Managing your money for back-to-school season

Peggy Olive, Extension Financial Capability Specialist
UW-Madison School of Human Ecology

Total Time – 7:36

0:13 – Back to school shopping in 2019
0:32 – What we’re spending
1:05 – Today’s biggest buys
1:39 – Elementary, Middle/High School, and College
2:12 – Spending and Saving Tips
3:51 – When spending starts
4:45 – Tips for College students
6:18 – Smart budgeting
7:25 – Lead out 



Adam Wigger: Managing your money for back to school season. We’re talking today with Peggy Olive, Extension Financial Capability Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension and the School of Human Ecology, and I’m Adam Wigger. Peggy, what is the deal with the back to school situation this summer? 

Peggy Olive: Well, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation, it sounds like families will be spending more than they have the last few years and back to school expenses. An average just over seven hundred dollars per family. 

Adam Wigger: What are the things that we’re spending on – I know we’ve got school supplies, but does that figure also include registration fees. 

Peggy Olive: That includes the school supplies, as you mentioned, in terms of small electronics, notebooks. It also includes clothing, shoes, those other items that you might need. That doesn’t even include particular school fees or expenses or if you don’t think about if kids earn back to school extra curricular activities or things like that. So it could even be more depending on what your kids are involved in. 

Adam Wigger: What are families spending on more now and like this year than they were in the past? 

Peggy Olive: The survey doesn’t actually break down the individual – how much is spent on each item but we know in general college students are spending more on electronics than they are in high school or elementary schools. So the spending might shift a little just depending on the child’s age and you could imagine with some electronics some things have gone up in price but then you’re also need to have a lot more and keep that restocked and up to date. 

Adam Wigger: With this study, does it take a look at trends across the board or does it break it down into like elementary, middle, high school, college? 

Peggy Olive: It pretty much just covers the primary schools and then the college. So just breaking down in terms of at the elementary schools maybe they’re spending a little bit more on clothing especially when you think about how quickly kids grow and things need replacing. And then some of those school supplies versus as I mentioned in college, the electronics, maybe it’s supplies for a dorm room or some other things that kids need when they’re living independently. 

Adam Wigger: Yeah I’d imagine especially for college students, textbooks are really expensive. What kind of resources or tips and tricks does Extension have for families looking to save a couple of bucks? 

Peggy Olive: Oh sure. It’s all about you know planning ahead taking inventory of what you already have. So seeing if there’s some items you can reuse from last year because that’s great because you do you really need to replace that lunchbox or the backpack as much as you know it would be fun. But maybe they’re all still usable. As I mentioned with young kids they might be outgrowing some things and if they’re growing really rapidly as especially real young ones maybe just getting a few back to school clothing items and then spreading that out to get more items like the heavier winter clothing or a winter coat. Because we’ll keep growing and then it’ll fit them later in the year and then you’ll also be able to spread out purchases. So taking an inventory coming up with a budget in terms of how much you realistically can spend – you know how much do you have in your paycheck or in a checking or savings account and doing what you can to stick to that budget using those creative strategies. You know are there as I mentioned there’s other things you can reuse. Are there used clothing or swapping with neighbors or friends. You know if their kids were in that grade last year maybe there’s particular supplies or calculator you might need that they could at trade or purchase second hand. So even just using those creative strategies that parents are so good at to come up with a few ways to save money and just seeing how this fits in their overall budget so they can kind of plan their spending over these next few months of back to school. 

Adam Wigger: When would you say back to school spending really starts?

Peggy Olive: I would like to see it starting all year round just so parents can spread out those purchases. But if you go to some of the big box stores you really see there’s some great school sales and the month of August if you had started at the end of July which can get a little depressing for some kids seeing those school supplies on sale already. But it’s a great time to buy some of those basic school supplies, and also if families sometimes can take advantage of free clothes shopping, tax free clothes shopping opportunities. I know Wisconsin has had this starting as an annual event. So even looking for those opportunities to take advantage of that it sounds like according to the Retail Federation like Amazon Prime Day was also they saw a boost in some of those back to school items that people maybe couldn’t buy locally to. So just looking for those opportunities to save a little money. 

Adam Wigger: Are there any particular tips your tricks that you might have for college students especially since a lot of our listeners are students here in the UW system or in Wisconsin in general? What might you say is a really good way for students who might be paying their own way through school to not necessarily cut some of these corners but to save a couple of bucks? 

Peggy Olive: Oh sure. And I think you know if you’re brand new college student or a freshman going to live off dorms I think most college students do a really great job of contacting a roommate to see you know splitting up those purchases, seeing what the roommates going to provide, what they can provide, just to kind of split it down the middle so that’s always a great strategy because there’s many things you don’t need two of and you can just flip what you have. And then the same thing as much as it would be nice to have brand new of everything, are there some items maybe your laptop or a printer or something you could get another year or two out of – maybe even your phone that you don’t have to replace every year so maybe you could just stretch that a little bit more. You know it just kind of thinking about what’s your budget overall what, are you willing to cut back on a little, and especially if you would like to get something new like a new phone or a new laptop, planning where that money’s going to come from. So maybe you’ll spend less on some clothing purchases so you can save some of that money for your electronics. So I think just overall having an idea of how much you can spend and want to spend and then figuring out what your priorities are. If it’s all about laptop great if it’s all about the latest fashions, OK put your money there and reuse your laptop. So really just knowing how much you have and sticking to what’s important to you within that budget. 

Adam Wigger: Is there any other information from your recent report that you want to get out there and make sure that our listeners hear? 

Peggy Olive: I’ve been mentioning the word budget a few times and I think anytime there’s purchases planned in the family and they involve your children, it’s a great time for children and young adults and college students to learn about just some of those budgeting skills. I mentioned prioritizing so we all only have so much money to work with. So it’s a great opportunity for parents and young adults to have that conversation about “OK, This is how much we have in our budget. So what’s most important and let’s plan on that” and then other items we either have to skip or find a way to buy cheaper or postpone that purchase. So it’s a great opportunity even with young little ones you know with if you have 6, 7, 8 year olds you can have that conversation about OK, We have to buy. We have this much money we have to buy these many folders or these many pencils. So even just thinking out loud and modeling decision making so that children can learn that yeah we have to decide what we’re going to get, and we only have so much to go around. 

Adam Wigger: Thanks Peggy. We’ve been talking today with Peggy Olive, Extension Financial Capability Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension and the School of Human Ecology, and I’m Adam Wigger.

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