Back-to-school with a budget

Article written by Mary Metten, Health and Well-being Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

Households with school-age children will spend an average of almost $700 on back-to-school shopping this fall, according to the National Retail Federation.

Clothing, electronics and school supplies are the top three expenses listed by families in the group’s annual July survey.

Households with a college student will spend closer to $1,000.

“Interestingly, $1,000 is about how much households spend on the winter holiday season, too,” said Peggy Olive, a University of Wisconsin financial capability specialist.

“We tend to spend more time planning and year-round shopping for holidays, but back-to-school expenses often sneak up on us and present a surprise bill.”

Olive offers tips as households get ready for a new school year:

Tips for preparing

First, go through school supplies and clothes you have on hand and note what can still be used.

Next, write a list of fees, supplies and clothing you must purchase at the beginning of the school year. Get out your calculator to come up with a total budget for each child.

If your family is in a difficult financial situation, find out about options to help ease costs. (Local community organizations collect and donate school supplies for students.)

Also, free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts can ease the pressure on the family budget; apply for these programs through your school district.

Teaching budgeting

Parents can involve children in budgeting and shopping. Explain there are many options for buying things they need.

For example, a pair of jeans might cost $50 or more for a name brand, $25 at a retail department store, $8 at a thrift shop, $3 at a garage sale — or potentially may be free from a friend or relative.

Younger children can learn about how much things cost and how adults make spending decisions on a budget. Set limits on each category and then help children understand those limits.

While shopping with younger children, you can point out that while folders with a design may cost $2, solid-color folders can be purchased for 10 cents.

Talk about trade-offs in decision-making. If your child really wants more expensive folders, then they will need to reuse their lunch box or backpack from last year.

Older kids can take the list of things they need and make a line-item budget and determine how much they will spend per item.

They will see that if they buy six folders at 10 cents each, as well as other items at cheaper prices, they might have money left for an item of clothing they really want.

Involving children in spending decisions help them become wise consumers. Check out financial education resources from UW-Extension at