Even though it feels like summer just started (or at least it does to me), soon enough school bells will be ringing. So will the cash registers, as parents stock up on back-to-school necessities. According to Huntington National Bank the average cost to send a child into the classroom armed with school-recommended supplies this fall is approximately $474 for elementary school, $545 for middle school and $1,000 for high school students.
Despite these figures you don’t have to go broke getting the kids ready for the first day of school. Here are five ways that you can keep your back-to-school shopping in check.
- Get your school supplies list early. The idea here is two-fold. First, you’ll be able to review the supply list to see if you have any leftovers from last year–which will save you from unnecessary spending. And, second, many office supply stores offer penny sales during the summer. By having the school supply list handy, you can get what you need at the cheapest price possible.
- Remember that kids grow quickly. Clothes that fit in August may not fit by next year. Make sure to stock up on the basics before buying trendier items, and try shopping at discount and secondhand stores instead of the mall, suggest the experts at InCharge Debt Solutions, a national nonprofit organization that offers free financial counseling sessions.
- Use gift cards whenever possible. Hopefully, you have a gift card wallet at this point. If not now would be a good time to gather up all of those gift cards you have left over from holiday and birthday gifts, and see if you can use them towards any back-to-school purchases. Rewards checks from stores with affinity programs can help cut your costs, too. I’m thinking specifically of Staples Rewards and Famous Footwear’s Rewards, too. (Speaking of Staples Rewards, you can get $2 back for every ink cartridge you recycle at the store so your “savings” can build up fast, just by remembering to bring your empty ink cartridges with you when you buy new ones.) In addition, giving your child his or her own gift card to buy new clothing and supplies can help teach a valuable lesson about budgeting money.
- Don’t forget hidden fees. This is a good one and one I hadn’t considered until I needed a health form filled out for my daughter and I needed it before her annual well-check. By asking the doctor to fill out this form outside of a normal appointment, I had to pay a $10 fee. However, if I bring forms with me to an appointment, the form-filling is free. (Truth is with how my co-pay has gone up, paying that form fee is actually cheaper than paying for the appointment.) But if a form fee is going to blow your budget, make sure you plan accordingly to avoid one. Also, set aside funds for any sports registration fees or equipment, or figure out a way to save on those. For example, in my town if you volunteer to coach, the town refunds your kid’s registration fee at the end of the season.
- Keep your receipts. Many stores offer price-adjustment allowances if something you bought goes on sale within seven or 14 days of your purchase. If you’re vigilant about tracking prices, you can get some money back, too. Also, many receipts include information on them about taking an online survey, which gives you an additional coupon that you can use at the store in the near future. For example, we just bought some end-of-season bathing suits at Old Navy (super cheap, in case you need any). On our receipt was information about an online Old Navy survey, which, when completed, would give us a 10% off coupon to use at the store the next time we were there.
What are some of the other ways that you save when shopping for back to school or take advantage of back-t0-school sales when you don’t have kids?