Small changes can make a big difference in your family budget this Fall.

Back to school season is here. Every year at this time, expenses like pencil crayons and gym shoes expand into things like books, tuition and meal plans, budgets need to be adequately adjusted to prepare for these additional costs. Eight out of ten Canadians agree that back to school shopping has become increasingly expensive and with inflation hitting new highs, it’s hard not to notice. Here are just a few tips to help make penny pinching easier for the new school year.

Post-Secondary Planning

As soon as post-secondary prospects begin creeping onto the horizon – whether it’s for your child or your own professional development – it’s good to begin putting a little money aside each month for the inevitable costs that will soon follow. Explore expenses for tuition, student fees, books, and supplies for the desired programs at different schools. Will your child be going to school close to home or leaving the nest? You may need to factor in other expenses like rent, transit, utilities, food, furniture, computers, software – the list goes on and these things quickly add up.

Start by building a budget to cover large expenses like tuition up front and then determine how much will be needed month-to-month to sustain your student through the whole school year. Will your child be working while in school or focused entirely on their studies? What is a realistic work-school-life balance to keep the lights on, grades high and your child happy?

Creating a budget and saving ahead is much easier than finding the funds all at once come September. Saving over time will also reduce the need for student loans, which is much better than graduating with a pile of debt.

Creating a monthly budget is also an excellent way to teach money management and how to identify wants vs. needs. Unfortunately, these skills aren’t always taught in school. Encouraging your child to get a part-time or summer job to start saving early on and involving them in the budgeting process will prepare them with the good habits they need to stay afloat in the future.

Set a Spending Limit

Part of outlining a budget is knowing what your spending limit is. When it comes to back-to-school supplies, make a list of what you need to buy, set a realistic budget to cover those items, and then keep your eyes peeled for discounts and coupons, challenging yourself to stay within your limit. It’s very easy to go off the rails and buy things as you see them, but a little planning beforehand and having a specific dollar amount in mind can help keep spending under control.

Meal Prep

Another simple way to save money, not just for students but for the whole family, is through meal planning. A brown bag lunch is a fraction of the cost of eating out and often much healthier too. Some families cook on Sundays keeping weekdays easy, which is a great habit to get into.

Students living away from home and burdened by a heavy homework load will also benefit from some weekend meal prep, so they don’t resort to ramen or fast food when time is tight cramming through the week.

Meal planning also reduces the costs associated with food waste. Did you know the average household produces almost 10 lbs of food waste every week? When you know what you’re going to eat, you don’t buy what you don’t need. It’s also easier to stick to a budget instead of making impulse purchases in every aisle or by eating out.

Shop in bulk

Shopping in bulk for necessary items is an easy way to save in the long run just by spending a little more up front. Buy snacks for recess from Bulk Barn, frozen foods for meal prep from Costco, or consider pooling resources with other parents for bulk discounts on school supplies.

Wardrobe Walkthrough

Before splurging on a whole new back-to-school wardrobe for your kids, assess what they’ve already got in their closets. Some forgotten classics might be ready for a comeback, while outgrown clothes should be purged to make way for the new. Second-hand shops like Value Village offer a 20% discount on purchases when you donate your gently used threads.

Of course, there will always be items that you’ll want to buy new, but in these fast fashion times, thrift shop treasure hunting and upcycling garments are great ways to keep clothes out of landfills. More than just saving a few bucks, second hand shopping also teaches children that there is no shame in reducing our consumption by reusing previously loved fashions.

As you’ll discover, just some tiny tweaks to your budget and implementing a few savvy habits throughout the year could save you hundreds of dollars, or even thousands in interest when you consider the long-term impacts of student loans. It’s never too late to start being back-to-school smart.

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