Once your kids start school, you have to deal with more than just getting them ready for September. Beyond getting them school supplies, you also need to budget for after-school activities, fundraisers, field trips, school lunches and all sorts of random or last-minute expenses throughout the year.
So, how do you budget for all these expenses and find ways to save money?
The late August to early September back-to-school window tends to be the best time to pick up school supplies for less. Take advantage of the seasonally low prices on supplies to stock up if you think your kids might need more of later in the year. While there is a second round of back-to-school sales in January, the deals don’t tend to be nearly as good.
You should also think about your kids’ tech needs. Tech items are the biggest expenses for Canadian families’ back-to-school spending, according to a study by RetailMeNot.ca. In 2017, families were spending around $580 on average on laptops and over $250 on smartphones. Think about what your kids need at their age and stage of education. Do they need their own laptops or can they share one? Can you buy them a used computer? The same goes if you decide they need a smartphone. Use your network of friends or family members to see if anyone has older devices that still work that they’re no longer using. Ask around!
When your kids are constantly growing and last year’s clothes and shoes no longer fit, how do you save money? It’s also about timing - pay attention to when there are sales. If you can wait, a great time to pick up clothes is in October when stores are trying to get rid of excess back-to-school inventory. Right after the holidays is also the best time to stock up on winter jackets and extra mittens for this year and next.
Also, consider buying your kids clothes that are a little bigger than what they need right now. By going up a size and hemming certain items, you can give your kids growing room so that you don't have to buy new clothes mid-year.
You should also try to buy second-hand or get hand-me-downs from friends or online mom's groups. Make it fun by organizing a clothing swap on your street. If your child is a bit older, they might enjoy shopping at thrift stores for basics.
One of the most significant expenses is school lunches. Save money by creating your own single serving versions of snacks by buying containers or a lunch bento box.
Beyond taking advantage of any sales at your local grocery stores, consider what you can make at home instead of buying them. If you can find the time, cookies and granola bars are much cheaper if you make them yourself and they're also a fun activity to do with your kids. Make big batches of them and freeze them to save time.
If you have kids that need after-school care, you can reach out to other parents in the same situation and see if you can hire a local babysitter to watch over your kids so that you can share costs. If you want to put them in a structured after-school program, make sure you do your research because prices can vary widely.
Field Trips and Extracurriculars
Budgeting for extracurricular activities can be a bit more difficult as your child might change their mind about what they want to do. Shop around for different program offerings to find the right fit at the right price. Municipalities and community centres often offer much cheaper programs.
The Bottom Line
While getting through the school year can be expensive, there are ways to keep costs low if you get creative. If your budget is tight, talk to your financial advisor about setting up an Unexpected Expenses saving fund for all the little things that add up or the costs that catch you by surprise. That way you'll be prepared for anything the school year sends your way—and so will your kids!
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