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Back-to-School Savings

If you have school-age children, you probably have mixed feelings about the approach of a new school year. You may be looking forward to the relative peace and quiet of having them back in school after a long summer break. At the same time, you are probably dreading the preparation and expense involved in getting them ready to head back. The key to smart shopping for the new school year is to have a plan. It helps if you start early, but if you haven't begun yet, there's no need to panic. There's still plenty you can do to keep the costs down while still sending your child Back-to-School well equipped to hit the books.

Have a Strategy

Before heading out to the nearest shopping mall in an effort to just "get it over with", you should take a few minutes to develop a strategy. You can even take this as a teaching opportunity in money management for your youngster. By including them in the planning process, you are more likely to enlist them as an ally in your shopping effort instead of engaging them in a battle of wills once you reach the stores. The most significant things you can do are to set a budget and have a list.

  • Set a budget. This is probably the most important thing you can do, besides making the budget limit clear to your children. Make sure they realize that there's a limit on what you can spend ahead of time so they understand that if they just have to have the $130 Kobe Bryant high tops for gym class, there won't be any money left for clothes.
  • Make a list (and stick to it!). Most schools will supply you with a list of what a student is expected to bring on the first day of class. If this is sent home in June when the previous year ends, take advantage of this and look for deals on those items throughout the summer. Don't pay full price just to get it out of the way, because chances are they'll be on sale at some point. "Back-to-School" sales seem to start earlier and earlier each year.

Take Inventory

Now that you know what you can afford to spend and you have your list of what you need, take a little more time to take inventory of what you already have. It may not be necessary to start from scratch with all new supplies, and especially clothing.

  • Recycle supplies from last year. Take an inventory of what supplies you already have, before shopping for new ones. Things like binders or pencil cases can be reused if they're still in good shape. Let your kids decorate them with stickers or markers to give them a fresh look.
  • Limit Back-to-School wardrobe purchases. Set aside a portion of your budget for new school clothes in case your child needs something specific, like a new pair of shoes or a jacket. You can even let your child pick out something new to help them get excited about the new school year, but try not to get caught up in the excitement of the "Back-to-School" sales frenzy by trying to purchase an entire wardrobe. When kids return to school in late summer, the weather is still warm and stocking up on what's in the stores can blow your budget for the clothes you'll need later in the year. For tips on how to save on clothes shopping, visit CareOne's Tip Jar and search on "Clothes"

Start Shopping

So now that you've whittled your list down to what you really need, it's time to take a deep breath and dive into the shopping. Be sure to check all the circulars and ads in the weekly papers so you have a game plan on where the best prices are on the items you need. These tips an also help you maximize your savings:

  • Consider shopping with others. Buying basics in larger quantities can help save money. You may not need 100 #2 pencils, but by splitting the pack with other parents, you're only paying pennies per pencil.
  • Take advantage of "loss leaders". Many office supply stores and other retailers that carry a large supply of Back-to-School items will offer certain items at ridiculously low prices just to get you in the door. Stock up if it's something you'll have to replenish throughout the year anyway. Or make a deal with your neighbors that you'll pick up the .25 crayons at Staples, if she'll get the .20 glue sticks at Wal-Mart.
  • Purchase a quality backpack. Although young children may gravitate to the latest cartoon character or action hero being merchandized, you are better off buying a high quality brand name backpack that can last for years. For example, Jansport has a lifetime warranty on their backpacks that if one breaks during normal usage, you can mail it back to them for repair or replacement. Also, a basic backpack won't go out of style like one that has a kid's show character or movie theme.
  • Watch for sales tax holidays. Some states offer opportunities to save on sales tax on "school related" items including clothing. These periods are usually designated for late in the summer and last for several days to a week. The Federation of Tax Administrators has a website that you can check to see if your state participates

Back-to-School preparations can put a dent in your overall budget if you aren't prepared. Hopefully, these tips will save you a few dollars. For more tips on "Back-to-School Savings" visit the CareOne Tip Jar and type in "School". Taking a little time to plan before Back-to-School shopping can save you a bundle.

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