Back-To-School Budget Busters

Picture by Peter Griffin, used with permission


I’m breaking away from the blogging plan this week to feature posts on back-to-school budgeting.

If you haven’t already seen it, make sure to take a peek at my post on budget-friendly school lunches.

For some of the country school started a few weeks ago, but most of the country is still in preparation mode. We all know that now is the best time to stock up on supplies like pencils and crayons, but what about the other expenses associated with school? This post discusses two of the biggest back-to-school budget busters, uniforms and annual physicals.


Required by most private and charter schools, and a large percentage of public schools, uniforms can take up a huge chunk of your back-to-school budget. Buying uniforms was always stressful to me because some of their schools required us to use very expensive uniform companies. Here are some tips for saving:

-If your school requires uniforms with the school logo, or uniforms purchased from a sole retailer, try to buy used. Our school had several options for people who wanted used uniforms; there was an email list dedicated solely to selling and buying used uniforms, the nurse maintained a uniform closet filled with uniforms donated for those in need and each year the school sponsored a used uniform sale with items as low as $1. If your school doesn’t offer these try searching your local thrift store (yes, I have found school uniforms there!), Freecycle group or Craigslist.

-Some schools don’t require uniforms with logos, instead they restrict the color and type of shirts and pants you can wear. My children attended a public school for one year that required polo shirts in red, blue, pink or white and khaki or navy blue pants. I bought each child just 1 shirt and pair of pants to get them through the first week, after that these items go on clearance for major savings. Usually the clearance deals beat out buying these items used at thrift stores.

My favorite stores to shop for these items were Target (online and in-store), Walmart (online with in-store delivery) and JCPenney (online for the weird sizes, in-store for the best deals on common sizes).

Physicals and immunizations

In my state an annual physical and updated immunization record/waiver is needed, if your child wants to play sports an additional physical is needed. There’s not a lot you can do to avoid this, but there are ways to cut down the cost.

-First and foremost, if you don’t have the correct papers to file with the school get them before you go to the doctor. In Florida there is a blue form for the child’s immunization record/waiver, a yellow form for the physical, and a red & white form for the sports physical. Each of these can be picked-up at the school or printed out on the internet. Our doctor keeps most of the forms in office but I have visited and discovered that they were out of the forms.

-If the school district offers free or low cost physicals, take advantage of them. Our district offers $10 physicals to children entering middle and high school and free vaccine boosters for children entering 7th grade.

-Many walk-in clinics offer school physicals and immunizations for a flat fee, often discounted in the summer months. I’ve seen these fees as low as $20 and as high as $60, make sure you take your child’s immunization records with you.

-Most county health departments offer free or low-cost vaccines all year, physicals during the summer months. If this isn’t feasible, ask your doctor if they participate in the Vaccines For Kids program, a program that provides free vaccines in-office (you will have to pay a small fee for paperwork, usually $10).

-Schedule everything for one visit. If you’re paying to see the doctor you might as well have them fill out each form at the same visit, especially if your child needs a 2nd physical for sports. This will save you a co-pay and time. When possible schedule this visit at least 2 months in advance, I’ve found that the doctors are much busier in the weeks before school.

-Schedule your physical as late in the summer as possible, even if it’s one or two days before school starts (or a day or two after, most schools give you a month to catch-up with the doctor visits). Physical and immunization forms are generally good for 1 year, if the circumstances fall right (and they have for us), it’s possible to eek two years out of one school physical. I’m strictly talking about the annual physical here, and I only recommend this to those who are really struggling financially. If you can take your child to an annual physical I strongly suggest you do, even if it’s in the middle of the school year as you can have the doctor fill out the forms for the following year.

-Make copies of each form! It has happened to me; I paid for the doctor’s appointment, turned the forms into the school, and they were promptly lost. Our doctor will gladly fill out the forms again, for a $10 fee per form. Save yourself the hassle, make 2 copies of each form.

-If your insurance offers free physicals make sure your doctor’s office files it correctly. Two years in a row I paid for physicals when I didn’t have to, all because our doctor’s office was filing incorrectly with our insurance.

Have you already purchased uniforms and had your physicals this year? How did you save?


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