Laptops and textbooks and backpacks, oh MY! It’s ba-aack…! Yep, it’s that time of year when back-to-school shopping threatens to blow the family budget once again. In fact, a recent report from the American Express Spending & Savings Tracker found that, on average, parents spend over $1000 on back-to-school clothing and supplies, and this number seems to grow each year.
So, what’s the best way to get your little scholars the supplies they need while keeping spending to a minimum? Short of sending them off with a #2 pencil and a prayer, here are 4 must-do’s to maximize your savings.
Take Stock & Make a Supply List
Before you start spending your money on what you think little Johnny might need, stop and take an inventory of what you already have right in your house. What supplies and clothing from last year are in good enough condition to reuse this year? If you have multiple kids, do the older kids have any hand-me-downs that can be, well, handed down? Also, be sure to check your home office to see if you have any extra pens, binders, folders, etc.
Once you’ve taken stock, create a list of exactly what school supplies and clothing you will need to buy for the school year. Often, your child’s school will provide supply lists in June or post them on their website. If you want a generic list to get you started, Good Housekeeping has examples of common school shopping supply lists broken down by age groups from kindergarten all the way through college.
Set a Budget & Stick to It
Now that you’ve got your list, it’s time to set a budget. And I’m not talking about one of those “suggested” or “ball park” budgets that you’ll blow right past once your 12-year-old daughter insists that she MUST have those $120 jeans or she’ll just “die.”
If you’re going to make a budget (which you must, trust me), you’ve got to stick to it. Get your kids involved in the budget making process. I know many parents hate, or won’t, talk to their kids about their financial limitations. But, being transparent about the realities of your finances is a great way to teach your kids the invaluable skill of budgeting. Otherwise, how will they learn to be smart about money?
And, if your daughter just…won’t…let it go on those jeans, suggest that she do extra chores around the house or some neighborhood baby-sitting to earn her own money for the jeans. Again, kids won’t learn the value of earning and saving money until we teach it to them.
Start Your Shopping Online First
Before schlepping to the shopping mall with the hopes of scoring a deal, go online first. You’ll be amazed at the savings you can find that you won’t be able to get in-store. By workin’ the web first, you’ll be able to check a lot off your list using coupons and deals for both big box retailers and online only sites.
Shopping online also lets you easily compare prices, find cheaper alternatives, and read reviews before purchasing. Not to mention, the size and color selection is much better online, and the parking is great!
Buy in Bulk & Split with Friends
Figure out what on your list you can buy in bulk and then split it up among friends and neighbors. This strategy best applies to things like pens, notebooks, binders, etc. Anything that tends to be less expensive when bought in large quantities. It’s relatively easy to get a group of parents together from your child’s class or school. Pool your resources and then break up the shopping between members of the group. And it’ll save both time and money for everyone.
Again, shopping online is the best way to get great deals buying in bulk. Check out online sites like Discount School Supply which offer coupons and deals specifically for buying in bulk. Plus, if you or any of your group members have a Costco’s or Sam’s Club membership, that’s another great way to get everyone aboard the buy-in-bulk boat.
Now that you’re armed with these four tips, hopefully, you’re ready to tackle your back-to-school shopping with a little less trepidation. And with these strategies giving you an extra chance to bond with your kids and other parents at the school, who knows, you might even find the whole process not only painless, but pretty darn fun!