Back to School Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
By Jennifer Schultz
You can almost feel it getting closer every day as the days start to get shorter and the calendar begins to almost yell “it’s the end of summer”. Soon the trips to the beach, water parks and campgrounds will fade away as a sweet summer memory.
But of course, even before that, just slightly when July was creeping into August, the parade of backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks and pens were hitting the aisles of all the local retailers signaling the ever popular back to school shopping season. Needless to say, I tried to ignore it. Don’t get me wrong, I love that each year there is a celebration of another school year upcoming. It’s wonderful to think about all that my children will learn this year, what art projects they will do, or speeches they will give, what parades or plays they may participate in – and I will be sitting with all the other proud parents taking it all in.
I thought a lot this summer about what are some ways that our family can cut back when back to school shopping time comes. It seems like each year our total spending can be equivalent to that of a new couch or several Xbox game systems. I also considered what would happen if my kids didn’t get all new stuff? Would they miss it? Would they shout out “where are my new clothes?” So, I am now on a mission to save money at back to school time by making different choices.
Here is my plan:
- Buying a few new key clothing items. Maybe one or two shirts and two pairs of pants. – Typically with kids going back when it’s still warm, they are really still wearing their summer clothes. So, I am going to focus on a new outfit for the first day. Are their friends really going to know the clothes aren’t brand new? Since retailers drop the prices of clothes after September 15th, the deals will be better to purchase any additional items, especially pants for my son who grows like a weed! Local thrift stores like Impact can help you save lots of money on clothing. There’s no need to spend $500 on back to school clothes.
- Buying one pair of new shoes. My theory is the same here. New sneakers are an absolute must if your child’s pair are worn out from the summer. But again, other than that, I’ll be focusing on saving my money for all those “surprise supply” lists teachers like to give. And there is nothing wrong with wearing shoes until they are worn out or don’t fit. With shoes being anywhere from $20-$50, you can save this money for all the books your child will want to buy when the book club list comes home.
- Buy only simple supplies – this would be notebooks, folders, rulers, pencils, crayons, glue and so on. I prefer to shop at Staples, but, Walmart is still the cheapest on most of these items. Avoid the rush and try to shop later at night. Or you can even get some great deals at local pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens. The selection is smaller, but, they usually have everything you need, except for very specific items and if you use coupons from their circular you can be saving money there too. The key here is to not overbuy. If the list from school only says one red folder, just get one. And be careful too. Several years in a row, I sent my child in with the required items on the list only to have them come home with half of them saying it wasn’t needed. Sometimes waiting until school starts is best so if the teacher changes their mind, you’re ready. If your child wants locker items, make sure you understand the size before buying any shelves. Supplies can be tricky and expensive! Reuse whatever you can from last year. If you still have good crayons send those in to school. We must have 25 packs of crayons at our house! Supplies can run anywhere from $40-$100 per child depending upon their grade level.
- Reuse backpacks and lunchboxes – We must have six or seven backpacks and the same amount of lunchboxes. Unless the items are very, very worn out, ripped or super dirty (you know how hard they are to clean), there is no reason to buy new. These items can cost upwards of $25-$50 for a good backpack and $10-$20 for a lunchbox. Multiply that by each child!
- Mystery items – I leave this section for last because this area is the hardest to project. What will the mystery item be? Last year it was that each child had to have their own set of full size headphones for computer class. Well, headphones can be $5 or they can be $250….I wouldn’t buy the $5 ones, but most likely anything over $15-$20 in this area is really pushing it.
I estimate with all my savvy back to school shopping this year, that I will save anywhere from $200-$300. That’s a huge savings for any family! And if your family is bigger than mine – I only have two children – you will probably save even more!
I didn’t even touch on all the extra money that has to go to activities like dance classes, soccer, basketball, girl and boy scouts, but, there are ways to save money there too. Apply some of these techniques – mainly reusing what you have and only buying what you need – to save $$$!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and share some of your own too! Don’t let back to school shopping stress you out!