Lower your back-to-school expenses

This was originally published on Monday, June 3, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: I will have three kids in school next year; do you have any back-to-school budgeting ideas?

Answer: If you’re like most parents, you are looking for ways to spend less next school year. Whether you have children that are entering elementary school or graduating, it can be pretty costly. Items such as uniforms, school supplies, yearbooks and other expenses add up.

• Create a budget for the whole year. Do you plan on buying all school supplies up front or purchasing them throughout the year? If possible, get the schools’ supply lists early. That way you have time to plan and search for the best deals. Don’t wait till the last day before school starts. You may miss out on some great discounts.

• Make it an educational game. Give each child their budget. Let them decide what items are “needs” and “wants.” As an incentive to save more, agree that if they come in under their budget, you will split the savings with them.

• Before you start shopping, check what school supplies you had left over from last year. Also adhere to the list. If it’s not on the list, your child probably won’t need it, no matter how much they beg. It actually may be better to keep the kids at home when shopping for supplies.

• Don’t overlook dollar stores. For most supplies like paper, notebooks, pencils and erasers, dollar stores are a great way to save money.

• Be creative. Reusing last year’s school supplies can be fun. Reuse old vinyl binders by covering them with pictures, comics or magazines and brush on a clear decoupage sealant you can find at an arts-and-crafts store.

• Buy uniforms and shoes one or two sizes larger to get their most use. Check with your school to see if they have a school store that sells gently used uniforms.

• Find out your school’s policy on immunizations. Look at which ones are covered by your insurance company. Take advantage of free health fairs and community clinics.

One of the largest expenses college students incur is textbooks. The college bookstore may have a trade-in program or a bulletin board dedicated to other students selling books. There are now websites like Chegg.com, CampusBookRentals. com, BookRenter.com and eCampus.com that let you rent textbooks for a semester at a lower cost. Another great way to save on books is buying the e-version of the book, which usually cost much less than the printed version and can be downloaded to a laptop or notebook.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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