I know a lot of y'all are in the same boat that we are- less income but still have the same bills to pay and of course it's time for back to school and that means back to school shopping.
With 4 girls I've come up with a few things to help make the extra costs easier over the years- especially when several of those years were spent as a single mom.
One of the bigger expenses is clothes. Now I know a lot of people buy their kids whole new wardrobes every year for back to school, but I've rarely been able to do this and even when I had the money I mostly chose not to for a variety of reasons.
For the most part, they always had perfectly good things left that still fit.
A good thing to do is go through their clothing and see what is still wearable, any rags toss immediately.
Then check for anything that might need repairs- buttons sewn on, seams ripped, stains out* etc. and set them aside. If you aren't the type who can or will fix them get rid of them- donate or pass along to someone you know who can use them or whatever. You totally don't need the clutter of an I'll get to it someday, maybe, if the heavens align just right and hell freezes over pile. If you will fix them, now is the time to do it.
*If you can't get out a stain and the garment can't be bleached or bleach doesn't work, Rit Dye color remover is a godsend.
Anything that doesn't fit, pass along, whether you give away, donate, freecycle, sell, whatever.
See how many complete outfits you have and what you need to fill in with. Sometimes a couple of cute tops and trendy accessories are all it takes to have them looking stylish and up to date.
Swap with friends and family, let them know you gratefully accept hand me downs, shop at thrift stores, yard sales, Craigs List, freecycle etc. If your kids balk at hand-me downs use the it's better for the environment green argument- whatever works, right?
If they REALLY want something special, say this is the budget, you can either get less or save up for the expensive variety. Do NOT go over what you can afford.
I know some people use the everyone else has it, etc. argument. If they are only fitting in because of what they wear, those are not true friends and the minute they have an opinion of their own they will be shunned from the group anyways and you'll be in debt for nothing.
It's not too soon to plan ahead- as the seasons change things are deeply discounted and I can frequently get really, really nice designer things for the same or less than I can get something at the (overpriced here) Goodwill next year. Try your best to guess the right sizes, sure, occasionally you'll get the wrong one but there will always be someone, somewhere who is grateful to have it.
That all being said, don't forget to enter the Cookie's Back To School Giveaway if you qualify to help with their wardrobes, including uniforms. See the details here.
Now that my kids are older and know how freakin' many books they have to carry, a guarantee around here at least is that one backpack will NOT last the whole year. Jansport has a great guarantee- they will repair or replace it for free. Yippee! There are other extremely well made products on the market, Land's End is another that comes to mind. Invest in them! You will not regret it once they are out of the lower grades. Regardless, while it is in transit another needs to be available. If last years backpack is still functional then do not feel the need for a new one the first day of school.
Same with lunchboxes- although I'll be the first to admit, we have several and are always looking for more, especially those that can be used for bento. Yeah, it's an obsession. I'll be doing a review shortly on a new very green lunchbox that we're thrilled with. My girls were never fond of school lunches (except in Manchester, NH) and all of us (and now Ian) get bored with me making the sos all the time, hence the bento and other nifty containers and lunch ideas. You can expect some really fun posts very soon on some of our better ideas.
If you don't qualify for free and reduced prices, bento works out cheaper than buying.
Have your child ask if there is a microwave available- some schools have them and some don't. If so, this can be great for leftovers- even tv dinners have healthier and cheaper options than buying school lunches. If there isn't one, a quality wide-mouth thermos is a good investment.
A reusable water bottle or thermos is a cheaper, better option for the environment than buying or bringing individual beverages although I admit to using juice boxes sometimes for convenience, if I think the kids need the fruit or laziness. Also wonderful for field trips when they have to pack disposable lunches. Even the juice boxes or water bottles are a better than soda or sugary drinks and according to them the milk they can buy is beyond gross.
As far as school supplies- cherry pick! Staples 1cent sale, the super deal at Kroger, the loss-leader your drugstore has, the 10 cent notebooks, whatever your area has. The stores have them to get you in the door hoping you'll get the rest of your supplies while you're there. If you need to save money, don't do it. Take the time to get the best deals in each store in your area, this saves a bundle.
I hope some of these tips help save you a little money. What do you do to cut costs on back to school shopping?