Five Ways to Take the Bite Out of Back to School Shopping

by Tracy · 4 comments

While some lucky kids won’t be returning to school until after labor day, others like my children, are going back as soon as the second week of August. Last year, the National Retail Federation estimated that each family of school aged children would spend an average of $606.40 per family. That’s a pretty big hit to take at once; here are five suggestions on how to reduce the sting.

1. Start shopping now for things that can be bought second-hand. This can be anything from expensive graphic calculators to clothing to nap mats and text books. If your child will be attending a private school with specific uniforms, ask the school about the possibility of buying used uniforms.

Amazon, eBay and Craigslist are good places to start your hunt for used books and electronic equipment. If your school district requires uniforms, you’ll need to start scouring thrift and consignment stores now, as the competition for uniform pieces in good quality can be fierce because of high demand and low inventory.

2. School supplies are already on sale at many retailers. If your school released the supply list for this year already, you can break up the list and purchase a bit per week to spread out the expense. My suggestion would be to buy things like specific colored folders and notebooks now, because it seems like every year there is one color that simply can’t be found anywhere! Basic supplies like pencils, notebook paper and erasers will be widely available and on special somewhere until well after the first day of school.

Please note that generally when teachers specify a brand it’s because others don’t work as well. It does stink when generic crayons can be had for 10 cents a box but the list says Crayola but it’s also very frustrating for children when their supplies are poor quality.

If your budget is especially tight, you can wait to buy things like copier paper, paper towels and dry erase markers that are intended for the classroom. The teacher will be storing these supplies to use all year long, so it’s generally not a big deal to bring them in a couple of weeks late. Most teachers are very understanding of tight family finances and will be glad to let you know what your child needs immediately and what can wait until your next payday.

3. Speaking of waiting, there is no need to buy the entire year’s wardrobe before school starts. I think retailers like to sell us this idea of one grand back to school shop, but spreading it out seems to be the smarter choice to me. You might miss out on back-to-school sales and tax-free days but you’ll get to take advantage of clearance racks and smaller crowds.

Go through your child’s closet and make a list of what is needed immediately and what you’ll need eventually. Buy what can’t wait before school starts, then add to your child’s wardrobe at leisure. You can keep a running list of what your children need and the sizes in your wallet so that you can take advantage of deals when you see them.

4. Think twice about how much your child actually needs. Do you need five changes of school uniforms or can you get by with three sets? Are half a dozen pair of jeans necessary or can your child get by with two or three? Buying too many clothes can lead to clutter and items that are outgrown before they’ve been worn twice.

Do talk to your older children about their wardrobes and how it affects their confidence and social life. Some children simply don’t care while others are extremely self conscious about not looking the same as their peers. It’s important not to be too dismissive of their feelings while helping them develop more realistic expectations. Being in tune with social cues about how to dress can actually serve them well as adults, as long as you’re there to teach them how to do so in a responsible way.

5. Don’t stock up too much! Sometimes the bargains can be so good that it’s hard to resist filling up a cart for later. It’s fine as long as you have a place to store them, are reasonably well organized so that you can find them later and your money isn’t better used on something else right now.

As a general rule, I’ve found that having lined paper, glue sticks, pencils, erasers and sharpeners on hand at home to be useful for completing homework. Multiple large boxes of crayons can be frustrating as it seems like most assignments only call for the 8 basic colors and we wind up with huge buckets of crayons with rarely a plain red or blue in sight. Notebooks, folders and binders don’t seem to be used as much and will go on sale next year so no need to buy more than one or two extra.

School supplies will also go on clearance after the back-to-school sales are over, so it might be worth your while to wait until then if you want to stock up. Do remember to look for things that you’ll need for your own use, too, keeping in mind that things will go on sale again eventually!

Have you started thinking about back to school shopping yet? What are your tips and tricks?

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  • Amy Saves says:

    agree with #3. kids grow fast too, so don’t buy all the clothes at the same time.

  • indio says:

    Staples had a school supply sale last week and we stocked up for the next 3 years. I bought extra to donate to the classroom because the teacher’s always run out of hand disinfectant, wipes, etc. We didn’t buy anything unless it was sale. Since I brought enough kids with me, we didn’t have a problem with the limits of 2 per customer.

  • Get a list of required items from your school. This takes away the guess work. Then clean out your craft drawer and see what you already have.

  • M Meagher says:

    I used to ask my children (pre-teen and teen years) how much money they thought they needed for their school clothes. I was surprised that none ever asked for more than $200. I felt I got off easy, so I gave them the money, and let them shop for their own school clothes, and it was remarkable how frugal they were, how they knew their own wardrobes and they found coordinates. They never went wild with their looks and felt good about their choices.

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