This fall, my almost-2-year-old daughter will attend part-time daycare. Call it the toddler version of school. OK, so it's not the real deal yet, but we're going to be on a school-like schedule. To help us prepare, I've been asking moms who have done the back-to-school thing for their best tips on transitioning from the carefree days of summer to the busy routine of school time. I'd like to think that kids can make that leap effortlessly, but who am I kidding? It definitely takes planning to handle a transition that big. Luckily for me (and you), the moms I talked to had some amazing tips to share.

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Get on a BTS schedule a week before school starts.

You know, kind of like a dress rehearsal. Serve dinner on a weeknight schedule, get everyone to bed at the same time they‘ll go to bed on school nights, and make sure they’re dressed and fed breakfast by the time they'll need to be ready to leave for school. It might seem a little silly to go through the motions like this, but it does help everyone to know what to expect when the first day of school arrives, says Jennie Caroline, a mom of two from Columbus, Ohio. Her back-to-school wind up also includes scheduling reading or game time for when her kids will need to be doing homework every night. “It's a great way to help transition them from unstructured summer evenings to our structured school nights,” she says.

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Look for deals and discounts when back-to-school shopping.

Getting new clothes and school supplies for the upcoming school year is a fun tradition, and here's the thing: It doesn't have to blow your budget. Cut out coupons to take with you to the mall and comparison-shop online. Sign up for rewards programs (not credit cards!) at your favorite department stores, so you can earn points to use toward future purchases, as well as perks like free shipping and exclusive coupons. The extra money you save can go into your child’s 529 savings account.

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Talk to your child about his fears.

The unknown of new teachers and classmates can be stressful to kids of all ages, but touching base with your child can help alleviate his concerns. “We begin talking about the new school year a few weeks before the first day,” says Julie Morgan of Currituck, North Carolina, who’s expecting her fourth child in the fall. “Helping them cope with any anxieties they might be having is important.” When I changed schools, my mom drove me to my new school about a week before classes started. Just seeing where I’d be spending my days helped me feel less anxious about my new surroundings.  

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Make a Homework Chart together.

This kind of chart helps kids be creative, as well as visualize their goals and stay organized throughout the school year. You might consider including some sort of reward system on the chart, such as a Friday evening ice cream cone or the promise of a weekend play date. “The chart helps me stay organized, too,” says Morgan. So, stock up on the stickers and crayons and get ready for less whining at homework time (hey, a mom can dream).

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Get in touch with classmate's parents.

If you have access to the class list with e-mail addresses, reach out to some of the other parents and introduce yourself and your child, suggests Madelaine Snodgrass, a mom of a first grader in Dallas, Texas. “That way, you and your kids go in with a buddy system of sorts,” she says. Forming these connections will be helpful for you throughout the year, too, she adds. “It’s given me a safety net, so I don’t have to rely as much on my 6-year-old to deliver important information.” Having access to other moms can save you in a carpool pinch, too.

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Set up a reading nook.

While a lot of homework needs to be worked on at a table, reading is something that can be done in a cozy space. Use found items or give your child a small budget for nook furnishings (think throw pillows and even a kid's tepee) and inspire her to spend some quiet time reading in the evenings. Even better, get the rest of the family involved in your child's evening reading assignment. Ashlynne Dezelske, of Lakeville, MN., says that her 6-year-old daughter cozies up with her little sibs and reads to them in her nook sometimes. “It’s fun bonding time for everybody and helps her sharpen her reading skills,” she adds. 

7 Easy Ways to Start the New School Year on the Right Foot


Get everything organized the night before.

“The morning shuffle is so much easier when things have been prepped the night before,” Snodgrass says. That means organizing outfits, packing lunches, and making sure school supplies and papers are in backpacks the night before. Bonus points if you organize their backpacks, shoes, and jackets all together by the door to avoid a frantic search right when it's time to leave. And, of course, getting yourself organized the night before helps, too! 


The ABC's of 529 college savings plans

The benefits include a variety of investment options and potential tax advantages.

Whether you've got toddlers, teenagers, or even grandchildren, one thing is certain: Paying for college seems to get more expensive every year. Given that the average annual cost (tuition, fees, and room and board) for a four-year, in-state public college is $18,943 for the 2014–2015 tuition year, and $42,419 per year for a four-year private college,1 it’s no surprise that college expenses can be overwhelming.

Footing college bills these days often takes every source of potential funding available to a parent, and there may be no better place to start than by opening and contributing to a 529 college savings plan account. Why? The restrictions are few, and the potential benefits can be significant for the account holder, including certain tax advantages, potential minimal impact on the financial aid available to the student, and control over how and when the money is spent.

Understanding the ins and outs of a 529 college savings plan may help you unlock one of the biggest bangs for your college-savings buck.

A 529 college savings account offers many advantages.

While there are several ways to save for college—such as opening a custodial account (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act [UGMA]/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act [UTMA] account), a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA), or even setting money aside in a taxable account — the potential advantages of a 529 college savings plan distinguish it from the rest.

Designed specifically to help pay for qualified costs associated with higher education, a 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged account that allows for distributions to pay for things like tuition, fees, books, supplies, and any approved equipment the student may need to study at accredited institutions. In addition, you can take distributions for room and board, as long as the beneficiary of the plan is attending the school at least part time. When 529 funds are used for these qualified purposes, there is no federal income tax on investment gains (no capital gains tax, ordinary income tax, or Medicare surtax).

Typically, a parent or grandparent opens the account and names a child or other loved one as the beneficiary. Each plan is sponsored by an individual state, often in conjunction with a financial services company that manages the plan, although you don’t have to be a resident of a particular state to invest in its plan.


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