Here in Georgia, tomorrow is the first day of school. Yep. August 1st, we go back. Long gone are the long days of summer when we actually got three months off. Now it’s only two months off. And even though we now homeschool our three kids, I remember what it was like staring at those school supply lists and wondering how I was going to find exactly two folders – one orange, one yellow. And then, of course, there were specific name-brand items the school wanted, and then new clothes and shoes, and the list goes on!
So how do you do back-to-school on a budget? Especially a tight budget where you may not be able to buy all the things?
1. Shop What You’ve Got
Before you head to the store, shop for what you already have at home. You’ll be surprised to find that you probably have a lot of stuff already. Sure, maybe your son’s binder from last year is a little worn, but if it still works fine, let him use it this year too. Make a plan to replace it in January if you think it won’t last. Gather up all the pencils from last year, along with the markers and crayons and scissors, and glue. Chances are you don’t have to buy as much as you think you do. Yes, I know it’s nice to have brand new stuff at the beginning of the year, but the reality is that it can get wasteful and expensive, especially when we have that stuff on hand already. So before you head to the store, shop what you’ve already got.
Same as above – reuse what you’ve already got. Your child does not necessarily need a new backpack and lunchbox every year. Sure, your 3rd grader doesn’t want to go to school using the same Paw Patrol lunchbox she had in preschool. I get that. But the reality is that our kids can reuse a lot of their stuff before it’s time to replace it. Give it a minimum of two years before replacing it. This is a fantastic way of stretching your back-to-school budget. An even better tip is to avoid buying anything overly character in nature. Meaning instead of buying your Kindergartener that Marvel lunchbox or backpack, just buy a plain black/blue/green/etc. one. They won’t outgrow it as fast as they would the Marvel or other character theme one.
3. Sinking Fund
Want to make back-to-school on a budget even easier on your household budget? Set up a Sinking Fund. Yes, I know for some you won’t have enough time this year to save up for back-to-school, but start this fund now, and you’ll be ready come next year. A Sinking Fund is a separate bank account where you save money for a specific purpose in the future. So, in this case, this account would be used for all kid-related expenses. Everything from school supplies to extracurriculars to clothing and so on. Pick a “threshold” amount, which is the maximum you want in that account for these expenses. My recommendation is at least $200 per child. Of course, this is dependent on the extracurriculars your children are involved in but start with $200 per child. So if you have four children, you’d make your threshold amount $800. This money would be used for anything kid related. When the fund gets used, you’ll “restock” it until it hits its threshold. Again, this is just a suggestion; you may need more or less per child. It might take a little trial and error before figuring out what works best.
4. Earn Money Back
If you’ve read my book, you know that my family of five became 100% debt-free (including the house) on my husband’s $47,000 annual salary. So when I mention cashback, I’m not talking about the kind you get from a credit card. I’m talking about the kind you get without going into debt. When back-to-school shopping online, first go to Rakuten and see what cashback offers they have. Then click on that store, and Rakuten will give you whatever the percentage is back on your purchase. And it’s real cash – no points. You’ll get paid out every quarter via PayPal or paper check. It’s a fantastic way of earning a little bit extra. Same with Fetch Rewards. You can scan in your physical and digital recipes to earn points towards gift cards. Of course, Fetch isn’t real cash it’s points, but it can be a great way to stretch and offset your budget by earning gift cards. You can then use those gift cards to buy other things your kids need for back to school.
5. Be Willing to Shop Secondhand
The last time I bought any of my kid’s brand-new clothes was when they were babies. Almost all of my kids’ clothes are either hand-me-downs or secondhand. Even mine and my husband’s clothing is mostly secondhand! There’s no reason to buy brand new all the time. So no matter if your children are in uniforms all day or regular clothes for school – look to buy used before new. You can typically save a ton of money just by doing that. We love using Thredup for nicer clothes (like church clothes) and thrift stores more for everyday clothing.
But buying secondhand isn’t just for clothing! You can buy school supplies or homeschool curriculum used! Look on Facebook Marketplace, and you can typically find a ton – sometimes even for free! Look also in Greentree-type Facebook Groups as many folks will donate unused school supplies. I promise once you start looking for secondhand options, the options are limitless!
Need more help figuring out the Back-to-School chaos? I’ve got you’ve covered with this FREE Back-to-School Guide here.
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