Your Guide to Economical and Strategic Back-to-School Shopping
Back-to-school shopping can be one of the most exciting times for your kids, but not so much for you. Between the need for more school supplies and the seemingly endless options for your kids to pick and choose from, back-to-school shopping is possibly one of the most expensive non-holiday activities that a parent has to go through each year.
However, it doesn’t have to be a source of financial stress. You can provide your kids with everything they need without making a large dent in your wallet.
We’ll walk you through how you can save money with great deals during your back-to-school shopping to keep both you and your kids happy.
Plan and Prioritize
Planning and prioritizing should always be the first steps in any successful shopping venture, including back-to-school shopping. This process involves sitting down with your children and going through their school supplies lists, which are usually provided by their schools.
Together, you can categorize the items into two groups: “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”. The “must-haves” will typically include essentials like textbooks, stationery, and uniforms. Meanwhile, the “nice-to-haves” might consist of items like the latest trendy backpack or decorative locker accessories. This approach not only streamlines your shopping process but also serves as a practical lesson for your children in budgeting and differentiating between needs and wants.
In today’s digital age, technology has revolutionized how we shop, and by making smart use of it, you can save significant amounts of money. There are numerous apps and websites available that can help you compare prices, alert you to deals, and even earn cashback.
For example, Honey is a browser extension that automatically applies coupon codes at checkout, potentially saving you a percentage of your total cost or offering free shipping. CamelCamelCamel is another helpful tool that tracks Amazon price history, allowing you to see if you’re really getting a deal or if the item you’re looking at frequently drops to a lower price.
RetailMeNot is a platform that aggregates discount codes and coupons from various brands, and Rakuten gives you cash back on purchases from participating stores. Furthermore, following your favorite brands on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter can also be advantageous as they often announce exclusive discounts, promotions, or giveaways to their followers.
Embrace Preloved and Economical Alternatives
While some school items like workbooks or personalized stationery may need to be bought new, many others, like textbooks, electronics, and clothing, can be purchased secondhand. Websites like eBay, ThredUP, and Facebook Marketplace often feature quality used items at just a fraction of their original price.
For instance, you might find that secondhand textbooks can save you up to 80% off the original cost, a substantial saving, especially for high school or college textbooks. Some electronics, like graphing calculators necessary for higher-level math classes, are often listed in like-new condition for significantly less than their new counterparts.
Consider introducing your kids to the concept of preloved items. It can be an opportunity to discuss the environmental benefits of reusing items and the idea that secondhand doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. Plus, thrift shopping can be a fun and rewarding adventure where you never know what you’ll find!
Time Your Purchases
When it comes to back-to-school shopping, timing is everything. While the instinct may be to rush out and buy everything before the first day of school, this can lead to paying premium prices due to high demand. Instead, strategize your purchasing.
For instance, many retailers offer deep discounts on school supplies after the school year starts. You could buy a small amount of necessary supplies for the first couple of weeks of school, then purchase the rest after the initial rush when items are heavily discounted.
Clothes shopping can also be timed to save money. Retailers often host sales during specific periods, such as Labor Day or Black Friday. These sales can be a good time to shop for back-to-school clothing, especially for items that aren’t immediately needed, like winter clothing or athletic wear.
Further, keep an eye out for clearance sales throughout the year. If you notice a good deal on frequently used items like pens, notebooks, or binders, consider buying in bulk and storing them for future use. For example, a parent shared that they saved nearly 50% on paper and binders by purchasing them during a mid-October clearance sale and storing them for the next school year.
Master the Art of Saying No
When teaching children about financial responsibility, an essential lesson is learning to say no to unnecessary or impulsive purchases. This might mean resisting the urge to buy that trendy but overpriced pencil case with a favorite movie character or limiting the number of new clothing items they get for the new school year.
For example, if your child insists on having a high-end, branded backpack that’s out of your budget, use it as a teaching moment. Explain why the family has a budget and how spending a significant amount on one item means having to cut back on others. Involve them in the decision-making process and guide them towards a quality, reasonably-priced alternative.
