COLUMN: Back to school budgeting

Heather Winn

While Oklahoma school children anticipate returning to school, parents may be feeling a little anxious about the back-to-school shopping frenzy and extra expenses. The good news for caregivers is there is no need to bust the family budget. Doing some advanced planning will add an important element of organization to your shopping. It'll also help control your spending and your mood.

Begin by creating a budget for the amount the family wants to devote to school-related purchases. Factor in costs such as instrument rental, school pictures, and sports participation, as well as the cost of driving students to and from school. Parents of high school seniors should think ahead and consider costs of senior pictures, college application fees, and dorm room needs.

After establishing the budget, family members should research their options based on the amount of funds available, then come to an agreement on all purchases. Today's technology makes it easy for consumers to find exactly what they want in a price range that works for them. Just as important, negotiating the budget in advance gives families a chance to resolve any disagreements before getting to the store, where parents and caregivers may feel pressured to give into demands while in public.

If the children change their minds or want to add to the shopping list once they get to the store, parents should help them make decisions that will allow them to stay within the established and agreed upon budget.

Try not to go shopping if you're feeling rushed or stressed. You don't want to wait too late either, or take someone who is already upset or in a bad mood, because under these types of circumstances you could end up overspending or falling short of what you wanted to accomplish during your shopping excursion.

Families looking to save a little money should pay attention to sales, as well as the Oklahoma Tax Commission's annual statewide sales tax holiday, Aug. 6-8. Clothing and footwear under $100 will be tax free. The fine print also states that accessories, athletic footwear, and protective gear are excluded. As in most states, rainchecks are not valid. If an item sells out during Tax-Free Weekend, too bad.

Finally, families may consider building anticipated school expenses into the overall household budget as a wallet friendly strategy that can cut down on parents' stress level. Tally your expenses from this year, divide that amount by 12 and begin reserving that much money each month to put toward next year's costs.

Heather Winn is family and consumer sciences educator for the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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