Back to School without Breaking the Bank

Back to SchoolFor some parents, the start of the new school year is a welcome return to routine and the end of needing to find daytime entertainment or child care.  Other parents mourn the loss of carefree summer days and a big hit to the wallet. Going back to school challenges parents to pay for all the school supplies and clothing children need for the year without overspending.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that aside from the winter holiday season, back to school shopping is the biggest retail event of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, families across the country spend billions annually, and the numbers are up this year, with shoppers expected to spend an average of $688 per household. That adds up to about $29.5 billion.

So what can parents do to ease the financial burden? 

Take inventory

The first step in planning for purchases is to focus on your lists. Teachers and schools often provide grade-level lists of recommended or required supplies.  Many items on those lists are the same year to year, so check to see if you have anything from last year that wasn’t used or can be re-used instead of buying new.

Have your children check their closets and drawers to sort out the clothes they’ve outgrown or are too worn for school. Make sure younger siblings get first dibs on hand-me-downs! From there, narrow down what should be bought to start the school year.

Set your budget

Families with multiple children sometimes have an especially tough task when it comes to budgeting and making sure every child gets what he or she needs. You can choose to divide your budget equally and give each child the same value of supplies and clothes, but you might also account for the fact that some things — especially clothing and shoes — for older kids are more expensive, and therefore require a bigger piece of the spending pie. The most important thing to do is stick as closely to that budget as you can.

Look for special promotions

Watch for back-to-school sales. Many stores will have promotional discounts and even two-for-one deals. Compare prices online and look for retailers that offer free shipping. Check the warehouse stores like BJ’s and Costco for prices on buying in bulk. Maybe you can split the costs with a friend.

Backpacks and lunchboxes can be expensive, but popular catalog retailers and online merchants often have sales on those big-ticket items. Seek out coupon codes before you check out!

Department store sales typically start on Thursdays. While it might be more convenient to shop on the weekend, consider making a trip to the mall on a Thursday to catch those savings on the best selections.  The bonus is, the store will likely be less crowded than on the weekend.

What’s in a name?

As for that list of classroom supplies, it’s okay to buy the inexpensive versions instead of the pricier name brands for things like dry erase markers, glue sticks, folders, notebooks, erasers, and pencils.  You might even consider putting the money you save into buying a few extra items for the teacher to have on hand.

Be thrifty

Consignment and thrift stores get new donations of gently used clothing at the end of the summer. For quality merchandise at low prices, it’s worth shopping to see what you can add to your children’s wardrobes without breaking the bank.

The final tip when it comes to back to school shopping is to not wait until the last minute. Frivolous spending happens when we’re pressed for time and rushing to check things of our lists. Give yourself the time you need to be a smart shopper. Have a great school year!

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