Top 10 Back to School Budget Tips
It’s that time of year again!
This is an expensive time of year for many families with kids in school. Here are a few of my best ways to save a few bucks:
1) Start scoping out the sales as early as possible, but don’t feel like you need to buy everything all at once. The kids bring home school supply lists that often include dozens of items. On top of that there are the backpacks, lunchbags, and indoor running shoes … and it adds up very quickly. Buy only the things you think the kids will need right away, and buy the rest as you can afford it. Many schools ask for extras such as bottles of hand-sanitizer and cases of tissues. These are pricey items, and you definitely shouldn’t feel pressured to send your kid to school with everything on the first day.
2) Don’t cheap out at the Dollar Store. I realize this is contrary to many other people’s back-to-school tips but in my experience the majority of the school supplies we’ve bought here weren’t even worth the dollar we paid for them. Crayons that break, pencil leads that snap, markers that dried out too quickly … ugh. I hate paying for things twice, and I also hate having to spend the time and effort to buy things twice. So I seek out the sales and try to buy brand name items that I’m familiar with or that were recommended to me. If you spend a bit more now you will save money in the long run.
3) Avoid the impulse buys and learn to say no. Last year my daughter spotted a calculator that was shaped like a piano keyboard and I caved and bought it for her. Why not? It was cute and only cost five bucks. Well, it stopped working within a month. That boring old grey calculator from the year before would have been perfectly fine. One of the best ways to put the breaks on impulse shopping is to zero in on the products you need and stop browsing the aisles aimlessly without a plan.
4) Get on the email lists for the stores you frequent most often. Many major chains offer great deals, promo codes and notifications of upcoming sales in their e-newslettters. Gap and Old Navy are great for this.
5) Technology is your friend. There are shopping and coupon apps you can download that will help you find the sales. And did you know Michael’s will accept smart-phone coupons as well as printouts from their website? (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in line at the cash, surfing for an online coupon or promo code! Bookmark them beforehand.)
6) Label your children’s belongings. If something leaves the house, it might get lost. And don’t assume your wee one will recognize his or her own belongings, because if it’s a hoodie that’s only been worn once odds are they’ll forget about it. I used to pooh-pooh the idea of buying packs of labels for this purpose but it paid for itself after the first pair of labelled footwear was returned to us. We like Mabel’s Labels and we use them religiously to label the kids clothing, footwear, and school supplies. They are very durable and long-lasting. Let your child pick the style of the label so they feel good about “decorating” that boring grey calculator (see#3). (Check out their back-to-school combo!)
7) Get your kids used to the idea that hand-me-downs are ok. That being said, avoid buying gender-specific items where possible, otherwise your little girl will steadfastly refuse to use big brother’s extra spiderman pencil case. There’s this mentality that we need to buy All New, Every Year. And I think we need to break that habit. Newsflash: we do not need a whole new wardrobe every September.
8) If someone wants to buy that extra special double-rainbows-prancing-unicorn backpack and it’s above and beyond what you are willing to spend on one, make your kid earn the cash for the difference. It’s a huge life lesson. That being said…
9) … show your kids how much things cost. I think we shield our kids too much from the financial realities of everyday life. Draw up a budget before you go shopping and stick to it. Include your child in the process too and do the math as you go.
10) Buy used when you can, especially for big-ticket items like dorm furniture, desks and chairs. Check your local Used site! You never know what you’re going to find. For example, when our daughter started taking music in grade seven we found a great secondhand trumpet. I never thought to look for a used one.
What are your tips for back-to-school shopping? I’d love to hear them!