Depending on the study you read the average Canadian family will spend $500 or more on back-to-school supplies and clothing this year. Many will end up putting that expense on their credit card, adding to an already strained debt load.
Here are some easy tips for stretching your back-to-school shopping budget so you can avoid those after school bills.
Stick To The Basics. Back-to-school shopping is the second busiest season for Canadian retailers and they have an advertising budget to match. Before you head out to start looking for school supplies, sit down with your children and make a list of what you really need. When you head out to the stores, stick fiercely to the list. Don’t let the newest gadget or trend divert you from staying within your budget.
Edit The List. Every year kids come home with a list of ‘necessary’ school supplies from their teacher. Don’t assume that you need everything on this list. I’ve seen lists that take more than a page including items like rubber bands, index cards, sticky note pads and more. You don’t really need everything on a ‘just in case’ basis. Ask your child what they used most last year, what they barely used and what didn’t get used at all. Purchase those items that are high priorities but don’t waste money on needless items. You will find you can save quite a bit of money by taking a wait and see mode for many of the supplies listed.
Raid And Swap. Before heading to the stores go through last year’s left over supplies and look at what you already have in the house. Gather together some other parents and trade books, clothes and supplies like pencil cases and lunch boxes. By re-using old supplies you can save money and teach your children strong money management skills. If it fits within your budget, tell them they can have ‘half’ the savings to use towards something new that’s perhaps a little trendy and more than you would otherwise spend.
Leave It At Home. A lot of school supplies get lost during the school year or are only used once or twice. If you purchase a package of 10 pencils, pack two and leave 8 at home for later in the year. If your child does not use markers very often, leave them at home. You can also save money by purchasing only one set and sharing them between siblings when they really need them.
Browse Online First. All the major retail stores from Staples to your local grocery store put their flyers online today. Check them out for weekly deals on back to school supplies. Stores will often offer a lost leader (glue for 1 cent) with a minimum purchase. If you start early and plan your purchases carefully, you can save a lot without having to drive far and wide.
Be High Tech Savvy. If you children are looking for a new school computer or laptop it’s important to shop smart. Think long term. A tablet might do for this year, but what about next year? Research your options, and prices, on-line before heading out. If this is your child’s first computer, consider buying a used computer on kijiji or craigslist. Don’t forget to think about software costs. These can quickly increase the total cost of your computer budget by more than 50%. Investigate free, open source software like Google Docs or Apache OpenOffice.
Have A Discussion. Talk to your kids about how much school supplies cost. Explaining that spending money is about choices — if you buy that expensive lunch bag you can’t have that extra shirt. Understanding that everything costs money, at that what you buy should not be wasted, lost or abused is an important life lesson.
What are your top tips for saving money at back-to-school time while still keeping the kids happy?