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  • Christian Bishop CFP®, EA

Back to School Shopping Doesn't Have to Break the Bank

It’s August, you know what that means… It’s time for back to school shopping! Some people love it because it can be a bonding experience for their family, while some dread it the second those back to school commercials begin popping up. But no matter where you fall on that spectrum, you should always plan for it. Why should you plan for it? Well, depending on the student, school, and classroom requirements, if you’re not careful, you could be spending way more than you plan to. According to the National Retail Federation, on average parents spent almost $670 per child on school supplies last year. That number seems absurd, but when you add up how much new supplies, shoes, clothes, and those increasingly necessary electronics, it’s not cheap. However, whether your kids are about to start kindergarten this fall or heading off to college, there are ways to buy everything they need without breaking the bank.  

Make a list

Look at school supply lists if teachers provided them. If not, just think overall what you actually used the previous year and take that into account. Next, take a picture of the list on your phone in case you leave the list at home... it happens to everyone. Finally, stick to your list. Make sure your kids understand wants over needs and if you are one of those people that just wants to get it over with, don’t bring the kids. 

Do a supply sweep

Gather all loose school supplies in the house and bring it to one spot. Organize your materials and take items off your master list that you already have at home. That way you won’t be buying the same items twice, thus saving money. 

Choose your store/ shop around

Name brands may seem appealing, especially to your little ones, but they may end up costing more than the exact same generic brands. For example, one 5-Star notebook at Staples costs $3.50 compared to the generic brand at Staples or Walmart that can be less than $1. So if you need 10 notebooks, instead of spending $35, you could reasonably spend less than $10. It’s these small decisions that differentiate spending $500 or $200. Also, the dollar store is your friend. While the quality of certain products isn’t always the best, you can certainly get your tissues, hand sanitizer, pens, pencils and much more for a super reasonable price. Many sell name brand items that are the same quality as in the big stores, just at a cheaper price. 

Compare prices

Bargain hunting can be time-consuming, but now there are a multitude of apps that can do the difficult work for you. With apps like CamelCamelCamel or ShopSavvy, you just scan an item while you’re in the store to find a better price at another store nearby or online. 

Hold off

Parents get caught up in the here and now and are tempted with back to school signs and “deals” at the front of office supply and big box stores. Don’t fall for it. Wait until the very end of summer vacation, or even a week after school starts to buy your supplies. Those “deals” may seem appealing now but the stores do their big mark-downs at the end of summer when they are trying to get rid of all the inventory for the next big season. 

Donate the rest

There are almost always left over supplies from the prior year that weren’t needed. Consider donating them to a charitable organization or to the school. It is good to give back to those who are less fortunate and for some, they may be able to take a tax deduction for the value of the donated items. Also, the more that is donated to the school, the more supplies your children will have access to if they need something and you don’t have time to get to the store. 

Make back to school shopping a learning experience.

This is a great time to teach your children the basics of budgeting and choices. Though it may seem easier and quicker to leave them at home, this is a great time to learn these necessary life skills. Give them a budget and help them make decisions about what to buy and where to buy it.  

The main takeaway is to make a plan. Planning ahead will not only keep you more organized, but it could also save you significant money. Keep in mind when going through this process, that these tips are geared toward supplies shopping, but most of them can be used for other back to school shopping (clothes, shoes, electronics) that you may do: budget, shop around, and plan for it.  

Christian Bishop CFP®, EA  

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