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As our kids are now back in school, we look at all the bills for clothing, school supplies, and lunch snacks, and wonder if we could have spent less and still sent our children to school well prepared. The answer is YES! Here are three ways to do just that.

Chalk board

1. Prepare Year Round.

I take the school supply list of the next grade my kids will be in and staple it to a paper grocery sack. As I come across a listed item on sale throughout the year, I pitch it in the sack and cross it off the list. I keep the sack in my closet. Last year I kept it in the garage and found out that glue yellows in the summer heat.

I use this method with other items as well. When I see school clothes at a yard sale, even if they're larger than the size my boys wear now, I buy it and store it. I also accumulate backpacks and lunch boxes. When school started this year, I had 6 backpacks in our stash. I paid just 25¢ to 50¢ each for them. When I brought them out for the boys to pick their favorite, their eyes were as big as saucers at the array of choices! Fortunately, they each dove for a different one. I had only $2-$3 invested in these backpacks. I couldn't have bought ONE new backpack for that price. I'll return the remaining back packs to the closet for upcoming school years.

2. Shop Your Home First

Frequently, we make the mistake of automatically taking the school supply list to the store and purchasing each item brand new. Think about what's in your house first. How many 12 inch rulers do you have in your desk drawer? Do you really need to buy a new one each year? And how about all those pens and pencils? Our desk drawer is literally so full we have a tough time closing it. The same is true for clothing. Inventory what you have first. Your child may not have outgrown everything.

3. Reuse and Recycle

Your teen may think this is a radical idea, but you don't need to buy a new backpack if the one you have is still in good condition. Just tell her she's saving the environment, not to mention money. To save money (and trees) recycle those free folders and notebooks you got at a business meeting into school supplies. Let the kids put stickers or pictures over any company logos. With clothing, the more classic the style, the better. Navy or khaki shorts and pants are in style every year. Standard pullover shirts have been popular since the 60’s. If you have both boys and girls, buy clothing that's versatile. For example, primary colors are great for shorts, pullover shirts, and T-shirts that can easily be handed down to the next sibling regardless of gender. And white unisex socks are a smart option that will make your dollar go further.

Back-to-school doesn't have to mean back-in-debt if you use these frugal tips.

Copyright 2000, Frugal Family Network, Inc. Reprinted with permission www.frugalfamilynetwork.com