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Be Financially Fit for Back-to-School Needs

August 13, 2013

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by Chrisandra Grimes – First Source Staff

It happens every year; I go to the store to do my normal weekly grocery shopping, and I’m paralyzed with disbelief when I see bins of school supplies lined up in the aisles. Back-to-school stuff is out already! It’s really that time? Then it sets in. It’s August and my son is starting high school in four weeks, and my daughter, a first-year college student, in less than two. Regardless of if I’m ready or not, my finances need to be.

High School is much different now than it was in my day. I recall going to school with a five-subject spiral notebook and two pens. Now you’re given a list of supplies from the school. And you can’t show up with fewer than several notebooks, binders, folders, composition pads, utility pouches, “sock” book covers… Sock covers?! What happened to paper grocery bags? Add in the latest “kicks” and “threads”, and back-to-school shopping for a teen can put a pretty large dent in your pocket. So what can you do?

  • See what you have from last year that you can use again this year
  •  Make a list before you even step foot in the store
  •  Look for deals; supplies often go on sale
  • If the store offers, sign up for their rewards program
  •  Have your kid kick in for their kicks. It teaches them a lesson about the value of fashion, and they’ll keep them cleaner longer.
  • College expenses are even more alarming. The best advice I can give is this:
  • Never underestimate the value of scholarships. Every dollar helps! My daughter worked hard and was a straight-A student. Fortunately, she applied for and was awarded two scholarships.
  • Community colleges can be a more affordable, sensible option. My daughter wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to major in. Tuition is cheaper and we don’t have to worry about extra living expenses while she figures it out.
  • Check financial aid options. You’ll be surprised by what you may qualify for. It could mean piles of paperwork but believe me, it’s worth it in the end. Consult your child’s guidance counselor or college financial aid office to find out your options.
  • Thankfully for her school supplies, she was awarded financial aid with only a portion of the funds required to be paid back once she finishes school. And when it comes time to repay, she will benefit by building her personal credit for future large purchases.
  • Account for books. They can be pricey—up to $500 per book! Check online, get used versus new whenever possible, and once you’re done, return the favor and sell them back to the bookstore or to another student.
  • Living expenses. We’re lucky to have saved on this expense for the time being, but if you have children going off to school, don’t go crazy right away. Let them live in their space a bit to see what they really need, rather than buying a bunch of items they don’t need and won’t use.
  • Make sure your kid contributes. After all, they’re one step closer to the real world. They should be responsible for paying at least one student loan, and helping with either furnishing that dorm room, or if they have a car, paying for the gas/insurance.

Year after year, school shopping never ceases to put me and my husband under financial stress. However, we have learned that planning is key, and there are ways to save money. So before you ever step foot in a store, swipe your card, or apply for a loan, be sure to look at financial assistance options, and think before you buy.

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