July 1, 2023

Make a Back-To-School Spending Plan For Your Family

New backpacks. School supplies. A laptop or team uniform. Whether your child is looking forward to senior year or starting first grade, back-to-school expenses can add up fast.

Luckily, all you really need is a plan. Just as Future Scholar is the best plan for college savings, a little creative planning on your part will help you get the best from every back-to-school dollar - and prevent expenses from straining your family’s budget.

Step 1: Create a realistic budget and set priorities.

Before you shop for school supplies or pay extracurricular fees for a child, the first step is making sure your budget has your family’s essential needs covered for items such as food, housing, and utilities.

Once that’s done, you can decide how much to spend on your back-to-school list. Assign a dollar amount to each item you want to cover.

When making your school expenses list, consider:

  • The supply list provided by your child’s school.
  • Items your child may want or need, such as a new backpack or sneakers.
  • Extra fees and expenses associated with school—dues for clubs or PTA, spending for fundraisers, or a return to afterschool activities like scouting, dance, or music lessons.

With your list in hand, set priorities and talk with your children about their plans. For example, if your child wants to play soccer at school or on a club team, help them understand the cost in both dollars and commitment. Will you need to buy uniforms or equipment? Pay for a physical exam? How many hours each week will your child need to spend at practice and games?

Even if covering these costs is not a stretch for your budget, helping your child understand what the total investment will be – in time and money – is a great life lesson.

Step 2: Before you buy, take a look at what you already have.

As you set spending priorities, now is a good time to determine which items you may not need to buy:

  • Look through your child’s closet to see what they can still wear before you go shopping.
  • Inventory the school supplies you already have and identify items on the list you don’t need to buy now.
  • Consider adding the things you need during the school year instead of buying them up front. For example, maybe it’s not necessary to purchase a year’s worth of hand sanitizer in August. Or perhaps your child can use last year’s backpack now and get a new one for Christmas.
  • See if hand-me-downs from an older child will work for your younger child.

If your child pleads for a brand new item that is not on your budget list or is something you already own, this could be a good time to talk about “wants” versus “needs,” as well as setting goals and saving to reach them.

Step 3: Shop smart to stretch your dollars.

Now that you’ve defined how much you can afford to spend AND you’ve determined which items you may not need to buy, you’re ready to make your dollars work harder for you.

  • Create a shopping plan using a list you’ve made with your budget in mind. That list will help you avoid buying items you can’t afford or your child doesn’t really need.
  • Look for sales and coupons, including back-to-school discounts on supplies and computers.
  • Shop at thrift stores and outlets.
  • If uniforms are required for your child’s school, look for re-sale programs where parents can purchase gently worn items.

In South Carolina, you can also take advantage of the sales tax holiday on the first weekend of August, further reducing the price of almost everything on your back-to-school shopping list. Find out what's eligible here.

Planning pays off.

You know planning is key. It’s just one reason South Carolina’s Future Scholar College Savings Plan is so important to families who want to save for a child’s future education. Back-to-school shopping is really no different. Having a plan will help you set and stick to your priorities – making sure your money is well spent.

It’s never too early or late to talk to your child about budgets and expenses. You are the best teacher of these important life lessons. Here are some tips for how to talk with kids at every age and stage about money and finances.

Take time now to show your child how saving for a college education is an important part of the family budget and an investment plan for their future. Visit your college savings plan and use the budget calculators to determine if your family is able to increase the contribution amount. Encourage your child to contribute birthday money or a part of earnings from a job to boost future education savings. When you child goes to college, understanding the family’s commitment and planning, along with having a little skin in the game, may pay off in more ways than one.