I know what you are thinking…”save money on school supplies? Isn’t it a little early to be talking about this?” It is true, the date on the calendar is only July 13 and for you it seems the kids are going to be home forever. For them, the perception is a bit different. But, the truth is that time is moving very quickly and before you know it, the new school year will begin and the kids will be heading out the door. This is especially true for those of you living where school begins in early August.
Advanced Planning will Save you Money
As with all things, it pays to plan in advance, and shopping for school supplies is no exception. The jury is out on whether you reap more savings by making your purchases now, for instance, versus waiting until right before school. However, a significant percentage of people do begin their back to school shopping in late July. Waiting until just before opening day might mean better prices, but at the same time you might have limited stock from which to choose.
Back to school shopping is one of the times when you can really bust your budget and go into debt. In fact, the new Deloitte Back-to-School survey projects that consumers will spend as much as $27 billion on back to school supplies, primarily on clothing and accessories. Retailers predict a much higher level of spending. The bottom line is back to school season is prime time for shoppers and merchants.
Here is a 6-step plan to help you save money on school supplies this year.
- Inventory and Make a List. Unless your child is going to the school for the very first time, chances are you already know what is needed. Most schools post the annual school supply list online well in advance of shopping season. Make a list of everything that you need, (emphasis on need) and then take an inventory of what you already have in the house. If the kids are old enough, you can turn this task into a treasure hunt or some other game to make it fun, even giving a prize for whoever finds the most items.
- Focus on the Necessities. One of the key strategies to help you save money on school supplies is to focus on the necessities. If you are taking your children with you this is going to be particularly challenging. For instance, they need a sturdy backpack, but it doesn’t have to be the latest designer or cartoon edition. They may give you a big fight over this, so be prepared to hold your ground.
- Use Cash. Unless you plan to make your back to school purchases online, leave the credit cards at home. Withdraw a budgeted amount of cash to cover all the school supplies, including clothing and electronics, and take this with you to the stores. The awareness of money slowly diminishing from the wallet or envelope will be a constant reminder to be selective and remain focused on the necessities. If your children are older, you can give them a set amount of cash and let them shop for their own supplies. They will learn how to budget, compare and shop for bargains.
- Keep Your Eye on Store Flyers and Ads. Every retailer is competing for your dollar. They know that parents want to save money on school supplies and their goal is to get you in their door. Read the store flyers, look for coupons and keep a note of special sale dates. Plan your shopping excursions around these times. If you intend to do your shopping online, capitalize on cash-back rewards and other savings offered by online merchants. There are a number of shopping apps that guide you to the best prices, sales and rewards.
- Shop at Discount Retailers. Target, Wal-Mart, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and other discount stores are the best places to save money on school supplies. They stock everything you need and the prices will be much better than the specialty retail centers in shopping malls. Office supply stores are great places to find pencils, pens, paper, glue, markers, binders, etc. at the lowest prices.
- Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. Check to see if your state participates in the back-to-school sales tax holiday. If so, then you should definitely wait until that weekend to do your shopping. Each state’s legislature has set a different weekend, typically close to school opening day. You can save as much as 10% on your back to school supplies (not everything is included in the tax holiday). However, all the above points still apply—go armed with a detailed list of what you need and remember to keep it to needs and not wants, otherwise you will totally neutralize the benefits of shopping on tax free day.