expense, we knew that in August we would have to use $400 for school shopping.” Of course, as the kids have grown and moved out of the house, the back-to-school budget has gotten smaller—sort of. “Now we help with college. But that’s another budgeting story.”

In the end, back-to-school shopping needs to be about planning and sticking to a budget. By requiring their children to contribute, and by including back-to-school in the annual family budget, the Bartons kept their family finances in check.
And because they were clear about their expectations, their children could prepare by saving up ahead of time. Class dismissed!

Related Stories:

Some States Ax Taxes for Back-to-School Shopping Holiday

Squeezed by Economy, Shoppers Become Swappers

Want Financially Responsible Kids? Start Early

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