Don't let back to school break the bank

TULSA - Before heading to the malls and stores for back to school shopping, the Oklahoma Society of CPAs say there are some things you can do to save some cash.

According to PriceGrabber, 63 percent of consumers plan to spend up to $500 on back-to-school shopping.

That's quite a bit of money for many Oklahoma families, so it's best to try and make that dollar amount stretch as much as possible.

Here are some ways to ace your back-to-school budget problems:

Take advantage of a tax-free weekend.

Oklahoma's tax-free weekend is Aug. 3 through 5 (see http://www.tax.ok.gov/stholiday.html ).

The goal is to assist Oklahoma parents with back-to-school shopping expenses.

Many other states offer similar sales tax holidays at back-to-school time.

During this period, shoppers will have the opportunity to purchase certain clothing and shoes sans sales tax.

In Oklahoma, to qualify for the savings, the sale of clothing and shoes priced at less than $100 are free from sales taxes. Oklahoma's CPAs caution, however, that a good deal shouldn't be an excuse to overspend.

Do a closet inventory.

Everyone knows kids grow out of clothes quickly.

However, before counting out last season's garments, check the closet to see if those khaki pants or that T-shirt still fit and are in good shape.

Maybe an older sibling's gently-worn clothes could be used to supplement a younger child's back-to-school wardrobe.

And don't forget to check out some resale shops for cool vintage clothing at a fraction of the retail price.

As part of your spending plan, figure out how many pairs of pants, shirts and socks your child needs.

Remember, buying mix-and-match clothing may be less expensive in the long run than buying pants that can only be worn with certain tops, and vice versa.

Also, make sure to consult the school's dress policy first to ensure your child can actually wear what you buy.

Organize a swap.

Get with other parents — in the neighborhood, PTO or church — and, rather than buy all new items, figure out what you can each trade.

You can also check out swapping sites like SwapMamas.com .

Items should be in like-new or good condition. 

Set a spending plan.

Before you head to the nearest mall, make sure you have your shopping list in hand.

Without a pre-determined list of needed items, you could be asking for trouble.

Items to possibly include on your list besides clothing and shoes are sporting or hobby equipment like cleats or ballet slippers; class supplies like notebooks, binders and crayons; and electronic devices and computer equipment.

Involve your children.

Back-to-school shopping provides an excellent opportunity to teach your children money management skills.

Concepts like comparison shopping, distinguishing needs from wants and sticking to a budget may all be taught during back-to-school shopping.

By involving your children in the decision-making process, you can help them learn life-long financial lessons.

Pack lunches.

Making meals at home is almost always less expensive and more nutritious.

Get older kids more excited about taking lunch by getting them in the kitchen and letting their creative juices flow.

With younger kids, give them special surprises, like cutting their sandwiches using fancy cookie cutters. Also, buy in bulk, but don't buy snack-size.

You can make your own snack-size portions using reusable containers and save lots of money in the process.

Look for deals year round.

Nothing says your children must start the first day of school with a closet full of new outfits.

Buy the necessities prior to the first day of class and then keep an eye on sales and other bargains throughout the year to finish out the rest.

Plus, if your child experiences a huge growth spurt, you won't have wasted your entire year's clothing budget at the beginning of the school year.

If you buy out-of-season (e.g., buying winter clothes in the summer and summer clothes in the winter), you can estimate what size you think your child will be or you can buy a couple of sizes larger and give your child room to grow.

It's best, however, to only use this strategy with clothing basics.

Buying trendy items means you run the risk of buying clothes your children won't want to wear because they are no longer in style.

For more money tips, visit KnowWhatCounts.org , where you can sign up for a free e-newsletter, test financial calculators, get a free CPA referral and more.

The above information was provided by the Oklahoma Society of CPAs.

What day does your child return to school? What are the days they're not in class? What supplies do they need? Check out our Back to School guide . You'll find area school districts' 2012-2013 calendars and school supplies lists.

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