Carol Hunter, a personal finance expert with Prosperity Unlimited, speaks to students during a Money School program Thursday, August 9, 2018 at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The program focused on giving families finance tips as they prepare for their children to go back to school.

School supplies, new clothes and tennis shoes, a fresh haircut, activity fees and class photos — back to school season can be an expensive time for many folks.

But it doesn't have to be, said "money mender" Carol Hunter at a workshop hosted by the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise Thursday night.

The workshop, part of the nonprofit's Money School After Hours program, focused on how to develop a family budget, prepare for expected expensive times of the year (like the first day of school, prom and the holidays) and achieve financial freedom.

"You can never talk about finances and money too much when it comes to family," said Hunter, a personal finance expert and executive director of Prosperity Unlimited.

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Ralfy Ibrahim listens to a speaker while Mequitta Owens holds onto her 3-year-old son, Myles Owens, as she takes notes during a Money School program Thursday, August 9, 2018 at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Owens said that she decided to attend the class after seeing a post about it on Facebook in order to better her own family's finances.

The best advice she has? Have a budget — or as Hunter calls it — a spending plan.

"A budget is not sitting down and writing down the numbers when it's time to pay the bills," Hunter said. "Budgeting requires planning. Technically, what money you're going to spend in August should have been figured out in July."

Mequitta Owens was inspired to attend the workshop, part of a monthly series, because her 3-year-old son, Myles, started preschool this year and she helps take care of her niece and nephew.

"I'm tired of living paycheck to paycheck," she said.

This summer, Owens had to pay for extra meals and entertainment while the children were home from school on top of gathering what they needed for the new school year.

"School supplies, school clothes This summer, I didn't think about a budget for food and entertainment," she said. At the workshop, Owens felt like she had a better grasp on what her financial priorities should be.

Marcy Leaf, a retired nurse practitioner, wasn't necessarily preparing her child for school, but she brought her daughter, Michaela Leaf, a rising senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, to the workshop anyway.

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Julie Clevenger, 16, Aden Henke, 15, and Adrian Oyler, 15, walk to the Foot Locker Monday, July 24, 2017, at Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tenn. The three were back-to-school shoe shopping.

"This is going to give her a framework and terms of working within," Marcy Leaf said. "There is so much to learn."

This wasn't the first financial education Michaela Leaf has received — she took a personal finance class during high school while attending Notre Dame School.

But the marketing major said she still wanted to learn more.

"I want help figuring out how to save and put extra money towards traveling," she said.

For parents gearing up for the school year, Hunter offered a few tips.

1. Shop off season.

Instead of toys at Christmas, buy summer clothes and school supplies that are on sale. Same goes for winter coats in the summer.

"Think about what is going to be deeply discounted," she said.

2. Always shop the outlets. Use apps like RetailMeNot to look for coupons and wholesale websites like

3. Finally, plan ahead for senior year.

"The most expensive year of a child's life: class yearbook, class ring, prom, class trip, college entrance fees," Hunter said. Parents should plan their budgets accordingly 6 to 12 months before their child enters senior year, she said.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.