The back-to-school season can be a very exciting time for most families. As a parent you’re proud to see your little ones moving into the next grade, reuniting with friends they may not have seen all summer, and probably, are a little relieved to have the house empty for a few hours each day so you can relax or focus on work without worrying about a babysitter.
But for many families, heading back to the classroom can bring with it additional strains on the family savings accounts. Books, pencils, clothes, snacks and other school necessities may not cost a lot individually, but they can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. That’s money you may not be able to come up with immediately, and that can be very stressful.
But there are plenty of ways that you can make sure you’re ready to wait for the school bus in the morning, without worrying about whether your child will be able to afford lunch that day.
Below are three great methods you can use to make sure your finances are prepared for the back to school season.
Start A Savings Account
As early as you can, at least six months before school starts if possible, you need to start a savings account, where you can begin saving for the school season. To start, you need to determine approximately how much money you’ll need to save to ensure your child has everything they need.
Analyze the school’s required materials list to see exactly what your child will need to bring. That way, you’re ensuring that you get everything you need without wasting money on things they’ll never use.
Reader’s Digest suggests that parents avoid items like hand sanitizers, messy glue sticks, mammoth-sized crayon boxes, and similar items because kids will never or rarely use them. Stick with the basics instead.
Once you’ve analyzed the school’s list, and determined other things like clothes or computers that your child will need, calculate your estimated total, then add on 10%. That way, you’re prepared for any shifts in price between when you start saving and when you buy, and if you don’t need to spend the extra money, you can put it towards paying off other debts.
You don’t have to start an exclusive account just to get ready for school. Since most banks require around $500 to open a new savings account, it may not be feasible, and it certainly isn’t necessary. Once you’ve calculated how much you need, and broken that into monthly deposits, you can use a savings account you already have open.
Take Out a Small Loan
If you can’t afford to set aside money in advance for a savings account, you should consider the option of taking out a small personal loan to prepare for your child’s return to school. Though it might make you nervous to become indentured to a lender just to shop for school, loans can offer you options and advantages that a simple savings account can’t.
First, a loan can give you more time to pay your balance. Most of us probably couldn’t afford to save for more than six months in advance, as suggested above, because of other financial obligations, and because it would bleed into another school year. With a loan, you have the option of extending your payments over a long period of time, potentially anywhere from three to five years, so that you have small monthly investments you’ll have to make.
Additionally, taking out a loan could help you improve your credit score, at the same time as you ensure you can buy what your child needs. Because FICO references your credit history, credit diversity, and total available credit (among other factors), when calculating your credit score, taking out a loan gives you another line of credit you have access to (diversity), increases your available credit limit, and offers you the opportunity to build a better credit history by making your minimum payments on time.
Even if your credit score isn’t great, don’t worry: there are plenty of options still available to you if you decide a loan is path you want to take.
Host a Yard Sale or Get a Side Job
If you’re a parent, especially a working parent, you’re probably finding that you have very little time to devote to anything other than work and family. Nevertheless, if you need extra money to be able to afford sending your child back to school, you should consider ways to bring in some extra revenue.
The first option is to consider a host a yard sale. Yard sales can often carry a stigma with most mainstream shoppers, because they have a reputation for only carrying overpriced items of questionable quality, more commonly referred to as junk. The reality is that yard sales are an excellent opportunity to discover value, clear up storage space and, most importantly, make some extra money for you.
If yard selling isn’t a viable option for you, or you’re not making enough money to make a difference, you may need to consider a side job. While it’s definitely an investment of time that can pull you away from your family, a side job not only makes more money for you, it can provide other opportunities as well.
First, having a side job will guarantee a reliable source of income. As long as you perform well, and your company doesn’t downsize, you can count on that money coming in at a regular pace. Additionally, having a side job will help you to improve your credit score by demonstrating a steady work history. Taking a side job may also lead to new connections and skills that will improve your chances to find a better full time job, or get promoted in your current position.
Even if you can’t leave the house for a typical part-time job because of family obligations, there are options you can do right out of your home. Teaching a musical instrument, accepting art commissions, freelance writing, or financial consulting are all examples of ways that you can put skills you already have to work for you, all from the comfort of your home, and on your own schedule.
Send Them Back With a Smile
Regardless of how you choose to prepare to finance your child’s back to school needs, don’t forget that you also need to take time to focus on how they’re feeling. While many children are excited to return to class, some become sad or depressed, and dread the prospect of going back.
As a parent, you have to engage your child to address your child’s concerns and offer reassurance if they need it. Helping your child get ready, and being able to send them back with a smile, will be much easier if you have financial peace of mind.