K-State Research and Extension News
July 26, 2011
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Back-to-School Ideas can Shave Costs, Simplify Shopping

MANHATTAN, Kan. – While back-to-school spending is typically second only to holiday purchases, families are encouraged to check school fees and other fixed costs before shopping.

Budget cuts to education are happening in districts across the country. As a result, parents are likely to see increases in registration and other fees. In some cases, families may be asked to cover or contribute to costs for activities or services previously provided without cost, said K-State Research and Extension financial management specialist, Carol Young.

As the educational community struggles with how best to manage the current economic climate, Young noted that the increased costs will challenge families. The dilemma also offers a valuable lesson in helping children learn to weigh wants versus needs.

Young, who is based in Kansas State University’s Department of Family Studies and Human Services, offered cost-saving tips:

1) Check with the school for a list of costs and requirements, such as registration, book and computer rentals or deposits, or other requirements, such as a calculator for math, art supplies or kindergarten mat, and school breakfast or lunch.

2) Note costs for activities, such as rental fees for a band instrument or uniform, or add-ons for transportation, rather than regularly scheduled bus route, and for information about dress code or school uniforms. (Examples might include khaki slacks, T-shirts without names or sayings, or a minimal length for shorts.)

3) Ask about options for paying enrollment fees, such as spreading out payments.

4) Check to see if your family qualifies for reduced enrollment and other costs, such as reduced lunch fees or scholarships for band or other activities, and guidelines for applying. If they are available, follow the directions on the application exactly.

5) Consider required school-related expenses, including immunizations, health screenings, and athletic physical, and check to see if these needs can be met at an economical or group rate with a local healthcare provider or through the local Health Department.

6) Review the school district list for required supplies. Plan to shop at home first, by checking supplies on hand and hand-me-downs such as a calculator from a previous year, backpack or book bag in good condition to hold down costs.

7) Check sale flyers for the best prices on school supplies; wait to stock-up though, as back-to-school supplies are typically reduced once the school year begins.

8) Set aside time with each child to inventory and check the condition of clothing; make a list of items needed and note priorities, such as shoes.

9) Put the money where it matters. For example, buying shoes that fit will protect a child’s feet and prevent accidents such as tripping. In times of rapid growth, consider gently used shoes (in the right size) that will quickly be outgrown.

10) Shop budget-friendly thrift-stores or a neighborhood exchange for lightly used basics, including slacks, jeans, shirts and jackets. Take the kids with you, and let them enjoy bargain-hunting for cool castoffs at affordable prices.

11) Spread out the expense, rather than trying to buy everything at once. Chances are, kids will want to wear summer clothing during the first weeks of school when the weather is still warm. Waiting also will give them time to settle in and see what others are wearing.

12) Trend or a short-lived fad? Help children choose budget-friendly clothes they will enjoy wearing. If a child wants something that doesn’t fit within the budget, suggest opportunities for him or her to earn the difference. Older children (who have jobs) should be expected to take on increasing responsibility for their own expenses and extras.

13) Expenses typically increase with each grade level, and, as a child grows, his or her clothing  becomes more expensive. To hold down costs, choose clothing with color themes that will mix and match to build a wardrobe.

14) Consider a pre-paid card for an older teen to teach money management; be specific, and reach an agreement about what the balance on the card is to cover and when or if funds will be replenished. Agree that if a teen overspends or misspends, he or she will have to do without.

15) Plan for school expenses to continue throughout the school year with costs for field trips, projects, school supplies, parties, and family outings to school events and programs.

“Keep records,” Young said. Carry a small notepad and jot down this year’s expenses to help in planning for next year. Save receipts, in the event purchases fail to meet expectations and will need to be returned.

And, as with any purchase, ask about a store’s policy for returns or exchanges before buying.

More money management tips are available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state and online.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Carol Young is at cyoung@ksu.edu