At one point in our lives the month of August was worse than Christmas. We had three kids that we had to get ready to go back to school, a wedding anniversary and three family birthdays. In retrospect I guess we could have done a better job of family planning.
So, you’re getting your kids ready to go back to school we feel your pain. It’s not hard to spend a small fortune on your back-to-school shopping. This will be especially true if you have pre-teens or teenagers. The cost to clothe those kids has just shot through the roof. And goodness help you if your daughter is brand conscience. We recently saw floral knit soft shorts for girls at Gap for $26.95 and denim shirts at $34.95. Jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch were selling for $39 and classic layered Henley shirts for boys were priced at $17.95. While you could do better at Target its jeans for juniors could still cost as much as $27.99 and outfits for boys could set you back as much as $22.99.
What does this all add up to? According to the National Retail Federation back-to-school spending is expected to hit $24.9 billion this year with the average family spending an incredible $630 on electronics, apparel and other miscellaneous school stuff.
So what could you do to take the sticker shock out of back-to-school shopping? Sit back, take a deep breath and relax. We’ve got tips for getting your kids ready for school on a budget.
Take an inventory
Budget conscience back to school shopping starts at home. Take an inventory of everything you already have. Divide it into stuff that can be used again and stuff you will need to replace and clothes that can be handed down, donated or taken to your nearest resale store. If you have what are euphemistically referred to as “nearly new” or “gently used” children’s’ clothing you could turn them into cash, which could help pay for the stuff you’ll have to buy. Don’t forget to inventory last year’s school supplies, too. Make a game of it. Have your kids gather all those expensive markers, notebooks, pocket folders, calculators and whatever and then award a prize to the one that finds the most. Throw away anything that can’t be reused and make a list of the stuff that can.
Now that you know the stuff you won’t have to buy because of the list you just made, you’ll need to make a list of the items that you’ll need to buy. Your school should have a list of its required school supplies by grade. Check this list against the list of stuff you are able to salvage and you’ll know exactly what you will need to buy. If you talk to your children’s’ teachers you may find that there are actually two lists – “required to have” and “nice to have”. You might find that the “required to have” list is a bit different from your children’s’ “must-haves’ like the latest Minions backpack or one from Abercrombie and Fitch. If you take your kids shopping with you sit down first and explain that your plan is to buy only what’s on the “must haves” list. Watch out for those special store displays designed to get you to fill your cart with items your kids might want but that you don’t absolutely need to buy.
Have a plan
Your next step should be to research those stores that offer the best values and check to see which ones have back to school sales and promotions. Check for weekly flyers from your local stores and coupon sites for coupons you could print out and take with you. Don’t forget to research your options and round up the best savings. One of the best sites for saving money is www.retailmenot.com. When we checked this site it had a round up of the best deals at Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Target and more. Coupons.com had coupons that would save you up to 80% off kids’ styles at Old Navy, 50% off Puma sale items and 15% off site wide at Pacsun. Don’t forget Amazon.com. You can almost always buy stuff from Amazon cheaper than in retail stores. If you have a Prime membership you’ll even get free two-day shipping. Finally, check to see if your state has a Sales Tax holiday. These vary from state to state but if there is an upcoming one where you live it could help you save big.
Figure out where to shop
After you have shopped the big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Target be sure to check out your local dollar stores where you should be able to find all your basics such as pencils, paper and notebooks. If you find there are things still on your list try to stop at stores where you can get price match guarantees. This way if you get a sales flyer in a few weeks with lower prices on something you purchased previously from that store it should match the lower price.
Stuff to avoid
The big stuff to avoid is branded items that your kids will quickly tire of. For example, they may now love the movie Minions but by Halloween they’ll probably have moved on and will be begging for some expensive new supplies. Instead of buying a Disney-branded or Minion backpack and lunchbox buy something durable in a neutral design and then sprinkle in Minions or Elsa on inexpensive, disposable items like notebooks and pencils.
Don’t cheap out
When you’re shopping for bigger ticket items like laptops and calculators, don’t cheap out. Find good quality products that have warranties. If you buy a cheaper product that doesn’t come with a warranty just because it was on sale you could end up ruing the day. There is an old expression about being penny wise and pound foolish. There are just some cases where it makes sense to spend the extra money to get something that will last for many years.