We often think of back to school as something that happens only once a year, starting the end of July and lasting through the first part of September. Many of us feel financially stressed during back to school, since it usually represents an increase in how much we spend. In some cases, back to school can be a budget buster.
This year, you have the opportunity to break the cycle as you participate in back to school buying for your children. Pay attention to your buying habits this back to school season, and use the information to create a plan that can keep you from breaking your budget  next year.
Track Your Back to School Spending
First of all, it is a good idea to track your back to school spending. Add up how much you spend in various categories, including school supplies, clothing and extracurricular activities (activity fees can get quite expensive). This will give you something to work with as you plan for next year.
Once you know how much you spent, it’s time to begin preparing for next school year. If you end up spending $600 on back to school, you know that you can set aside $50 a month (600/12) to get ready for next year. Breaking it down and preparing for the costs a little at a time can make your back to school shopping more manageable next year. Put the money in a high yield savings account, and you have the potential to have a little bit more.
Looking Ahead to Increased Expenses
It is also a good time to take stock of increased expenses as your child grows. If your child is involved in sports and/or music, the costs associated with back to school tend to rise each year. Equipment, trips, and other expenses quickly start to add up. I was in three different bands, and participated in two different sports, for much of my high school career. The planning involved for paying for these extracurricular activities, on the part of my parents, as well as what I was responsible for, increased as I got other. That’s something to take into account as your child ages. If your child shows an interest in extracurriculars, you might find that going from the last year of middle school to the first year of school is quite a jump. Prepare for it by setting extra aside during the year so that it isn’t such a sudden strain on your finances.
Getting Your Child to Help
There is nothing wrong with encouraging your child to help pay some of these expenses. While it may not be reasonable to expect your child to bear the cost of such activities entirely on his or her own, it can be a good learning experience to have him or her contribute some of the money to pay these expenses. You might also need to require your child to prioritize his or her activities if it gets to be too much for your pocketbook, or interferes with a part-time job  or results in low grades. In the end, it’s important to teach your child the importance of balance, as well as letting him or her enjoy extra activities.
(Photo: Sarah Sosiak )