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K-State Today

July 18, 2013



Tips for parents: Planning key to managing back-to-school expenses

By Nancy B. Peterson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which tracks the cost of raising a child in the U.S., reports families spent between $1,420 and $3,300 per child for clothing and educational expenses in 2011.

With the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year on the horizon, Elizabeth Kiss, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist, is encouraging families to start doing the homework needed to identify back-to-school expenses, and to consider how to cover essential costs.

To begin, Kiss suggested checking with local schools for a list of fees — such as rental fees for books, a computer, band instrument or extracurricular activities; required supplies — from crayons to calculators — and extras such as immunizations, school and sports physicals, dress code or uniforms.

Families also are encouraged to check the cost for school breakfasts and lunches, and eligibility to apply for reduced prices.

According to Kiss, families also will need to consider the cost of transportation and how children will spend after-school hours. For example, will there be additional costs for after-school programs or child care?  

Once aware of basic costs, she encouraged families to:

1) Invite children to help inventory school supplies — crayons, tablets, backpacks and lunch boxes — left over from the previous school year.

2) Compare the list of what they have with what each child will need to begin a shopping list.

Kiss advised prioritizing expenses, as you would with any shopping experience, and suggested watching for sales and advertised specials.

In doing so, she noted that families will have to weigh savings at early sales with waiting for unknown price reductions closer to the first day of school or after school is in session.

Larger families, neighborhood friends or groups may be able to save by buying school supplies in bulk and dividing them, she said.

After identifying the must-haves — enrollment fees, school lunch and transportation — Kiss encouraged families to inventory school clothes and shoes.

If a school dress code allows, children may be able to continue wearing summer clothing during the first few weeks of the new school year. If so, families will be able to take advantage of sales on fall and winter clothes, as retailers close out the back-to-school shopping season, she said.

While families may be able to postpone buying new clothes, parents are encouraged to check the fit and condition of children's shoes, and to make replacing shoes that are outgrown or no longer offering support a priority.

A child's age and stage in life will influence spending, said Kiss, who offered the example of purchasing fewer clothes and doing laundry more frequently for a child in the midst of a growth spurt.  

Older children may want fewer but more expensive clothes, and may be able to contribute to the cost of clothing and accessories, said Kiss, who encouraged families to consider alternative shopping sources, such as a neighborhood exchange, garage sales and thrift stores, where gently used clothing can typically be purchased for significantly less.

To simplify shopping, she suggested:

  • Making a shopping list and taking it with you.
  • Reviewing priorities before entering the store, and keeping your budget in mind.
  • Shopping at a time when the store will be less crowded.
  • Examining clothing construction and other merchandise — a backpack, purse or lunch box are examples — carefully before buying.
  • Checking care labels for clothes because dry-cleaning or other care requirements add to costs.

More information about managing money successfully is available at K-State Research and Extension Offices in each of Kansas' 105 counties and online.

Additional information related to back-to-school costs:

Want to know how you compare? More information about USDA research on the costs of raising a child and calculating your costs for raising a child is available online at USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, click on Expenditures on Children by Families.

More specifics about back-to-school shopping can be accessed at the U.S. Census Bureau and National Retail Foundation.