Summer vacation is winding down. Some schools have already begun, but for most kids, the school bell rings after Labor Day. August is a great month for retailers looking forward to reaping the rewards from thousands of school supplies shoppers. It may be good news for their bottom line, but not necessarily yours.
According to a Huntington Bank Backpack survey released at the end of July, 2015, the average cost for school supplies for an elementary school student is $649, for a middle-school student, $941 and for a high school student, $1,402. This is not small change and is even more considerable should you have several school-age children at home. According to Huntington Bank, since the year they began the Backpack survey in 2007, the cost of school supplies has increased 85% for elementary school students. The budget includes the cost of extra-curricular activities, which are all passed down to parents these days. This year is no exception to the creeping inflation. All three grade levels are seeing an increase from 2014 budgets: 1% for elementary school supplies, 2.5% increase for middle school supplies and a 9% jump in cost for high school supplies.
If you are already struggling financially to meet your ongoing monthly living expenses, buying your kids’ school supplies could break the bank. Here are five tips to help you buy everything your children need for their return to school without going broke.
1. Budget: Budgeting is key to fiscal sanity. You should have an annual budget that you review monthly to assess its accuracy. If you have school-aged children, be sure your budget includes a line item for school supplies. Unless you have a cushion, identify what expenses you can eliminate or trim back during the month when you will be purchasing school supplies, so you can have zero impact on the overall monthly revenue/expense picture.
2. Inventory. First step should be to do an inventory of what is still laying around in your children’s closets and drawers. Could be that quite a few basic items such as notebooks, pencils, erasers, staplers, etc. can be found in your home, saving you at least a little bit of money.
3. Shop continuously. Standard school supplies do not change. Whenever you are out shopping for other things, look to see what school supplies items are on sale, grab them and store them in a safe place in the house until the school year starts. When those store ads arrive in your mail, take a look to see if they are running specials on school supplies. Don’t overlook the office supply stores, they can be a great resource and have sales throughout the year. If you are one of those last-minute shoppers, try to time your trip to the stores during the period when they are offering the greatest back to school sales that usually take place in the last week of August.
4. Go to the outlet stores. School supply shopping is not the time to be attached to a designer label or premium shopping mall. Search out the Dollar Stores, Target, Walmart and other discount retail outlets. If you give yourself enough time, Amazon.com can save you a lot of money. Even if you shop in the bricks and mortar retail outlet, do some research online first so you know the true cost of the items. Sometimes an advertised sale is not really much of a sale.
5. Tax Free and Bulk. Investigate whether your school has a bulk shopping program, and if so jump in. Every state has a “tax free weekend” which is the best time to purchase those electronic items your child may need for school, such as tablets, laptops and computers. You could save yourself a couple of hundred dollars or more.