Family Fundamentals: Budget for basics for back-to-school items (July 2013)

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We’ve had some unanticipated expenses this summer, so we’re looking for ways to trim spending on back-to-school clothes and other items. Any tips? We have three children, in elementary, middle and high school.

Although your economic situation right now may be challenging, you can use this time of belt-tightening as a teachable moment for your children.

Parents often try to keep family financial struggles hidden from their children so they won’t be burdened with adult concerns. But if you matter-of-factly explain that money is tight and you’ll have to cut back on some expenses, you can map out some money-saving strategies with them. Use this time to help them determine the difference between “wants” and “needs.” This will be a tool they will be able to use for a lifetime.

Here are some things to consider:

  • First, figure out what you need to buy. What can you use from last year? What is absolutely essential to purchase now?
  • Determine how much money you can spend for each child for clothing and supplies. Note that this might not be an equal amount, depending on each child’s needs.
  • Work with your children to investigate the best bargains. If you have, say, $40 to spend on clothing, you might be able to find a good sale at a discount store to enable you to buy a pair of jeans, a pair or two of shorts, and several shirts. You could also go to a thrift shop and use that money to buy double or triple the amount of clothing. Or you could find bargains at garage sales and possibly find that you don’t even need the entire $40 to purchase what’s needed. Let your children help make the decision as to how to spend their allotted share. If one of the kids decides, for example, that he or she would prefer to buy brand new clothes instead of second-hand even though they will get fewer items, that’s a valid choice as long as they can find what they need and still stay within budget.
  • Make a list before shopping, and stick to it. It’s very easy to get swept away when you’re at the store or even at a yard sale. Have your list in hand and focus on buying only the items on the list. Only when you finish getting everything you need should you allow yourself to splurge on the extras — and then only if you can remain in budget.
  • Realize that you don’t need to buy clothing for the entire school year in one fell swoop. Now is a good time because of back-to-school sales, but there will be other sales soon in the future, and today’s bargains might be discounted even more on tomorrow’s clearance racks.

For more ideas, see “A Dozen Ways to Stretch Your Back-to-School Budget” at, from, an information source sponsored by land-grant universities nationwide.

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Melinda Hill, family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, click here.

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Melinda Hill
Family and Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension