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Budgeting for Back-to-School Expenses

Supplies for school can be expensive. Here are some tips for creating and sticking to a back-to-school budget.

Nashville, Ark. – Have you noticed department stores are already gearing up for back-to-school by setting up special display areas? The first day of school in Arkansas is scheduled for August 24. With the challenges of the coronavirus, some parents are deciding to homeschool or opt for the virtual school experience this year. Whatever avenue you decide for your children, you will still need school supplies. Now is the time to prepare for those extra back-to-school expenses before they sneak up on you. Here are some tips for creating and sticking to a back-to-school budget.

Plan it out. Before you buy that first pencil or notebook, estimate how much you can afford to spend overall and what your costs are likely to be. Don’t leave anything out! It’s better to know ahead of time if things will be tight. Start by listing all the items. Potential items will include backpack, lunchbox, pens/pencils, notebooks, calculator, computer/laptop, paper, three-ring binder, and clothes.

            Don’t forget to add in tax. For the past few years, tax free weekends have been offered and they are a great way to save money. Just be aware of large crowds and long lines. With Covid-19, this may be a concern. Be sure to carry and wear a mask. Washing hands often is still the best line of defense for preventing the spread of germs. If you decide to not shop on these special weekends, you will have to figure in tax.

            As you shop, write down the actual prices you spend on items to track spending. This will help you stick to your budget. If you have money left over, decide what you will do with it. You may get one of those items on your list that you wanted, but was not necessarily a needed item. You might decide to go to the movies, or you could add the extra money back to your household budget.

Start early and take time to get ready. It may seem early now, but the fact is, sales for back-to-school gets earlier and earlier. The earlier you start, the more likely you’ll be to avoid panic shopping at the last minute. You will save money, because you won’t be tempted to impulse buy. Think ahead to find the best deals. Watch for coupons and clip and organize them. Coupons can be found in flyers, newspapers, and online.

Get the whole family involved. Back-to-school shopping is a great time to teach children about basic budgeting and money management. Younger children can help clip coupons. Older children can compare costs using technology. Use back-to-school shopping as an opportunity to lay the foundation for helping your children develop sound money management skills early. Help them understand the difference between needs and wants, and that purchasing one expensive item means less money to buy other items.

Get creative. Who says back-to-school items have to be brand new? Shop thrift stores and garage sales for clothes. Take inventory of leftover items from last year; notebooks may be reused. Count how many pens and pencils you have left over. If you are starting college and need books, check with friends who may have a book from a previous semester that you can borrow, borrow online, or shop for used books at the bookstore. Just be sure you have the correct edition the instructor is using.

Play it smart online. Many people are using online shopping to get the best deals. Consider getting together with friends to purchase items in bulk and save on shipping costs. Check out resale websites online for clothing. Take precautions to keep personal information secure anytime you are shopping online. Use a credit card or PayPal instead of using your debit card for purchases.

Learn from the experience. Make your back-to-school approach an annual tradition.  Keep track of this year’s expenses to help figure out the budget for next year. Keep notes about what you discover, like where the best thrift stores are and when the store shelves start to empty. These will be useful tools for next year.

            For more information on financial management topics or developing a budget, contact the Howard County Cooperative Extension Service which is located on the second floor of the courthouse, or call our office at 870-845-7517. You can also check out our website at The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Recipe of the Week

            I love blueberries and they are in season now!  Here is a great way to enjoy them this summer.

Blueberry Pound Cake

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups flour (3 cups in batter, 1 cup to dredge blueberries)

2 cups blueberries

            Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix in baking powder, salt and 2 cups of flour. Fold in blueberries that have been dredged in 1 cup flour. Pour into 10-inch tube pan which has been buttered and sprinkled with sugar.

            Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Note: It is recommended to use real butter instead of margarine for great results.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.