Umpqua Bank executive offers advice for families navigating back-to-school expenses
Back to School has become a whole season of its own, bringing with it a school busload of expenses that continue to pop up throughout the year. So how is a parent to handle it?
“Setting aside money each month for the unexpected fees, fun, and extras — on top of the big stuff — is smart for every family,” says Heather Seppa, region manager for the Northern Oregon and SW Washington Market at Oregon-based Umpqua Bank.
School expenses may include:
- New school clothes
- Laptop rental and accident insurance
- Pictures and a yearbook
- Class fees
- Instrument rental or extracurricular activity costs
- AP and college prep tests
Have a senior? Don’t forget…
- Senior pictures
- Grad night party
- Cap and gown
Already overwhelmed? Here are some top tips to keep in mind:
Review your budget monthly
At the start of each month, make a list of the new expenses you know will come up. The first and biggest is probably clothing. Remember: You don’t have to buy everything at the end of summer. In fact, if you spread it out over two or three months, you’ll give your budget more wiggle room and be able to take advantage of more sales and lower prices after the rush.
Set aside money every month into a sinking fund or savings account, even when you don’t expect to have any school expenses. That way you’ll at least have some money available and can avoid any last-minute scramble and stress.
Reuse and recycle
If that backpack is still in good shape, there’s no need to buy a new one every year. This could be a case for avoiding ones that will lose their luster too quickly. While your child may love unicorns today, next year they may not. Stick with something with more longevity, both in style and quality, to get more bang for your buck.
If you don’t have older kids to pass on their clothes to siblings, check out thrift stores for quality hand-me-downs and join neighborhood or online buy nothing or trading groups. With how fast kids grow, you can often find great pieces for little or no cost.
Shop smart for supplies
Watch for sales and, if needed, shop at more than one store to get the best deal on pencils, markers, tissue, binders, and more. A Google search can also help you find the lowest prices. Remember too that many stores will match prices and may even give you an additional discount on the same item. Look at the price match policy. Online marketplaces are also a great way to save big on typically pricey supplies like graphing calculators.
Follow stores on social media
Many stores reward their loyal customers by notifying them of sales before the public. Follow them on social media and watch for deals and announcements.
Get a handle on the extras
Your kid made the debate team, but did they mention the cost for competitions? Congratulations: they were picked for the elite volleyball team. The one that travels. Talk to your kids early about what they might like to explore and what you can spend. Set a max dollar amount and show them the “why.” Discuss how those things affect your family’s budget. It might also motivate them to contribute through babysitting, washing cars, or mowing lawns and will give them a healthy perspective about spending.
Set limits on the small stuff too
Those hot lunches add up. So do vending machines and snacks from the school store. Prepping the night before and buying a few favorite snacks in bulk to bring to school are easy ways to save money. This is also where a budget will help and allows your child to see where the money is going. For older kids, consider setting up a budget just for them, with their allowance as income, plus any money they earn. Create a line item for those extras and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
College on the horizon? Open an Education Savings Account or 529
A Coverdell Education Savings Account (CESA) can be used for K-12 or college expenses, such as tuition, books, uniforms, and more. It allows contributions of up to $2,000 a year and has income restrictions on who can open an account.
A 529 savings account is a state-sponsored vehicle that can be used to pay for college expenses plus up to $10, 000 a year for K-12 tuition in most states. Anyone can open a 529 and your state may even offer a tax deduction for contributions.
Check your state’s rules and contribution limits, and talk to your banker or tax advisor for details.
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