The Back-to-School Budget Crunch

By Michael Gutter, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Brittany Stahl, MS student, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Reviewed by Lisa Leslie, Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent II at UF/IFAS Extension-Hillsborough County

August marks the end of summer and the beginning of back-to-school preparation. Soon parents will find themselves not only with school supply lists, but also new clothing needs. All these purchases can get expensive!

How expensive? In 2012, over eight billion dollars were spent at clothing stores and two billion dollars were spent at bookstores during the “back to school” period. Those figures would be even higher if they included all school-related purchases, such as paper, pens, and electronics.

When I was growing up, back-to-school shopping was limited to new outfits and simple items like pencils and notebooks. But today, back-to-school lists may include new and expensive technology like laptops and tablets. This means even bigger bills in August.

So, what can be done to alleviate the back-to-school strain? We’ve got three helpful methods to prepare for the battle: 1) Start early; 2) Take advantage of discounts and deals; and 3) Keep it simple.

Start Early

You can start early in two ways. The first way is to start saving early. Back-to-school shopping occurs at the same time every year. Setting aside funds for this expected expense can help prevent going over budget come August.

The second way is to start shopping early. Go on smaller shopping trips throughout the summer rather than breaking the bank in one trip to the store. Spending a little from each paycheck will help prevent you from spending a whole paycheck on a single shopping trip.

Discounts and Deals

Sadly, Florida’s tax-free back-to-school shopping days have already passed. They were the 1st to the 3rd of August. Mark your calendar or set a reminder now for next year. Though the dates for next year’s tax-free weekend are not yet set, it’s usually the first weekend in August. Shopping tax-free is a simple way to save money. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Fortunately, there are still many other options to get more for your dollar. Stores are still having sales; at this time of year, there’s always some deal or another going on. The trick is to keep an eye out. Search for the best sales on the items you need.

Don’t forget to check online for special deals, too. Some companies offer special web-only coupons and sales. At this point it may be too late to order actual school supplies online, but you might find clothes at a great discount online.

Did you know that your smartphone can help you shop smarter? Various apps are now available to help you make sure you’re getting the best deal on an item. Consumers can scan the barcode of an item using their phones and find out where the best price is in the area and online. Couponing apps are also available. These are great if you find paper couponing too messy or time-consuming.

Finally, don’t forget to check local thrift, consignment, and used clothing store for clothes for your fast-growing kids and teens. In areas with a school dress code or school uniform, it’s often easy to find plenty of outgrown “uniform” clothes at these stores.

Keep it Simple

Go to the store with a list. Yes, this is an old adage–but if you go with a list of what you need and stick to it, you will spend less and be more likely to get exactly what you need. When you’re standing in the middle of the store, the situation can get stressful. The kids want everything, there are displays everywhere, and the crowds can be huge. A list can help cut down on this stress and make sure you get only what you came in for, no more and no less. You don’t want to walk away with five shirts and no pants when you came in for pants and didn’t really need shirts. And remember, you can always go back and buy more at a later date.

With the help of these tips, back-to-school shopping will hopefully be a little easier on the wallet, while still being a fun and exciting ritual for parents and kids. Have a great school year!

(Photo credit: school supply mountain by EvelynGiggles. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)


United States Census Bureau. Back to School: 2013-2014. Retrieved from


Posted: August 8, 2014

Category: Money Matters, Work & Life
Tags: Family Resource Management, Personal And Family Finances


December 10, 2019

I love using a bread machine, too! Thanks for the recipe, it's great finding something new to experiment with. I mostly use the basic cycle because I love basic white bread but, from time to time, it's nice trying something new.

March 20, 2017

Very interesting information, thank u grosir obat herbal

Carol Church

November 17, 2014

This recipe is amazing and delicious and you don't have to knead it. You can sub in whole wheat flour for about 50% of the flour, but may need to add more water, and the loaf will be flatter. The long rise and high water content give it amazing flavor and texture. I also use this recipe, which makes two loaves and is sort of similar, but not the same. Again, you can sub in whole wheat flour for about 50%. I also like to add sesame seeds. I make this one in traditional loaf pans with a silicone liner (otherwise it will stick) so it can be used for sandwiches more easily. I used to make this recipe every week but haven't been getting around to it lately.

Donna Stoddard
November 11, 2014

I am sharing this blog with all of my students' families. Beautifully written!

October 15, 2014

I've never seen meat on BOGO! I've seen sales on cost per pound, but how do they provide them as BOGO? Would like more information about this as that would be a tremendous savings and a do have a freezer.

Carol Church

October 15, 2014

And then there's the snack provided to the kids after the game! (I can go for fruit and water, but that is not what tends to be provided) Fortunately, the stand turns out to be not that visible to the kids...they didn't notice it, at least this first time.

October 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing this Carol. Those concession stands were always a concern for me, as a nutritionist and mom interested in healthy eating for my family. We almost never bought anything, which made me feel a bit guilty that I was not supporting the team, but I figured that our health was more important than a few dollars for the team. Not only do those foods provide more fat, sodium, and/or added sugars than most people need, they tend to fill you up so that you may not eat a healthy dinner after the game. Of course, that was the other annoying part of soccer games ... the team always wanted to stop at McDonald's after the game! Oh my ...

