Johnston: Budgeting to reduce back-to-school shopping stress

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, July 31, 2019

If you are a parent or guardian, you most likely know students go back to school two weeks from today — Aug. 14 for Clark County Public Schools.

As in years past, I’m conflicted when this day comes.

On one hand, I know my kids need a break from traditional classroom learning and I needed a break from the hustle of the ‘getting ready for school’ morning craziness.

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However, there is something to be said for the routine of the school year, and often by this time in the summer, I’m ready for that to come back.

But with the first day of school right around the corner, I also see dollar signs popping up.

Back to school shopping looks different for every family, but I think most can attest to the fact money will be spent as children go back to school.

The National Retail Federation has projected families will spend an average of $696.70 this year. This is up more than $100 from last year.

The NRF reports $240 of that is spent on clothes, $200 on electronics like computers and calculators, $135 is spent on shoes, and more than $100 on school supplies including backpacks and lunchboxes.

Just writing all those numbers is overwhelming!

Here are some tips for how to stretch your dollar as the school year approaches.

First, go through supplies and clothes from last year and see what you can still use.

Check to see if they really need a new backpack and go through the agonizing process of making them try on their school clothes to see what still fits.

My children hate trying on clothes, but going through the effort now can save a good amount of money (and drawer space) in the long run.

Next, if money is extra tight, you can figure out which items your child needs at the start of the school year and what can actually wait a month or two. That will allow you to spread out your spending, not having such a large bill up front, and gives you time to save up for additional purchases. It also lets you wait for sales that may come along as the seasons change. I do love a good sale.

At this point, my son cares very little about what kind of clothes he wears or what backpack/accessories he has, so I am able to ‘bargain shop’ and it be acceptable for him.

For those of you with kiddos who care more and ask for expensive items that may not fit in your budget, this is a great time to involve them in purchasing decisions.

The NRF found pre-teens and teens use anywhere from $20 to $35 of their own money when buying school supplies.

Involvement in this process has several benefits. It helps parents stay within their budget and allows children to learn about the price of needs and wants. For example, there might be a $20 pair of jeans at a retail department store and a $40 pair of jeans that are ‘cooler’. As a parent, you’ve decided your child ‘needs’ a pair of jeans, but the extra $20 for the cooler jeans is a ‘want.’ You can allow your child to pick the cooler jeans, but you will only cover the $20 needed for a new pair of jeans and they will have to cover the rest.

That allows your child to decide if they want to add the extra money or if they would rather keep that money to use for something else and go with the original pair of jeans.

You can even do this with younger children who may want certain types of school supplies. A basic notebook costs 50 cents, but your child may want one with designs on it that costs $2. Give them the choice to buy that one, but they will have to foot the $1.50 extra.

And remember, allow them to spend the extra money, even if it hurts your thrifty heart, because it is a great way to help your child understand needs versus wants.

Hopefully some of these tips will help reduce the stress.

If you don’t already set aside money for a back-to-school budget, it might be helpful to do that. Many people budget for the holiday spending but back-to-school spending sneaks up on us and we are hit hard in August. Setting aside as little as $20 per month now can give you $250 to spend next August.

If you would like more information on monthly budgeting or money management, contact the Clark County Extension Office.

Good luck to all the caregivers out there as Aug. 14 approaches.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at