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Plan ahead to manage back-to-school costs

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A sudden uptick in purchases of new clothes and shoes, pristine notebooks and fresh boxes of crayons are sure signs another school year is fast approaching. While back-to-school costs can run high, they do not have to bust the budget or cause parents to lose their grip on that one last nerve.

“Planning ahead will make the whole process more organized and help you control your spending and your mood,” said Sissy Osteen, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension resource management specialist. 

Start by deciding how much you want to devote to school-related purchases, and do not forget to factor in fees such as for instrument rental, school pictures and sports participation. There also could be expenses associated with graduating seniors and the college application process. 

It also is worthwhile to think about other details such as how kids will get to and from school each day. Are they taking the bus or is there a carpool? Is it possible for them to walk or bike to school? 

“Give kids a chance to research their options based on the amount of funds available, then parents and kids should come to an agreement on any purchases before shopping,” Osteen said.

Today’s technology makes it easy to find exactly what you want in a price range that fits your budget, and negotiating that budget in advance gives you a chance to resolve disagreements at home, and not in front of a salesperson, where some parents might feel pressured to give in to demands.

It is best to avoid shopping if you are feeling rushed or stressed, but do not wait until the last minute or take along someone who is already in a disagreeable mood because any of these scenarios could lead to overspending or falling short of accomplishing your shopping goals.

Also, pay attention to sales and check with the Oklahoma Tax Commission ( for dates and related details about the annual statewide Sales Tax holiday, which allows shoppers to purchase certain clothes and shoes free of sales tax. 

However, as you are snapping up deals, remember to keep a sharp eye on your budget.

“If the kids change their minds or want to add to the shopping list once they get to the store, help them make decisions that will allow them to stay within the budget you set and agreed upon,” Osteen said.

Even with a break on sales tax and strict adherence to a budget, costs could still be out of reach for some families. In those cases, consider checking with the county Extension office for a possible list of community organizations offering free or reduced-price supplies. 

Finally, Osteen recommended building back-to-school expenses into the overall family budget as a wallet-friendly strategy that also can cut down on parents’ stress level. Just total all the receipts from this year, divide by 12 and begin reserving that much money each month for next year’s shopping. 

“By saving a little each month, by next school year, all you’ll have to do is transfer the money from your savings account and use it for those expenses,” she said. 

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