It seems like every year there's more to buy to get ready to go back to school, but there are ways to be cost effective and still get everything students need.

Terri Angel is mother of three and each of her children attends a different school, so she has a 'command centre' to help kept rack of everything.

"Anything you get to and from school I need this to be the area…It's going to be a bit of an organizational challenge for me."

She will also face financial challenges and middle daughter Caitlin Haid, who is starting Grade 8 this fall, knows what that means.

"This year I'm getting her hand me downs, which is probably good because mine's wrecked a little bit."

That's one way to help save, and Mosaic Counselling Manager Heather Cudmore, says there are several strategies families can use to stay on budget.

She says she understands the "feeling that you're an unfit parent if you don't have new clothes, new binder, new pens, papers." But she wants people to consider "Is that something that's actually needed? Realistically what can you afford?"

Cudmore offers three tips to save on back to school spending:

  • Take an inventory of what you already have and see what you can recycle.
  • Plan your trip. Know where you're going and what you're buying so you don't get distracted.
  • Stay focused. Have a dollar figure that you plan to spend and stick to it.

The cost of heading back to class for post-secondary students can be significantly higher.

Staff at the University of Waterloo says students can expect to pay $17,000 for the eight month academic year, including living expenses.

Maureen Jones, director of Student Awards and Financial Aid at the University of Waterloo, says the first tip for smart financial planning is simple.

"I think the important thing is that they have actually come with a budget…There are some times when we see students that really have no idea about how much things are going to cost."

Alex Tikky, a third year urban planning student, says the trickiest part is calculating the so-called extras.

"Balancing all of that and really looking at how much should I be paying, am I paying too much, especially for groceries."

A new Bank of Montreal study found Canadian families plan to spend an average of $319 on back to school supplies.

Coming up in part three: What exactly are people buying? The hottest clothes, supplies and technology for the classroom.