Summer seems to have barely gotten started, and now back-to-school shopping is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe! Retailers are already starting to advertise sales on book bags, clothes, computers, school supplies, tablets, and shoes.
Back-to-school shopping has become a multi-billion dollar annual event. Last year, American parents shelled out a little over $36 billion on kindergarten through 12th-grade students’ back-to-school needs. These supplies cost an average of $661 per student.
For those with college students, that figure is even higher. Back-to-college shopping cost parents roughly $1,200 per child. Not to mention, the majority of these parents start shopping in mid to late July.
How do you ensure that your child has everything that they will need for a successful school year without wrecking your budget? Inflation has caused prices to soar on everything from eggs to electronics. We’ve put together some tips to help you stay on budget.
Ten Back-to-School Shopping Tips to Stay on Budget
We are big proponents of putting together an annual household budget. It gives you a clear picture of your finances and financial goals while providing a roadmap for monthly spending and emergencies. Hopefully, you have included a line item for back-to-school expenses in your annual budget. If not, now is the time to do so.
The following tips will keep you on track to not overspend while acquiring what your students need:
Put together a spending plan: Budget is just another word for a spending plan, right? Come up with a figure that reflects what you can carve out for back-to-school necessities. Include one-time purchases (things like binders, backpacks, and the like) and ongoing monthly expenses, like instrument rental or dance lessons.
Create a needs list: Think about what your child will need this year. If they are starting a new activity or changing schools, they may require a new set of supplies or uniforms. It’s good to prioritize this list with “absolute must haves” at the top and “nice to have, but not necessary” at the bottom. Also, think about what will be needed immediately and what purchases can be put off for a month or two.
Make an inventory of what you have: We all have leftover school supplies and extra calculators hanging around the house. What can be reused this year? Pile those all in one area and take stock of what you have and can cross off the list. Have kids try on clothes and see what still fits or can be handed down to a younger sibling.
Decide what must be new and what can be used: Some items must be bought new, such as pencils, paper, and planners. But other things can be picked up at garage sales, Facebook Marketplace, and thrift stores. Things like clothes, backpacks, furniture, and sports equipment that are in good condition can all be found secondhand for a fraction of the price they cost when new.
Be savvy about sales: When shopping for sales, stay focused on the items that are on your list. Retailers love to entice us with sales on other non-school-related items during a back-to-school sale. Remember that sales are cyclical so you won’t be “missing out” on those good deals. More sales cycles are coming up in the next few months (Labor Day, Columbus Day, and winter holidays).
Go digital: Many retailers offer extra savings and perks when you shop on their store app. There are also digital coupon apps and other offers for those who shop digitally. Keep an eye out for free shipping or curbside pickup, too.
Hit discount stores: We all have at least one in our local area. Dollar stores, discount stores, and factory outlets are places where you can save a few bucks on regular and discontinued merchandise. Be sure to avoid lower-quality items that are sometimes featured in these stores because they will need to be replaced quicker. Look for good quality items at discount prices.
Revisit extracurricular commitments: Think about your child and all their extra activities. Do they really need to be on the baseball team as well as participate in two travel ball teams and the marching band? All these things cost money. While some kids may continue to play sports or music at the collegiate or pro level, the percentage who do is minuscule. Most kids want to have fun, make friends, and maybe learn a skill. They don’t want their extracurricular activities to become a 20-year commitment or career choice. Pick the extracurricular activity that brings the most enjoyment or value to your child and cut the rest.
Involve your child: Back-to-school shopping and budgeting is a great time to teach your kids about spending plans and staying on task. Handling money is a life skill and one of the most important ones they can take from childhood into adulthood. Do they insist on brand-name sneakers or clothing? They can put some skin in the game and pay for their own must-have purchases by using their own savings or gift cards.
Take advantage of tax-free days: If you live in one of the 16 states that offer back-to-school sales-tax-free days, consider yourself lucky! These states designate certain days when the sales tax is waived for school-related items, such as art supplies, books, clothing, electronics, school supplies, and shoes. Plan to make your purchases on tax-free days for extra savings.
There is no getting around back-to-school shopping. Schools require certain supplies, equipment, or uniforms for their students. But with a little planning and forethought, you can get the things your child needs for the upcoming school year and stay on budget.