Tip: The ABCs of back-to-school budgeting

Johannesburg- Gearing up to prepare children to go back to school in mid-January can be an unwelcome financial burden, particularly if you got paid early in December and need to make your salary cheque last longer than usual.

Nozizwe Fakude, head of consumer insights at specialist loans provider, DirectAxis, says that by anticipating back-to-school expenses you can budget and spread the costs, rather than having to buy everything at once.

These are their tips to help manage back-to-school finances and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Take an inventory: Check backpacks and pencil cases to find out what your children really need as opposed to what they want. Given a choice most children will want all new stationery, even if there’s nothing wrong with most of what they already have.

Make a list: You’re likely to spend more if you go shopping without a list, particularly if you have your children with you. It’s a good idea to write the list together as it teaches children about planning. Prioritise, by thinking about what they’ll need immediately and what you may be able to buy later. That way you can spread the expense. By taking children shopping with you, they’ll learn how much things cost and potentially will take better care of their school supplies and uniforms.

Build a budget: Unless a child is just starting school or moving from primary to high school, you should have some idea of what you spent the previous year. Using this, you inventory of what you already have and the list of what is required will give you a ballpark budget of what you need to spend. Asking other parents can also provide a guideline as can checking the prices of items online. Involving children in drawing up the budget will also help to give them an appreciation of cost and it may deter them from asking for everything they see when you go shopping. If they do, it makes it easier to say ‘no’.

Score on second-hand savings: Children quickly grow out of uniforms, so try to save on big-budget items such as blazers, by seeing if there are any good-quality items available at the school second-hand store. Alternatively speak to parents whose children are leaving school and ask if they have uniforms they want to sell. Again, consider prioritising, so you can spread the spend. Your children are unlikely to need jerseys in summer.

Seek sensible savings: Running from shop-to-shop to try and save a few cents here and there is likely to add to the stress of back-to-school shopping and possibly lead to you forgetting something or making a poor decision. Rather think about saving on the costly items such as computers, tablets or sports equipment.

Check the post-Christmas sales and back-to-school specials online. Consider whether second-hand sports equipment is a better option than buying it new, particularly if your child isn’t certain about the sports he or she wants to play or is unlikely to make the first team. Before you go shopping, check on the specifications of any technology that’s required so you don’t waste money buying top-end tech that isn’t needed. It’s also worth finding out if the school has an arrangement which may enable you to get a discount at some suppliers.

Set something aside: Inevitably there’ll be some expenses that the school didn’t warn you about or which you forget. If you can, set some money aside to cover these unexpected items.

“Most of the people we spoke to agreed that planning ahead, making a list, setting a budget, actively looking for savings and spreading expenses over time are the best ways of containing back-to-school expenses,” says Nozizwe.

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