Save With Back-to-School Budget Basics

Leaving summer behind can be less painful with 8 tips from

SAN MATEO, Calif., Aug. 20, 2008 — Despite the economy's ups and downs, U.S. consumers plan to increase back-to-school spending this fall to an average of $594 per family1. Those who are wondering how to stretch their dollars can do so with eight tips from for budgeting back-to-school costs.

  1. Budget. This is most basic, but sadly, not obvious to most people. "Budgeting may not sound exciting, but it is the No. 1, sure-fire way to save money," said President Ethan Ewing. "The key is to set goals with your spouse and children. Whether the goal is to save on weekly grocery bills, save for a vacation next summer, or save for kids' education, write down the goals and build your budget with the goals in mind. That will dictate month-to-month expenditures and take the guesswork out of what you can spend for back-to-school items." For next year, figure out what you need to spend, and then save 1/12th of that amount each month.
  2. Use cash. Take a predetermined spending amount for back-to-school expenditures in cash. People who do not use debit or credit cards are less likely to purchase extra items.
  3. Drive less. "We all know this, but putting it into action takes thought and planning," Ewing acknowledged. He suggested
    1. Making lists of what kids really need and then consolidating trips to limit outings, which also will cut down on expenditures
    2. Making back-to-school shopping a fun event with neighbors or friends, and
    3. Carpooling or walking to a store. Bonus: If you must carry your purchases home, you are likely to buy less.
  4. Make it a shopping trip only. "In other words, if you are used to making a day of back-to-school shopping, think twice. Skip the lunch out; just shop and go home," Ewing said. "Or reward the kids for their shopping patience with a picnic and playtime at a park. You will all be more motivated to get the shopping done."
  5. Redeem credit card rewards. If you have a credit card that offers rewards points, check your statements to see how many points you have. Then visit the rewards Web site to convert the rewards into cash or gift cards that could help purchase back-to-school items. Some credit cards even double the value of rewards at specific retailers. Or trade points to replace planned cash expenditures: Choosing a Home Depot card to buy a faucet that needs to be replaced could free up an extra $100 for back-to-school expenses.
  6. Be creative. Generate extra cash by selling unneeded items on eBay, holding a yard sale or putting change into a jar every evening. Even small amounts, saved regularly, will accumulate surprisingly quickly. Some coin counting machines (like Coinstar) let users convert change to gift cards at no cost. An card could help purchase textbooks, or an iTunes card given as a gift could free $15 toward school supplies.
  7. Recycle. The old-fashioned term is "thrift-store shopping," but kids don't need to think of it that way. The younger the children, the more easily persuaded they will be to shop at a thrift store. But find a store in a well-to-do neighborhood, and even label-addicted teens might be convinced once they realize that they could get lucky and score Diesel jeans or a Hollister shirt for less than $5. Check out consignment shops, both to buy and to turn outgrown garments into cash or credit. Don't forget yard sales, eBay and Craigslist for everything from clothes to cleats to backpacks.
  8. Join a club. At warehouse clubs, find good deals on clothing for the whole family — especially things like undergarments, jackets and jeans. The selection is not always huge, but the items usually are high quality and can be a great bargain. For the smartest spending, pay in cash — take only the amount you can spend according to your budget. Leave the checkbook and credit cards at home. In addition to classic back-to-school items, think of clubs for:
    • Some of the best gas prices around.
    • Deals on long-distance phone cards for college student (and your own) use. Rates for domestic calls are less than $0.03/minute, and rates to many other countries are hard to beat.
    • Bakery items. Many clubs now have full bakeries where members can order special-occasion cakes for a birthday or other special school function.

"Buying only what you need is the best way to curb spending," Ewing added. "Moreover, building a budget and not spending beyond your means is the best primer for personal finance that you can give your family — and yourself."


Based in San Mateo, Calif., ( is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 40,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at

In 2008, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked as the No. 3 fastest-growing U.S. company on its Hot 100 list. also was named a finalist as "most innovative company" in the American Business Awards in 2008. Company co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2008, and are recipients of the Northern California Ernst & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Footnote: 1.