August 1, 2012

Back to School on a Budget

Nan Jensen,
Extension Agent,
Family and Consumer Sciences 

Parents can expect to pay as much as 6 percent more to send their children to grades K-12 this year, according to the 2012 Huntington Backpack Index issued by Huntington Bank (NASDAQ: HBAN; Much of the increase comes from the higher cost of school supplies and some common extracurricular activities. This increase can put a big squeeze on the family budget but there are some things you can do to help stretch your back to school dollars.

Start your shopping early. Retail stores begin sales early in the hopes of gaining customers. Most will have school supplies like pens, paper, crayons and notebooks at low prices, often below wholesale, just to get you in the door.

Coupons and coupon codes can provide you with considerable savings. Many brand name manufacturers, as well as department stores, resort to deep discounts on some of their items in the hopes you will purchase additional items while shopping. The key to success it to use the coupon or coupon code for the sale items only. Combining the coupon with existing sales prices may double your savings.

Shop for bargains at discount and dollar stores. Often you can find the same item for less if you take the time to shop at discount stores. Look for in-store specials. Check clearance bins and sale aisles for items that you may need.

Swap items with other families. Kids that have moved on to middle or high school may have usable items that are still in good shape, but no longer needed. If you have items like book bags, calculators or school uniforms, see if you can find a family who may be willing to trade so your child gets what he or she needs.

Find deals online. Avoid the malls and do your back-to-school shopping online to save money on school supplies and clothes. Search for deals like online coupons, free shipping offers and stores with buy one, get one free deals. or are cash back sites that put money in your pocket with every purchase at your favorite store and will save you even more.

Take advantage of tax free holidays. Florida's tax free weekend has been reinstated for 2012 and is scheduled to take place from August 3-5, 2012. This is a perfect time to pick up school supplies, clothing, shoes, and other back-to-school shopping items without having to pay sales tax. Get free school supplies. With the cost of school supplies increasing each year, back-to-school events that offer free stuff can help lighten the load on the family budget. Some opportunities are restricted to families with low household incomes. But there are also plenty of media events and festivals that hand out school supplies to everyone, regardless of income. Here is listing of some in Pinellas County. 

Take advantage of programs that provide financial assistance for families. Several programs and resources are available to ease the financial burden of going back to school. These include low cost lunches and affordable health insurance. If you think your child may qualify for free or reduced-price meals pick up an application from the school your child will be attending. One family application must be submitted each year listing every child in the family. Questions regarding free and reduced-priced meals should be directed to the food service department at (727) 547-7151 or (727) 547-7161 here in Pinellas County.

For information on health insurance contact the Florida Kid Care Program at

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