Back To School: A Personal Finance Perspective

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It’s hard to believe that we’re already approaching mid-August, but it’s almost time for the return to classes for the many students across all ages and levels of education. Returning to the school environment inevitably includes a slate of expenses. Primary and secondary students will need to stock up on supplies, while post-secondary terms always begin with a ritual dreaded by many: the search for textbooks and course materials that may in some cases cost hundreds of dollars as new editions roll out on an annual basis.


According to the National Retail Federation, American back-to-school shoppers will spend $76 billion this year, and families are spending 55% more than they did a decadeĀ ago. This shift is likely driven by the increasing perceived importance of electronics and technology in school environments. Laptops, tablets and other devices make for excellent organizational and research aides, but their necessity and longevity are subject to much scrutiny on the part of educational professionals, and not all programs require their use.

Back to school planning is a great place to practice your budget development skills and to assess major spending and saving categories. Younger students can add personal finance basics to the skills they learn in preparation for school, and the preparatory run through August can create lots of relatable examples with which to coach and illustrate good personal financial skill-building, from meal planning to supplies to longer term savings goals that apply throughout the school year.

More mature students will face significant costs associated not only with tuition, but course materials and furnishings. Many services exist to help university and college students save by acquiring secondhand items passed down from older peers. A significant number of course materials are also migrating online as e-book resources: opting for these can offset the cost of new textbooks. Social pressures can also correlate with increased spending at colleges and universities, making it all the more important for students to track their spending and plan to save enough for emergencies.

Going back to school after a relaxing and enjoyable summer might be a bit of a shock to the system, but it doesn’t need to be a shock to the wallet. With good foresight, agency, and tracking, as well as engagement of some thrift-focused practices, you might learn


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