Mama Bear Moxie: Surviving back to school on a budget

When tackling the kids’ school supply lists, be sure to check out what you already have on hand at home. Some supplies will last more than a single school year. (Davie Hinshaw / AP)

Every August and September, I feel as though my checkbook is going to catch on fire from all of the use that it gets. School registration fees, school supplies, new clothes for growing kiddos and school pictures can all wreak havoc on the family finances. Here are a few tips on ways to save during this busy season:

Look at home

When you get those long school supply lists, the first place I look is my kids craft area. There was a time when I would go out and buy all brand new items, but now I have enough left over from previous years that many items can be reused. For example, my kids have art boxes for school but not everything in the art box gets a lot of use. So, instead of throwing out the art box at the end of the school year, I gather up what supplies can be salvaged and make it another year.

Don’t be afraid of used

I have always loved consignment shops when dealing with kids clothes. Not only can I sell my kids’ outgrown clothes, but I can also pick up great items at a deep discount. My oldest always needs clothes while my middle child has an overabundance of hand me downs. Thankfully my middle son doesn’t care about wearing second-hand clothes and likes being able to wear stuff that his big brother had. My daughter also has many used items in her closet that will last her a few years now after gathering different sizes at garage sales and consignment shops.

Limit school lunches

This is a new idea my husband and I started this past year. We realized that our food budget was always the same throughout the year, but then we were also spending up to $100 a month on school lunches. Technically, if we can get by with the same amount of food in the summer, why can’t we do the same during the school year? We decided to limit our kids to choose two school lunches that they wanted to purchase a week. This has drastically cut down on lunch money and has made our kids think about how to plan their week and then pack lunch. School lunches are really cheap at about $3 a meal, but multiply that by three kids and we could easily be spending an extra $40 per week just on lunches. So far it has worked out great.

School pictures

I know many parents who are foregoing the obligatory school picture purchase for some well-staged pictures at home. With technology, there are so many options that we can do in order to get a great picture using our phones. Run that picture through a filter, and you’ve got your own free picture instead of spending $50. Also, you can print the sizes that you need instead of ending up with a zillion wallets that you will feel bad about throwing away.

Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois. www.mamabear moxie.com. Visit her website at www.mamabearmoxie.com.