Budget for Back to School as a Single Parent

As if summer isn’t already expensive for parents given the cost of camp, childcare, activities, and vacations, August can pack a particularly hard punch. This is because we are about to enter the back-to-school season.

The average amount parents spend on school supplies and back-to-school clothes has doubled within the past 10 years and this can pose a strain on single parents with only one income to rely on. If you’re a single parent looking for some hacks to help you budget for back-to-school supplies and clothes, here are some top tips from other parents who have been in your situation.

Start Setting Aside Money Early

Surprise expenses are no fun for anyone, particularly for a single parent.

Capriciana Bush, a single mom of three kids, starts setting aside money a few weeks in advance so back-to-school shopping doesn’t put a huge dent in her budget.

“I usually start budgeting to set aside $20 to $40 per paycheck in June or July so I can be prepared to buy school supplies and clothes,” says Bush.

To help hit her savings goals, Bush automatically saves small amounts per every paycheck. Over time, the money adds up and it’s less stressful than having to deal with a huge bill.

Take Advantage of End of Summer Sales

Timing is everything. While retailers tend to offer some good sales on back-to-school items, clothing can still be expensive regardless of when you purchase the apparel.

Tammy Myers, a single parent of two who works as a nurse, claims that the best time to score deals from retailers is when they’re trying to empty out inventory. She lives in the Midwest where the weather is still pretty warm during the first few weeks of the school year. This allows her to shop the end of summer sales in August instead of buying fall clothes.

“I can usually find outfits for my son to wear for two to five dollars since stores are trying to get rid of summer clothes and push fall clothes for the kids going back to school,” says Myers.

“I found okay deals on clothes during the back to school season, but they are much better after Labor Day or in October.”

Myers also recommends shopping at department store sales and factory outlet stores for good prices on quality brands. If your kids need gym shoes for fall sports for example, an outlet store like Nike or Adidas may have a better deal than regular retail shoe stores, she says.

Shop Used First

This is something I started doing when I was a single parent and I still do it today to save money. If you have younger kids, you too can particularly benefit financially by shopping at thrift stores like Goodwill before going to regular stores.

Over the years, I’ve been able to find quality fall clothing items- some name brands – and it’s helped me save money in the long-run. If you like to shop online, ThredUp is one of my favorite sites to order gently used clothing for cheap.

Pay Attention to Coupons

Even if you start saving up in advance for back-to-school shopping, you’ll still need to shop wisely especially if you’re buying items for more than one child.

Bush shops only at stores that have sales or where she can use coupons to use for supplies and clothes. So, pay attention to those annoying retail commercials at this time of year. You may even get coupons emailed to you or receive offers in the mail. Take advantage of what you need to stretch your dollars.

If you want to save time looking for coupons, consider using money-saving apps and sites like Ebates which is a free site that helps you earn cash-back on online shopping. Ebates also searches for relevant coupons you can use on your purchases. Some other coupon apps I like are Flipp, Cartwheel, and Honey.

Get Your School Supplies Sponsored

Yes, you can definitely get your school supplies sponsored for free. This what Sarah Bettencourt does when it’s time for her son to go back to school.

Bettencourt does social media management and branding work and uses her services to barter for free goods which is pretty genius.

“I partner with local toy stores and makers who can supply me with free school supplies,” Bettencourt says. “It’s typically more unique than normal school supplies but it makes a statement and allows me to get some of our school supplies for free.”

Even if you don’t run a social media business, you can still barter and offer your skills to small business owners in exchange for freebies.

Save Up Gift Cards and Rewards

This is another unique way that Bettencourt uses to lower her out-of-pocket costs for school supplies and stick to her budget.

“Sometimes I save up my Target gift cards from birthdays and utilize those for supplies while doing a little couponing,” she says.

If you receive gift cards or store credits throughout the year, you can always hold onto these things for back-to-school shopping as well. If you earn credit card rewards or cash back, this can also come in handy when supplementing your spending for supplies and clothes.

Attend Free Back-to-School Events

If you’re looking for another way to get free school supplies, you can try attending local back-to-school events in your area.

Organizations and local businesses often sponsor these community events to get everyone excited about the upcoming school year and provide free entertainment, food, and school supplies.

“I went to a free back-to-school event once and got a few free school supply items including a backpack,” Bush says. “The supplies given away at these events are great basic items to start with if you don’t have any school supplies at all.”

Stress Less

This time of year is tough enough for single parents. So, don’t let the back-to-school season overwhelm you.

With a little planning and determination, you can stick to your budget while obtaining all the items your children need for the school year. Plus, with extra creativity, you can save big bucks while maybe even banking some cash.

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