Back to School, or Back to the Poor House?

by Tawra Kellam


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Back-to-School Basics

Back to School for Less

Back to school is a time when many moms witness their money sprout wings and take flight, finding their homes at retail stores across America. I know that consumer spending is good for the economy, but I don't take it upon myself to keep the entire US economy propped up, so when my first-grade son announced that he wanted a backpack with rollers, I saw this as a wonderful financial teaching moment. His school is small, and he doesn't walk to or from school. He didn't need rollers.

I told my son that I would give him $8 toward a backpack. I told him that if he wanted a fancier one, he could put up some of his allowance money for the difference. That's the rule at our house. Mom and Dad buy the basics and the kids buy the extras. It was amazing how my son's perception of the need for rollers changed when his allowance was on the line. Yes, he has concluded, a regular backpack will do the trick this year.

Thousands of parents are buying back-to-school supplies. From crayons and notebooks to calculators and lunch boxes, the list of what to buy can be as long as the list of your kids' excuses. I know that you are anxious to get your kids back into school, but there is no need to take out a second mortgage just to get rid of them. Instead, use some of these money-saving tips from www.LivingOnADime.com and you can happily send your kids to school and keep some of the cash for mom's back-to school celebration!

  • Wait for the list to come out and stick to it. Otherwise, you might buy things you don't need. Remember that the Bank of Mom doesn't pay for frills. Any extras the kids want will have to be funded from their own cash reserves. I do understand that it is nice for kids to have "hip" back-to-school supplies. I look at yard sales and thrift stores for brand name finds. For instance, I recently found a gently-used Barbie backpack and a Barbie lunch box and no one would know that I paid $1 each instead of the $32 that Becky Johnson's mom paid. Who says that stay-at-home moms don't make any money?

  • Don't buy back-to-school clothes. Children don't need an entirely new wardrobe every fall. Some mom's act as if aliens clothes-napped their kids' clothes the night before school and the fashion police will come arrest them if they don't buy the latest designer clothes right away. The kids wore clothes all year long, didn't they? If they need something like a new pair of shoes or new jeans then buy what they need, but don't just buy a new wardrobe because it's the thing to do.

  • Use back-to-school sales to your advantage. If you know your kids go through a package of socks, underwear or jeans every six months, then stock up while they are on sale. The same is true of crayons, paper, notebooks, backpacks and lunch boxes. My son went through two backpacks and two lunch boxes last year, so this year we will buy two while they are on sale instead of waiting until the middle of the year when they are full price. We will also be checking garage sales between now and then to find any good deals on those items. However, don't be tempted to buy things that you wouldn't normally use just because they're on sale.

  • Go through last year's school supplies to see which things are still usable. If my student has a working calculator, the Bank of Mom will not extend credit for a new one.

  • Limit activities to one at a time. Activity fees can add up fast. One at a time is the rule at our house. If you can't afford the activity, it doesn't hurt for the kids to use their own money to pay for it. The best way to teach them money management is to let them manage their own money when they have nothing to lose, instead of after they have maxed out the credit cards someone persuaded then to sign up for in college.

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are the authors of Dining On A Dime: 1,000 Money Saving Recipes and Tips. (formerly Not Just Beans) Dining On A Dime will help you shop smarter, by cooking simpler meals and by making your own basic cleaning products and beauty aids. For free tips and recipes, visit www.LivingOnADime.com/

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