It’s okay for your child to feel disappointed. These early experiences with financial decision-making and delayed gratification are invaluable life lessons that will serve them well beyond their school years.
Value Quality Over Cheapness
While hunting for back-to-school bargains, it’s essential to distinguish between a genuine value and a false economy. In many cases, the cheapest items can end up costing more in the long run because they wear out quickly and need replacing.
For example, buying a cheap backpack might seem like a bargain, but if it falls apart mid-year, you’ll have to purchase another one, effectively doubling the cost. In contrast, investing in a slightly more expensive, high-quality backpack that lasts multiple years can save you money over time.
This doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive items, but rather seek out products that offer the best balance of cost and durability. Look at customer reviews or ask other parents for their recommendations. For instance, a well-constructed, mid-priced pair of shoes might last an entire school year, while a cheaper pair might need replacing after just a few months. Prioritizing quality over cheapness ensures you’re getting the best value for your money.
Audit Existing Supplies
One effective way to save money on back-to-school shopping is to avoid duplicating purchases by auditing what you already have. This step not only helps you save money but also encourages your kids to value what they already possess and reduces wastefulness.
Start this process by encouraging your kids to look through their old school supplies. Often, there are partially used notebooks that still have plenty of pages left for notes, binders, and folders that can be cleaned up and reused, or a stash of pens and pencils that are still in great condition. Additionally, check if their backpack and lunchbox from the previous year are still in usable condition. Remember, some wear and tear doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be replaced.
Next, go through their clothes together to figure out what fits and what can be passed down to a younger sibling, sold, or donated. Make sure to include seasonal clothes in your audit, as your child might have a warm coat from the previous year that still fits, thus saving you a major expense.
Lastly, don’t forget to audit your home for supplies. Many households accumulate items like paperclips, staples, pens, and sticky notes in their home office or junk drawers over time. Using these can shave off a few dollars from your school supplies budget.
Shop Around and Compare
In the era of online shopping, comparing prices across different stores has never been easier and can lead to substantial savings. Whether it’s a physical store or an online retailer, don’t hesitate to shop around and compare prices for the best deal.
You might be surprised to find that the same geometry set or backpack is half the price on Amazon or Walmart’s online store compared to your local stationery store. Alternatively, stores like Target or Staples might offer bundle deals for back-to-school supplies, providing you with better value for money.
The key to this approach is patience and a bit of time investment. It can seem daunting to compare multiple websites or stores, but the potential savings can make it worthwhile. To streamline the process, consider using online tools and apps that compare prices across different retailers.
And remember, just because an item is more expensive in one place doesn’t mean it will be everywhere. Sometimes, the local dollar store might carry the same type of notebooks or art supplies as a pricier department store.
Back-to-School Shopping – A Strategy for Savings and Lessons in Value
Navigating the back-to-school shopping season doesn’t have to be a source of financial stress or confusion. By strategically timing your purchases, teaching your children the value of financial responsibility, and prioritizing quality over cheapness, you can ensure that your back-to-school shopping is both economical and effective.
Remember, the goal of this shopping journey is not just to equip your kids with necessary school supplies and clothes, but also to teach them valuable lessons in financial literacy and practical decision-making. Each shopping decision can become a teachable moment, showing them how to balance wants versus needs, understand the value of money, and appreciate the benefits of high-quality products.
Moreover, consider this process as an opportunity to instill the virtue of patience in your children by timing your purchases, waiting for the right sales, and not succumbing to the pressure of buying everything right away. Also, demonstrate the benefits of research and comparison to find the best deals and the advantages of reusing and recycling where possible.
By incorporating these lessons, your back-to-school shopping can turn into an enriching experience that provides your kids with much more than just physical goods. It prepares them for the future, imparting essential life skills.
So as you prepare for this back-to-school season, remember these tips and approaches. Yes, you are shopping for this school year, but you’re also building your child’s understanding of value, cost, and decision-making for all the years to come. Happy shopping!