It’s that time of the year! Aisles of notebooks, folders, lunchboxes and more greet you at the entrance of every retailer’s store. Ad circulars and commercials remind you that it’s time to open your wallet and checkbook for back-to-school shopping.
1. What do you already have?
According to recent studies, back-to-school purchases have grown substantially over the past decade, with 2016 shoppers spending an average of nearly $700! That’s a lot of money for any family, so I reached out to those who know best – other parents – and collected their suggestions for ways to save on back-to-school spending.
Dana, a mother of a daughter entering middle school, suggests taking inventory of what you already have before you ever start shopping. She notes that keeping everything in one closet can help.
While this tip might seem obvious, do you really remember all those clearance notebooks you bought last year for 25 cents? If you’re like many parents, probably not. Do you recall what your kids brought home at the end of school last year? More than likely, their ruler and scissors still work, so there’s no need to buy them again. Scratching a couple of items off your supplies list before you ever start shopping can put you ahead of the game.
2. Stick to a list and budget.
Brooke, a mother of three, says to avoid buying things you don’t need just because they’re on sale. Start with a back-to-school shopping list and budget. Then stick to it!
She adds, “Don’t let your kids lead you to overspend. If you’re not careful, they can talk you into the latest gadget, that then collects dust in their desk.” She explains that her family instead turns back-to-school into a learning experience by giving each child a small allowance to spend on an extra item of their choice. Everything else that is purchased is on the shopping list.
3. Shop the ads!
Tylor, a father of three, says he and his family depend on the sales to get significant discounts. He notes that you may not be able to get it all at once, since some items may be on sale one week and others the next. If you are willing to do a little research (most retailers put their weekly ad online or in the Sunday paper) you can save a bunch of money.
Says Tylor, “Last year, at one store we purchased $40 worth of supplies - notebooks, folders, glue, scissors and pencils - and after the discounts we spent just over $10. Almost a 75% discount!”
4. Shop online.
Laura, a mother of three with kids of their own, recommends shopping online and having it shipped to your home. Along with avoiding long lines in stores, you will be less likely to make impulse purchases. She also says to check out coupon phone apps, like Coupon Sherpa and RetailMeNot, for both online and in store savings.
5. Stock up ahead of time. . .but know when to wait.
Scott, a father of two, notes that there are some items you can buy throughout the year as you see them on sale. For example, you can be pretty certain your student will need pens, pencils, paper and glue, and even if you get the wrong kind, you can still use it at home. For other items – like calculators or protractors – it might be best to wait. Get specific directions from your child’s teacher, before wasting money on the wrong thing.
He adds, “Some elementary schools provide supply lists ahead of time, and that can be a big help. Check the school website for a list or contact the school and ask for one.”
6. Buying the cheapest may not be best.
Stephanie, a mother of two, says she learned over the years that spending less can actually cost more. For example, buying a cheaply made backpack may mean you are buying a replacement halfway through the semester. Spend a little more on a well-constructed backpack, and your child may be using the same one for several years.
Protect items that will be exposed to more wear and tear. For example, folders and notebooks have a tendency to rip and fray. Buy some clear contact paper to cover flimsy items that need extra protection. Some schools even encourage this.
7. Save up your rewards and redeem them.
Jennie, a mother of two, says she saves up rewards from loyalty cards and credit cards throughout the year, so she can use them for back-to-school. Use them for discounts at clothing retailers, office supply stores or online sites.
Another idea is to redeem rewards for gift cards you can use for back-to-school shopping. Just be sure to order them in time to give your school shopping budget a boost.
8. Hold a clothes swap.
Tami, a mother of middle schoolers and high schoolers, says she and her friends (typically 10-12) host an annual clothes swap. She explains, “We bring all of the clothes that don’t fit or we don’t want anymore. We put them in baskets, chit chat and shop each other’s castoffs. My 10- and 12-year-old girls, who think some of my friends are pretty trendy and stylish, will rummage through the wares and find a lot of cute stuff for free."
She adds, "My 3 kids each get a new pair of shoes and 2 outfits each year. I then use rewards from the store to purchase the not so fun stuff like socks and underwear."
Hopefully these tips will help save some of your hard-earned money this back-to-school season. Having a plan for spending less can reduce your stress, so you and your kids can enjoy those last few weeks of summer break.
Ben is responsible for enhancing Old National financial literacy initiatives by partnering with schools, colleges, universities, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. In 2017, Ben was recognized by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) with its coveted Financial Education Instructor
of the Year Award.
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