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Michelle Fern Michelle Fern
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Back to school on a budget

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This year is a bit different for our family when it comes to back to school supply shopping. Usually it's just binders, book covers, pens, pencils and the various other things students typically need. However, we now have a college student along with our youngest who is still in middle school. This means two distinctly different lists of supplies.

Our youngest still needs the basics, but since I have stocked up a lot of items the past few years, I only have to get a few of the bigger-ticketed items such as a divider binder and backpack. On the other hand, our college student needs quite a bit more. He's living on campus, so we have to outfit his dorm room and also get special items such as an advanced calculator they can cost up to $150.

With this new scenario, it's time to set a budget for each kid's needs and stick to it. Here are some tips on how to keep within budget and save money:

Set a child-specific budget

Take a look at your own budget and set a dollar amount that you can afford to spend on each child for all back to school necessities.

Put it away now

Start putting away a little bit every week or pay period for the next couple of months to fund those expenses by August.

Take the kids along

Plan a back to school shopping trip with your kids. I like to take each one out separately so that we can concentrate on what each child needs. Discuss with your kids specifically what they are going to need, and then make a list to bring along on your trip. For example, one child might need two pairs of shoes, pants and shorts, while the other needs new shirts, T-shirts, backpack and lunch box.

Choose where you're going

Decide where you are going to shop. Stores like Walmart and Staples are famous for their back to school supplies sales. Keep an eye on the flyers each week.

Shop smartly

Check out thrift stores, where we've bought almost-new Old Navy, Abercrombie and Fitch and Gap jeans and shirts for less than $5 each. Don't forget the clearance section of stores as well we found our special college calculator that was originally $149 for only $50. Store coupons are also great. With dorm life looming for our college student, I will be visiting Bed Bath and Beyond and have saved my $5 and 20 percent-off coupons to use. Also be aware of printable coupons for stores such as Old Navy, Children's Place, A.C. Moore, Staples and many others. In fact, Staples has a printable coupon for $5 off when you purchase $30 or more (exclusions apply) that expires 7/28/12. Just Google 'Staples $5 coupon.'Shop end of season sales

If your kids are like mine and most others, they wear short-sleeve T-shirts and Polos all year long, even when it's 15 degrees outside. You can find such clothing at a deep discount toward the end of summer and help stock up on their new school wardrobe. Check out yard sales

You can get some great college dorm supplies at yard sales. Also shop and Craigslist. Last year we got a dorm frig for free!

Stock up on everything

This is a great time to get not only school supplies, but office and household supplies as well. We are always looking for one-subject notebooks at work and if you buy them throughout the year, they typically run about $3 each. But if you look around at this time of year, you can get them as cheaply as 10 cents. Pens are another item that for some reason disappears quickly throughout the year. You can find them for free during the back to school season with rebates. School supplies also make great stocking stuffers colorful pens, crayons, markers, pencils, and more can make it into the stocking.

Have fun

Make a day out of it! Plan a fun breakfast out if you can or take a lunch for a picnic in the park to break up your shopping trip. If you can afford it, go all out and make it a little weekend trip.


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