Conquering back-to-school spending
Posted July 8, 2013
The back-to-school deals are starting up this weekend and it's time to think about paper, pens, crayons, backpacks and much more! Here are some tips to remember when gathering all the items from the long list of supplies that your kids are expected to bring to class.
The list for one of my girls a couple years ago had 23 items on it and the list for my other daughter had 21 items. If I paid full retail for the 23 items on the first list (including a college dictionary, binders, baby wipes and book covers), it would cost approximately $72.00! I have two children but I know many families who have 3 or 4 children and the supply cost really adds up when you have a big family!
So, what is a parent to do? Your child needs the paper, pens and notebooks, but you also need to pay the mortgage. If you are feeling the pinch of school supply costs, it’s time to get creative so you don’t overpay for supplies that you can find for a fraction of the retail price.
First step – shop your house! Before heading to the store to buy supplies, take a look around your own home to see what you may already have. Did your child’s teacher send home any extra supplies at the end of last year? Determine if they are in good enough shape to use again this year. Items like scissors and rulers can be used for more than one school year. Before going school supply shopping, I always “shop” the plastic storage container under our bed with school supplies I have bought frugally over the last year, including the back to school clearance last September. When it comes to clothes, look at hand-me-downs from the older siblings.
Hold a clothing swap: Holding a clothing swap in your neighborhood, religious organization, or club is an inexpensive way to find clothes for your children, share clothes with other families and clean out the kids closets. Give away what the kids no longer wear and take home clothing at no cost that is “new” for your kids.
Know where the deals are: Stores that offer excellent school supply sales include drug stores (especially with free after rebate deals), office supply stores (there will be plenty of items that are 1 to 10 cents) and big box stores. Each week I’ll post the best school supply deals on the blog so you can stock up now, even if your little ones don’t go back to school for more than a month. Even some of the grocery stores will offer good deals.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT buy all your school supplies at one place. Many stores will be offering great loss leader buys starting in the next couple weeks. These sales involve selling a few items at really low price, where they may actually lose money to lead you into the store. They realize that once you are in the store, with your long school supply list, that you will be tempted to just get everything at that store so you can be done with the shopping. So, you end up paying $3.00 for a pair of scissors that you could have bought for FREE after rebate at one of the drug stores or office supply locations.
Price match to cut down on trips to different stores. Target, Walmart, Staples, Office Depot and Office Max all price match identical items (same brand and size) so bring in the competitor ads and save yourself some time. Some of the best deals are on store brand items, which you won’t be able to price match, but there are always some excellent buys on name brand items like crayons and colored pencils. You can read the various price match policies at the links in the box above.
Buy a few extra supplies for later in the year. By February, kids often run out of paper, pencils, notebooks, etc and need new ones. They will not be 10 cents during Valentine’s Day, so now is the time to stock up. February is when I go shopping in the storage container under the bed that I mentioned earlier.
Hit the tax-free holiday held August 2 – August 4, 2013 in NC. School supplies and clothing with a sales price of $100 or less per item are included in the tax-free weekend. Sports equipment and computers are also included. For all the details on items that are exempt from tax see the NC Department of Revenue website at the link in the box above. Also keep in mind that many school supplies will be much less expensive on other weeks so don't wait to buy on the tax-free weekend when you can get some of those same items for much less with back-to-school sales in the coming weeks.
Don’t assume you need to buy name brands. Often, the brand name crayons, colored pencils or glue sticks are twice the price of the generic brands. Some will argue (and have commented in years past ), that some brands work much better than others. The good news is that even the name brands go on sale during these next 8 weeks so look for those sales on the brands you love.
Let the kids contribute. If there is a particular item your child wants for back to school, but doesn’t really need, let your child know that he can buy it with his own money. If he really wants it, then he can have it….at his own expense. If there is an item he needs but he wants a more expensive version than another one that is just as good, let him know that he can have the more expensive version if he pays the difference with his own cash. I have done this a few times with my teenage daughter and it works beautifully. She often chooses to keep her money and opt for the less expensive item that mom is willing to pay for in full.
Use your rewards. Many credit card companies and retailers offer rewards like gift cards and rebates when you buy qualifying items. You may be able to cash in your Visa reward points for a Walmart , Staples or Target gift card that can be used to lower your out of pocket cost for school supplies.
Hit the clearance sales after school starts. By mid-September, stores are marking down school supplies and that’s a great time to do a little more stocking up for later in the year and even for the next year.
Consider buying a few extra of the very best deals for those who can’t. There are usually a couple kids in each class whose parents are unable to afford their child’s school supplies. When you find 2 pocket folders, crayons and pencils packs for 5 - 10 cents each, that’s a great time to buy a few extra to give to the teacher for those kids who don’t have any supplies.
The key when buying school supplies is to only buy what you need and shop the best deals each week until school starts. With a little patience and a few extra trips, you can save hundreds, which you will need for the back to school clothes, sports gear and instrument rentals! As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!
Please share any other back-to-school saving tips you have!