Managing Back To School Expenses Without Going Into Debt

Q: I've got three kids going back to school in a month -- how can I manage back-to-school expenses so that I can buy them what they need and want, without going into debt on my credit cards?

A: Start by taking stock of what came home from school in June that can go back in September. Wash their backpacks, clean out pencil cases and geometry sets and buy new batteries for calculators. New stickers can make an old binder look new. Recycling their own things leaves money in the budget not only for new supplies, but also for expenses like class pictures and sports fees due in the fall.

What can your kids do to earn some money to help pay for what they want? For teens with specific requests, your budget might allow you to pay the first $50 for new shoes and then they can top up the rest for the name-brand pair. This also helps teach them about the value of money.

Put back-to-school into perspective -- it's still sunny and warm in September, so the kids still wear their summer clothes. When the weather turns and their growth spurts slow down, you can buy new jeans and hoodies. Then buy some key clothes with the labels your kids really want, but save by matching those clothes with less expensive items.

Do they need a full desk of school supplies on their first day back? Buy the essential notebooks as soon as they go on sale, but put off buying the extras until they really need them. This might mean they finish using their pencil crayons from last year first, but then they get nice new ones part way through the year.

By spreading out the back-to-school costs, you're better able to afford the additional expenses in your budget, rather than going into debt.