You are just back from your holiday and spent more than expected. You think spending would come to a halt now that you are back home. Tough luck. The children will join school in September and then the meter starts ticking again. Let's see how best we can achieve back-to-school saving this season.
Parents usually spend almost Dh1,000 to get one child ready for school. Laura Rowley, author of the book Money and Happiness, says some parents can do it for half that amount by sticking to a back-to-school savings strategy. Below is a to-do checklist:
1. Do an inventory check
An excel sheet is the best answer to check any financial goal. Choose a day before you begin to shop and go through your kid's clothes to see what you can salvage from last year. Prepare an inventory excel sheet with four columns. Put the article name in the first column, the quantity you have in the second and how much you need to buy across the next. Then, remove everything from your child's closet, drawers and study table. Make him try each piece of clothing/uniform and whatever fits goes on your inventory sheet. Check his stationery, school uniform, school bag and everything he needs for school.
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You can keep this standard excel sheet for future use. It will help you understand your available stock at all times. Have the trash bags handy for items that need to be discarded and for clothing you can donate to charity.
For most children, starting afresh every year is a motivational exercise. I suggest purchasing new school supplies, lunch boxes and backpacks. Backpacks and lunch boxes barely last for a year, so plan for a new one each time your child starts a new year. And remember, school supplies usually change each year, according to the grade and teacher preferences.
2. Set a budget
You will have to make a strict budget since the shops will be full of designer stuff, some you can afford and others can be unnecessary expenses.
Consider which items are non-negotiable, such as the class list of required clothing, shoes, lunch boxes and backpacks. Past spending is a good reference point for this year's back-to-school savings. Look at last year's credit card statements and check registers to get an idea of what you spent on back-to-school shopping last season. By seeing what you spent in the past, you can challenge yourself to find better bargains this year. The exact budget will vary from family to family. You just need to spend within your means.
A good way to make sure you stay within your budget is to use the envelope system and put the cash you've allotted for each child into separate envelopes. This system has worked for me for the past 17 years. This allows fair distribution of wealth to all deserving expenses.
Another objective to keep cash in envelopes is to make kids understand budgeting. Even younger children know that once cash disappears from the envelope, no more money can be spent. Use this opportunity to teach older kids how to budget.
3. Make a list to buy
Start by creating a shopping list of what you need to buy. For uniforms, focus on how often a particular uniform will be worn in a week and if it can be washed before second use. Two sets of uniforms are ideal. Buy one set of warm clothing and three to four pairs of socks.
Use this as a checklist while shopping. You don't want to wander into a department store without a back-to-school saving strategy and watch your child fall in love with a back pack worth Dh500 and colour pencil set worth Dh100. Buying in bulk may not do the trick every time, especially if you have one child. Buy only what you can consume in a few months. Buying in bulk can be good for parents with three or more children.
4. Swap parties
Another way to achieve back-to-school savings is by holding a party to exchange kids' school items, including uniforms. Decide who to invite based on the age, size and gender of children. These children can be from the same school but not necessary of the same age. If you have six friends who have children who are similar in age, you can hold a small party. But you may want to expand it to 12 or 15 guests. Kids can meet friends and exchange something extra with something more useful. You bring in 10 items and be able to leave with 10 different ones. Suggests your guests to bring along a minimum of 10 to 15 items for exchange.
I also recommend leaving the children at home for back-to-school shopping. That way, saving on back-to-school items can be a fun, social time for adults. You can pick up some bulk deals and share the stationery among your friends.
By Chanda Lokendra Kundnaney
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