It’s that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school and you’re heading to bankruptcy with the cost of back-to-school supplies.
But back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to deplete your bank account. With some planning ahead, financial tips, and clever purchasing, you can make back-to-school shopping a breeze.
It might feel impossible to meet all your child’s needs and keep some dollars in your pocket, but it isn’t. Read on to learn how to save money on back-to-school shopping, get your priorities in order, budget for back-to-school shopping, and navigate the most expensive time of year.
1. Create Your Priority List
Before you run to the store to purchase everything on your kid’s exhaustive back-to-school shopping checklist, do some recon. If your child is old enough, talk with them about how you’re going to approach this year’s school supplies. Work with them to create a priority list that looks after their most pressing needs and considers their personal priorities.
Once you’ve looked at your child’s unique needs, you can prioritize items by 1) when they’re needed and 2) how much you’re willing to spend.
Here are some questions to work through together.
When Do You Need Each Item?
Some items are nice-to-haves for the first half of the school year, and absolutely essential in the second half. Does your child need new shoes right now, or will their current pairs work for another month or two?
Work through your child’s shopping list to see which items can wait a while. This gives you the chance to wait for sale weekends, collect coupons, or save up for expensive tech.
Where Does Quality Count?
Often, particularly with younger children, your child will only use an item once or twice throughout the entire school year. These items, like art supplies or a specific type of cardboard, aren’t worth splurging on. For other items, you’ll find that cheaper versions work just as well as their expensive copies. Save some cash by buying cheaper pens, pencils, writing pads, and notebooks.
Keep in mind that if your child is passionate about a certain subject, it’s worth investing in higher-quality supplies. An artistic kid will make good use of higher-quality pencils and paints! Talk to your child and ask them which areas they would prefer to invest in, and do your best to make it happen.
2. Do Some Shopping From Home
Now that you have an idea of the items your child needs immediately, it’s time to do some shopping…from home.
Before you head out to the store, take stock of the supplies you already have. Look in closets, desk drawers, the bottom of school backpacks, and basement bins to find hidden supply treasures in your home.
Wash pencil crayons, wax crayons, pencils, pens, rulers, erasers, and any other stationery with a solution of warm water and dish soap. Give pencils and crayons a good sharpen – and they’ll be good to go! Re-use flip files and punch files that are in good condition.
Once you’ve rounded up and cleaned your supplies, look through your shopping list and mark off the items you don’t need to buy anymore. If you want to go the extra mile, take note of the items that you’ll need to replace in a few months’ time. This helps you to budget for your kid’s future stationary needs and limits the number of surprise expenses you’ll need to make.
3. Borrow Bigger Items
Your child might need something immediately that you don’t have the money for, such as a tablet, laptop, or printer. Ask extended family, close friends, and community groups if they have a spare lying around that your child could borrow for a month or two. This buys you time to save up and find a good deal, instead of swiping your credit card and putting your family into debt.
4. Spread Out Your Shopping
Don’t leave your back-to-school shopping for the last minute. Spread out your shopping to give yourself time to compare prices, look for sales, and purchase items on clearance.
Look for sales on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and on Boxing Day to find better deals on most of the supplies your child needs. And hold off buying new clothes until clothing prices drop around September. Buying your child a new wardrobe in August is often much more pricey.
Since you know which supplies your child can wait for, you can get the essentials now and the nice-to-haves next month. You can make do with what you have until you have the money to get the rest.
5. Choose Low Cost, Not Low Value
When shopping for your child’s back-to-school supplies, make sure that you aren’t skimping on quality where it counts. Sometimes, things are cheap because you’ve found a good deal. Other times, they’re cheap because they’ll break after a month of use.
If you buy a low-quality backpack, it feels like you’re saving money. But you’ll need to buy a new one in a few months’ time, so you won’t really be saving anything. Low-quality items can cost more in the long run because they don’t last.
6. Buy Used or Secondhand
Not everything has to be brand-new! Shop from consignment stores, thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to find gently used items for a good price. This can be clothing, stationery, backpacks, or sports equipment. Don’t be afraid to haggle like a pro when buying gently used items. Many sellers will be grateful to get some clutter off their hands.
When shopping for tech, look for refurbished laptops, computers, and tablets. Most computer repair shops repair high-quality products and sell them for killer prices–along with warranties and guarantees. You can save a ton of money and still trust that the product works as it should.
Many parents have caught on to the thrifting trend, and they will be looking for back-to-school clothes in August. Start your back-to-school clothing shopping in June or July to beat the crowds and ensure you find what your child needs. Put these clothes away until the school year starts. This preserves the novelty of the new clothes and makes your child feel excited to wear each item.
7. Buy In Bulk Where Possible
Once you’ve exhausted your possibilities of getting supplies from home or secondhand, it’s time to get things new. Buying in bulk is an easy way to reduce your back-to-school costs over time. We recommend purchasing pens, pencil crayons, pencils, writing pads notebooks, and markers in bulk.
To reduce the initial investment, find other parents and pool together to split the costs and the products.
8. Check Out the Dollar Store
The Dollar Store is filled with hidden back-to-school gems at incredibly competitive prices. Keep in mind that you want low-cost items, not low-quality. You should never buy batteries or tape from the Dollar Store. And if something feels like it’ll break or stop working within a month or two, look somewhere else!
Some key supplies to look for include:
- glue sticks
- notepads and notebooks
- lunch boxes
- water bottles
9. Take Advantage of Price Matching
Most major stores do price matching. This service promises to match or beat the price of items also available at competitive stores.
If you’re buying supplies and notice a specific pack of pens costs a dollar more here than another store, price match! Head on over to the customer service desk and show the advertisement from the competing store. They will either match that price or beat it – saving you a couple of dollars and a trip to the other store.
10. Save by Using Coupons
Coupons can feel like a lot of work for little reward, but a few dollars here and there can add up. Really. Look for online coupons and old-fashioned paper sales ads. With some time and effort, you can shave off a ton of the back-to-school expense!
11. Prioritize Your Saving
In the interest of saving money and minimizing the expense of back-to-school shopping, it’s easy to overthink every purchase. Remember that small savings are good, but big savings are better. Don’t let yourself agonize over the extra dollar you spent on pencils–you’ll drive yourself and your kid crazy. Instead, focus that energy on being savvy and saving on larger purchases. Saving 200 dollars on your child’s wardrobe is more important than saving 50 cents on an eraser.
Yes, little savings add up. But stressing over every item isn’t worth it! Focus on saving on the significant items, and create a habit of wise spending.
Make Back-To-School Shopping a Breeze
Back-to-school shopping can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With these back-to-school shopping tips, you’ll reduce the number of unnecessary purchases and save money this school year.
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