This year, Lee Huffman and his wife will spend about $500 on back-to-school costs for their first-grader. That figure could double when their 2-year-old enters kindergarten in a couple of years.
If you’re like Huffman, back-to-school expenses could pose a huge threat to your student loan debt repayment plan. According to a study by Huntington Bank, the average cost per child for back-to-school purchases ranged from $662 to $1,489, depending on the child’s age.
But Huffman, a travel blogger, isn’t worried that the large expense will impact the couple’s plan to pay off his wife’s $35,000 student loan balance early. With careful planning, they will be able to take the financial hit without breaking stride while tackling student loan debt. Here’s how.
3 ways parents can manage back-to-school costs
Regardless of your income level, spending hundreds of dollars on school necessities isn’t an exciting prospect.
These three tips will help you get your child school-ready without breaking the bank.
1. Find areas to cut costs
Depending on how old your child is, your biggest expenses will vary.
For example, a Capital One survey showed that 34 percent of high school students listed mandatory school fees as their top expense. Four in 10 parents of elementary school children, however, listed school pictures as their biggest school-related cost.
Whatever your costs are, find ways to cut them. Here are a few examples:
- Do your own photo shoot instead of paying for an expensive school-sponsored photographer.
- Shop discount stores for clothing and school supplies.
- Cut back on extracurricular activities.
- Use a rewards credit card to get money back on your purchases.
2. Save up
“Rather than get hit with big once-a-year expenses like this, we set aside money each month into an online savings account earmarked for those bills,” Huffman said.
So, for a $500 back-to-school shopping bill, Huffman and his wife set aside approximately $42 a month in a separate savings account. Once their daughter enters kindergarten, that monthly savings transfer will go up to $84.
Not only does this strategy give you peace of mind, but it also can help you avoid financing your school shopping with a high-interest credit card.
3. Find ways to earn extra cash
Since his daughter has outgrown her crib and rocking chair, Huffman will be selling them to help pay for back-to-school shopping.
“Take a look around the house and see if there is anything you can sell on eBay or Craigslist,” Huffman explained.
Also, if you don’t already have a side hustle that generates extra income, consider finding one that fits into your schedule and lifestyle. Examples include providing childcare in your home or selling items on Amazon.
3 strategies for staying on track with student loan repayment
If you can manage your back-to-school costs well enough, they might not hinder your student loan repayment plan at all. Here are a few ways you can make your student loan payments more affordable regardless.
1. Refinance your loans
With a good income and credit history, refinancing your student loans can lower your interest rate, your monthly payment, or both.
“We'll be refinancing [my wife’s loans] into a five- or 10-year variable rate loan, which will lower the interest rate considerably from her current fixed rate loan and allow more of her payment to go toward the balance,” Huffman explained.
Refinancing with a longer repayment period might mean more interest in the long run. But it could give you some much-needed relief now with a lower payment. Some refinancing lenders, such as SoFi, offer repayment periods as long as 20 years.
2. Apply for an income-driven repayment plan
If you have federal student loans, there are four income-driven repayment plans that help make your payments more affordable.
For example, Income-Based Repayment (IBR) limits your monthly payment to between 10 and 15 percent of your discretionary income, which is defined as the difference between your income and 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your state.
Depending on your current monthly payment, income, and family size, an income-driven repayment plan could cut your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars.
For example, say your adjusted gross income is $60,000 for a family of four. You have $40,000 in student loans on a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan at 6.25% APR. In this scenario, your monthly payment would be $449.
Now let’s say you qualify for an IBR plan payment at 10 percent of your discretionary income — that is, all your student loans were disbursed after July 1, 2014.
In the continental U.S., the poverty guideline for a family of four is $24,600, making your discretionary income $23,100.
$24,600 x 150 percent = $36,900
$60,000 - $36,900 = $23,100
With this number in mind, your new monthly payment would be $193, saving you $257 a month.
3. Consolidate your student loans
If you have federal student loans, an alternative to an income-driven repayment plan is a Direct Consolidation Loan, which allows you to consolidate one or more federal student loans into a new loan.
This won’t lower your interest rate. In fact, the new interest rate will be the weighted average of the loans you’re consolidating, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth percent.
However, as you consolidate your loans, you can qualify to extend your repayment period to up to 30 years. In contrast, the Standard Repayment Plan for federal student loans is 10 years.
Extending your repayment period through a Direct Consolidation Loan can result in more interest over the life of the loan. But if your income increases over time, you can make extra payments or refinance with a shorter term.
Don’t let unexpected costs derail your goals
For most parents, back-to-school shopping isn’t unexpected; the total cost, however, can be. As you prepare your child to return to school, estimate the costs beforehand and make sure you can afford them.
More importantly, start preparing for next year now. The more cash you have for the next back-to-school season, the easier it will be to focus on important financial goals, including paying down your student loans.
This article was written by Ben Luthi, a staff writer for Student Loan Hero.