Before you know it summer will be over and the kids will be back in school, which means that back-to-school shopping is just around the corner. This can be one of the most stressful and expensive excursions of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, the average parent will spend close to $700 per child on clothing, supplies and electronics. If you have several children, buying school supplies can drain your savings and increase your debt. It is important to face the task with planning and restraint.
Here are 10 tips to help you save money on your back-to-school shopping so you can still afford to take the kids out for an end-of-summer celebration.
- See what is in the house. Before you head out the door, do a survey to see what is hiding in the house. Check out your kids’ closets, drawers and all the places where they may have crammed all the leftover supplies from last year. You may find plenty of spiral notebooks, pencils, pens and other supplies already in your home, greatly diminishing what you need to buy.
- Shop early. As soon as you know what you need, head out the door. The closer you get to opening day, the less inventory there will be and your options for saving money will be greatly diminished.
- Take advantage of all the ways to save money. For example, combine store and newspaper coupons, shop on special sales days, and take advantage of in-store apps that help you compare prices and find the best deals. See if your state has a special back-to-school tax savings day. All your school supplies will be sales-tax free. August is a popular month among the states for these tax savings days. You might also have a tax savings day for clothing and shoes. It pays to investigate.
- Leave the kids at home. When shopping for school supplies, go alone and leave the kids at home, you will save a lot of money. Stores are specially designed so that your young shoppers will see and ask you to buy just about everything in the store. You need them for the clothing and shoes, but for classroom supplies, all you need is the back-to-school shopping list.
- Shop around. Your best bargains are going to be at the discount stores, such as Dollar General, TJ Maxx, Kmart and Wal-Mart, etc., but all discount stores are not the same. It pays to do some comparison shopping before you begin buying your school supplies.
- Cheaper is not always better. Backpacks for instance—it is better to spend a bit more and buy one that will last the entire school season, than to skimp and find yourself needing to replace it later in the year, when the prices are higher.
- Go by the list. Be sure to download or pick up the supply list from your school. There is no point in buying unnecessary items, or not purchasing required items, forcing you to head out again later. It is better not to rely on your children’s memory for this information.
- Don’t get sucked into Hollywood. Basic classroom supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencil/pen pouches, etc. do not have to be Disney-themed. Stores are great at peddling these movie-themed items, at greatly marked up prices, as much as 30 percent or more. Buy plain instead, and let your kids decorate their notebooks with stickers, ribbons and other things to make them fun and original.
- Don’t be afraid to do a little bargaining. In general, retail stores are not the place for bargaining, like you can do at outdoor markets. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to ask them if they will match the price you saw at a competitive outlet.
- Make it a teaching moment. Give your children a clothing budget and let them pick out their own clothes. If they manage to save on the budget you gave them, allow them the option to use the leftover balance however they would like. This will teach them how to save money, while at the same time, exercising choice and celebrating their accomplishment. They will learn that saving money is fun.