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Budget early for school expenses

By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A well-planned budget and smart shopping can help prevent the pain at the pump from spreading to the classroom.

Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said families should save money for occasional expenses like back-to-school and the holidays.

“One temptation when occasional expenses come up is to charge things and use credit to pay for them, but even when you decide to use credit, you still have to have a plan for how you're going to pay that off,” Shaffett said. “In our country, we've had a negative savings rate for several years, and the way people do that is using credit and savings to spend more than they earn.”

Budget planning extends beyond occasional expenses to daily ones, like grocery shopping. Reduce unnecessary grocery costs by taking inventory of what is already in the house, making a list of necessities and sticking to it.

Susan Cosgrove, Extension family resource management area agent, said families who cannot make ends meet have only two options -- raise income or reduce expenses.

“A lot of families have budgets that have been working, but even they are going to have to make revisions to allow for these increased prices,” Cosgrove said. “They're going to have to start giving up some things we think we have to have; they might have to get more basic cable plans and cell phone plans.”

Another luxury families can no longer afford is traveling from store to store to compare prices. Cosgrove suggests using advertisements in newspapers or on the Internet to make comparisons instead.

“If you don't subscribe to a newspaper, then if you buy a newspaper on the newsstands, especially on weekends, that's going to have many of the store advertisements in it,” Cosgrove said. “When shopping online, be sure it's a secured site, and take note of return policies and methods of payment.”

Of course, newspapers also advertise back-to-school sales, and Cosgrove said some sales could begin as early as June.

“However, after school starts, you might see a bigger discount on the items, just like after-holiday sales,” Cosgrove said. “If you can delay making some purchases until then, you might find a bigger discount.”

Some families may not need to purchase certain school supplies this year at all.

“See if you have some things already on hand that can be used again,” Cosgrove said. “There might be things, like book bags, that can be used more than one year.”

For more advice on back-to-school budget management, click on the “Calculators” link at http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com to find a back-to-school budget calculator. The Extension Service also has several publications on budgets at

http://www.msucares.com, including “Financial Fitness: Exercises to Shape Up Your Spending,” “Money Traps That Can Keep You Broke,” and “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise.”

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Released: July 3, 2008
Contact: Dr. Bobbie Shaffett, (662) 325-3080