I just can’t believe that the summer is nearly over and that means the kids will be going back to school. So with Hannah going into 1st grade and Jayden starting Pre-K, I know I have to get my butt in gear and get their supplies and clothes together soon. So I’ve decided to compile a list of 6 money-saving ideas for those of us who don’t have a fortune to spend this school year.

1. Take inventory before you shop. So the very first thing I plan to do before I look at a single sales flyer or head to any stores is to go through all my kids’ drawers and do a thorough inventory of what clothes my kids already have. Maybe I’ll make it a game, like a back to school fashion show. This way I can get them to try on their pants and shirts to see what still fits well and what’s getting too small. I plan to make a list of what they have and bag up any clothes that don’t fit to take to my local children’s consignment shop.

I have a mini-consignment shop of my own so to speak. I have a reserve of hand-me-downs to “shop” through. Once I go through it, I’ll add all the appropriate clothes for each child’s size and the season into my “store” of clothes for this school year. Once I know what I really have, then I can stream-line the shopping process, getting only the items they really need and saving time and money by not buying things they don’t need. I can’t tell you how many times I was sure I needed to go out and buy pants or shirts for my kids, just to find that, with a little digging into “my hand-me-down store,” I already had what they needed at home, no trip to the store required.

2. Shop second-hand. Shopping at your local children’s consignment shop or thrift store is an easy way to save a TON of money on kids clothes. Since kids usually outgrow their clothes before they get really worn out, most kids clothes at consignment or thrift stores tend to be in really good shape. Want to save even more money? Bring the clothes that no longer fit your kids to your local consignment shop and either get cash for them or store credit, greatly reducing the amount of money you need to spend on “new” clothes they need for the school year. You can also find great deals on shoes, coats, and even backpacks. I was able to snag a Diego backpack with matching lunch bag for my son at my local children’s consignment shop. It cost $4, but because I had store credit it didn’t cost me a single penny from my back-t0-school budget.

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3. Use what you’ve got. So I know the temptation is to start off the school year with new everything from classroom supplies to clothes and backpacks, but hear me out. Think of back to school shopping as a chance to supplement what you’ve already got and you’ll save big this year. If your child’s backpack is still in fairly good shape, why not reuse it? Even if it doesn’t make it through the whole year, if you can wait to purchase a new backpack till a few months into the school year you could snag one at a deep discount. Last year, while Christmas shopping I found a bin of backpacks on clearance at Toys ‘R Us for $5 so I bought my daughter’s backpack for this year for super cheap and it’s one less thing I have to worry about now. Also, if you go shopping when all the school supplies like crayons, pens, pencils, and notebooks go on clearance you can get supplies for next year’s school-year for half the price. Then simply hide them away in the closet or under the bed and shop at home first before you hit the stores next year.

4. Organize a “back-to-school swap” with friends, neighbors and family members. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. Invite other moms with kids similar in age over for a “back to school swap” where everyone can trade clothes, book bags or reusable lunch bags for “new” ones. Set up some tables or clothing racks, serve up some snacks, and voila all parents involved could walk away with new wardrobes and supplies for free.

5. Keep to a budget. Determine what you can afford to spend and stick to it. Make your kids part of the process. Tell them up front how much money they have to spend and make them responsible for sticking to it. I would suggest using cash because it gives a very definite limit to your spending. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. If your child wants the most expensive clothes at the mall you might try offering them an incentive to stick to the budget, like allowing them to keep any extra cash in the budget not spent on their clothes (provided that they still pick out appropriate clothes they actually need.) There are no shortage of things kids want, so almost anything can be used as an incentive like “Get out of a chore” coupons or extending bedtime or curfew. If you use cash and include your kids in the spending plan, it should be easier to stick to your back to school budget.

6. Save on breakfast and lunch costs for you kids. If you’re kids don’t get free or reduced breakfast and lunch, these expenses can really add up over the course of the year. I keep costs down by using reusable lunch bags and containers. The reusable water bottle I bought for my daughter last year enabled me to pack juice from home and even had a freezable ice cube that went inside it to keep it cold. I found a cheap set of plastic containers at Aldi a few years ago. I believe it cost me $9 and besides saving my food, it has saved me a bunch of money. The smaller containers are great for packing fruit, yogurt, pudding or whatever I want. This saves money because I can buy larger containers of the items my kids love and portion them out myself versus paying twice as much for the single serve items they sell at the store. Not only do I save money because my daughter brought almost all of her lunches from home, but I didn’t have the expense of constantly buying juice boxes, plastic baggies, and disposable paper lunch bags.

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Aldi is a great place to find cheap snacks and quick and easy breakfast foods like cereal, mini-muffins, bagels, French toast sticks and mini-pancakes. Some mornings are just so hectic that it’s nice to have ready to eat breakfast foods handy. It also saves on the expense of fast-food breakfasts if you drop your child off in the morning.

I hope you find these tips helpful and please share yours with other Hudson Valley Parent readers.

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