Well, we’ve hit the ground running: school started and the constant chaos it brings is already in full force. That means the fees, costs, and donations have started pouring in as well. Thankfully, this is not our first go-around. By the time there is a middle-school aged child in the house, you’ve learned a few things. If you are a budget household, you’ve definitely learned how to control the costs that come with the start of school.
Here are the ways we manage simple savings strategies for the school year:
- Plan ahead – Start with mapping out the expected donations, contributions and fund raisers that accompany the school year. Decide in advance which ones you plan to participate in and allocate the dollar amount you feel comfortable with giving. Ditch the guilt – it’s not a competition, any amount is appreciated and helps make a difference.
update – Be sure to talk with other parents! While we found a routine for elementary and middle school, high school brought ALOT of new costs we were unprepared for this year. If we had spend more time speaking to other parents who have been here, we could have done a much better job of planning ahead for these. Being caught unaware meant scrambling to find an additional $500 in our budget! Yikes and not fun!
- Split costs – Every teacher could use a stockpile of Kleenex and Clorox wipes, not to mention additional markers, crayons, or any number of classroom supplies. An easy way to help stock up their supply without breaking the bank is to divide and conquer. Partner with other families so you each grab 1-2 items you can collect and present in one big delivery.
- Buy in bulk – For class parties, get togethers, or after school activities, pick one snack or drink item you can buy in bulk and load up on. It’s a lot cheaper in the long run and you always have something on hand to contribute.
update – Don’t forget to check the closeout aisles and deals of the week. Usually, it’s snack items in these sections and you can score major deals on food items that sit in the pantry until needed.
- Second hand items – One the biggest savings strategies for the school year is to look for hand-me downs or gently used items. Kids grow quickly, not to mention how rapidly they fall out of love with a sport. That leaves a lot of gear and equipment largely untouched. Ask around — pose the question to your community on Facebook, or any other social media site, and you are bound to get great deals on everything from shoes to helmets.
- Barter or swap – Not wanting to spend a dime? How about a swap party? Or try a Craigslist ad to barter with others for what you need.
- Skip it – It may seem to go against the grain in today’s busy culture, but maybe it’s okay for your kids to take a season off altogether. While some kids are fiercely passionate about a sport, many just want to be social and active. If the latter is the case, there’s no need for a whole sports team – just organize some kickball or free play in a backyard!
update – Since both kids wanted to sign up for additional (unplanned) activities, we asked that they contribute to the cause. In other words, they each have to buy some of the gear needed. It’s amazing how quickly they can round up used equipment when the cost comes out of their own pockets!
- Review the budget – Honestly, most people can’t possibly review the household budget as frequently as our household. However, the start of the school year is the perfect time to review, refresh and and adjust as needed. No budget in place yet? No problem! Read this to get started.
- Meal Planning and Prep – Let’s face it, food costs are an enormous part of any family budget. Meal planning and prep are two simple saving strategies for the school year: you can cut costs at the grocery and limit the temptation to eat out. Meal planning involves preparing a weekly menu and shopping accordingly. Here’s a great guide to get going if you’ve never tried it before. Meal prep is taking the next step once the groceries are home. It’s the slicing, dicing and pre-packaging that allows for easy dinners and healthy snacks. Here is how to begin (complete with printables!).
Update – We’ve added a meal subscription service this year. We are having two meals (the ingredients and directions) sent to us each week. While it does increase the grocery budget, it saves time planning and shopping. It also means kids can help with cooking and we are no longer buying special ingredients for single recipes!
- Shop smart – With so many tempting back to school sales and ads, it’s hard to stay focused on only buying necessities. However, keeping an organized shopping list of what the family needs, and you will have plenty of time for comparison shopping and coupons!
Now that school is back in session, these are the ways we plan to keep on track through at least the fall. How about you? Do you have any other tips or suggestions?