With the new school year right around the corner, the time for back-to-school shopping is once again upon us. And while this might be an exciting moment for kids (who can argue with a new pair of sneakers?), this is not the most thrilling time of year for parents–between new clothes, electronics and school supplies like backpacks and lunchboxes, parents today are averaging $685 on back-to-school expenses each year. Here’s a quick guide on how to save money when embarking on this seasonal shopping spree.
Use What You’ve Got
Old folders, notebooks and binders might not be as bright and shiny as new supplies, but they can usually get the job done for another year or two. Take stock of what supplies from last year are still in decent shape, and throw everything you want to keep into a bin that your children can source from–if you’re trying to be extra-efficient, take care of this while spring cleaning. Once you’ve gathered your reusables, buy some blank sticker labels to keep your kids organized on the cheap, and find some decorative stickers they can use to breathe new life into old supplies.
Organize a Supply and Clothing Swap
If you’re dreading the costs of school supplies and new clothes for your kids, chances are good that you’re not alone. Touch base with other parents around the neighborhood and see if they’d be interested in having a school supply swap–you can give away clothes that your kids no longer need and exchange them for clothes that they’ll love. Clothes account for more than a third of most parents’ back-to-school shopping budget, so it’s especially important that the swap take advantage of anything that can be outgrown: shirts, pants, jackets and backpacks are all eligible possibilities. Better yet, maybe you have a working parent mentor who doesn’t need to swap, and would gladly give you clothes that no longer fit their older children.
Use Price-tracking Websites
If it’s time for your child to get a graphing calculator for that Algebra II class or a laptop they can use to write essays and you’d prefer to buy new instead of scouring craigslist, then you’ve got to use websites and apps that are built to help people get the best bang for their buck. First, you can sign up on CamelCamelCamel for price drop alerts–they track prices on Amazon and will send you an e-mail as soon as the price dips on an item you’ve tagged. But if your time is waning and you need to buy electronics now, download a price comparison tool such as Invisible Hand to make sure you’re getting the best available price on all of your back-to-school purchases. According to the National Retail Federation, electronics account for over a quarter of back-to-school shopping expenses–keep this portion of your budget minimal by using every tool at your disposal.
Retailers aren’t foolish–come early September, they know that most parents are done with back-to-school shopping, so they try to get rid of their surplus stock by holding end-of-summer sales. Why not wait until the new school year has started to buy your kids new clothes and supplies? Your pocketbook will thank you, since apparel will be seriously marked down, and your kids probably will too, since they’ll have the chance to see what fashions are trending this year before choosing their newest get-up.
With the right amount of financial discretion, back-to-school shopping can be a lot more affordable than you think. It can be way more manageable, too, with the help of an organization app that’s specifically designed for hard-working parents. Start making shopping lists sooner rather than later, and start planning on how exactly you’ll find everything your child needs. When the time comes to reach back into your coffers for holiday shopping, you’ll be glad you took so much care.