Carol Church

October 10, 2014

Hi Selina, You may be looking for a point of contact with the UF FYCS department? I will send you an email with the appropriate info. :)

Selina Lee
October 10, 2014

Hi, We need you in the community for purpose of educating youth on your resources. Is this the source of contact to participate in an upcoming event. Please reply at e-mail if so. Agriculture Dept has participated in a previous event with our organization. Thanks so much for the plethora of info that comes from your letters. we appreciate you. Selina Lee

Carol Church

October 9, 2014

My family is totally converted to no-cook overnight oatmeal, whch we had never tried before this post! My daughter loves banana-peanut butter with a tiny bit of chopped dark chocolate, and my son likes apple-cinnamon. I am not a morning person, so I love that I can make it the night before!!


September 25, 2014

I appreciate and agree with your comments, Kevin. Martial Arts are a special way to develop special talents that have gone by the wayside because we are too busy to slow down and realize that past practices, in many instances, still work well in our modern society -- especially with youth.

Kevin Folta
September 25, 2014

You raise a nice set of points there and maybe I can help expand them. I've studied for a long time, and one thing that is earned in training is a sense of community developing from common goals and collective perseverance. It is struggling together. It is setting unattainable goals, but then getting to them. "Special training" sessions are weekends of intense training that is awful. But you survive it and come out stronger. Nobody is a star. We're reminded that we can always do better and strive for perfection. You are always a student and learning, even when you're teaching. Those are some of the best lessons that can be learned and why kids should be involved in martial arts.

September 17, 2014

These are great suggestions. Wish I had time to try more of them than I will be able to try! Thanks for putting these together in one place ... great resource.

Linda Bobroff
September 8, 2014

Yes, a lot of people seem to like those flavored waters and sparkling waters. Call me a seltzer purist! Sometimes I do mix seltzer with orange juice or grape juice for a sparkly drink, so I'm not "pure" all the time ...


September 5, 2014

I find that if I carry a refillable water bottle with me I drink more during the day. I also prefer lemon sparkling water, with natural flavors. No calories, no sugar, no fat yet I get the bubbles!

Linda Bobroff
September 4, 2014

I'm actually not a big fan of water either, but I really enjoy seltzer, so that is my beverage of choice for hydration. You might try that and see if it works for you. No calories, no sugar ... great choice for thirst quenching.

September 4, 2014

It should be easy for me to drink more water, but somehow I don't. Thanks for the inspiration.

Linda Bobroff
September 3, 2014

This is a great blog post -- really enjoyed reading about this research and the fact that it demonstrated what I have long thought about this amazing book series -- that it has extremely positive messages and much to teach young people (and adults as well). One only has to be concerned about those readers who relate more to Malfoy or Voldemort than to Harry and his buddies ...

August 28, 2014

Howdy! I'm at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the fantastic work!

جريل تيفال
August 26, 2014

Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges. It was really informative. Your site is very useful. Thanks for sharing!

Michael Gutter
August 11, 2014

Excellent! We found some deals from online websites as well. This did require us to order two weeks ago or else we would not have had it arrive in time...

Carol Church

August 11, 2014

Just did my family's back to school shopping--I was able to find a $10 off coupon using a couponing app! :)

Karla Shelnutt
August 5, 2014

Good catch! Hopefully readers will still focus on the bottom line of this blog that suggests that consumers should be aware that many so-called super foods do not have super powers.

Cory Albrech
July 31, 2014

"Antioxidants protect your cells from damage and can boost your immune system." Umm, no. Nothing "boots your immune system", that's just one of those nonsense phrases from the alt-med & supplements community who think scientifical language legitimizes their claim. You're right to be wary of "superfood" claims, but also beware of false concepts like immune system boosting.

April 15, 2014

good article, thanks for information

Linda Bobroff
March 25, 2014

Getting a diagnosis is so important so that people can either make changes to reduce their risk of diabetes or begin to manage the disease if they already have it. In either case, lifestyle management can make a big difference in quality of life and long-term health. Thanks for the information about the on-line Diabetes Risk Test -- hopefully many people will take advantage of it.

March 25, 2014

Hey! AWESOME!! Thanks for the great info!!


March 20, 2014

Great addition. It is important that we check charges in bank statement, credit card statements, utilities, everything. Being a good consumer truly takes action on our part.

March 19, 2014

Good post. You mentioned here: "Be alert for bills, mail, or account statements that don’t arrive on time". To add to this, many people do not check their bank statements often enough to catch fraudulent activity in a timely manner. It is always a good thing to be mindful of the charges debiting an account and not take for granted that all charges are going to be legit.

March 1, 2014

This is great especially for people like me that needs financial help and assistance. I'll for sure share this to my friends. Thank you ecourtney. :)

Michael Gutter
February 13, 2014

Well said, I too have a growing collection of art projects and cards from my kids. I treasure these. In fact my wife still has a poem I wrote for her while we were dating in graduate school. She eventually had it mounted onto a plaque several years after we were married.

Linda Bobroff
February 12, 2014

This is a good reminder about what is really important on this holiday. It made me think about all of those cards I made for my parents when I was in elementary school know the ones with red paper and doilies! My mom kept those thoughtful (and cheap) cards for years and I too have some that my son made for me. Guess it is the thought that counts (although chocolate is really fun to get too, I must admit ...)!

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