University of Illinois Extension

Back to School on a Budget

Amy Griswold, Family Life Educator

If the back-to-school season puts a strain on your budget, you're not alone. Many grandparents who are raising their grandchildren find that their expenses go up in the fall - when the kids go back to school. Here are some ideas for managing those annual expenses.

As you plan your spending, first take a look at your expenses for the year. Look for those once a year expenses that add to your costs, such as going back to school, birthdays or holidays. Try to put aside some money each month to be prepared for such times, rather than having to take it all out of one month's budget. You may not be able to save very much every week, but whatever amount you are able to save will help with the big expenses.

Check with your school to get a list of required or recommended supplies each child should have when school starts. Ask your school if you qualify for reduced or free meals, book rental waivers, and other cost-saving programs. Some schools participate in community programs providing donated school supplies to children who qualify.

Carefully check the list of needs for each child. Are there items you already have, or do you need to purchase new things? For example, is last year's book bag in good condition? Are rulers, crayons, calculators, etc. from the past year usable? Talk with your grandchild and help prioritize which items need to be purchased and which ones can be used again. She might really want a new backpack, but be willing to use some of last year's other supplies. Or maybe you can decorate the old backpack to make it look different. Give choices that will fit within your budget, while allowing the child some ownership in the decision making process.

Do the same thing with clothing. Take an inventory of each child's clothing and determine whether new items are needed. Decide what is needed to begin the school year and which items can be postponed.

Take advantage of back-to-school sales, when school supplies and clothing items are marked down. Remember to stick to your list and only purchase those things you have determined are needed. If you do have money available, go ahead and purchase some extra paper or other supplies because these back-to-school sales are often the lowest prices of the year for some items.

With some preliminary planning, use of community resources and prioritizing of needs, you can ease the burden of school expenses.