Saving Money on School Supplies
By Maggie Voelker
Next to holiday shopping, back-to-school shopping is the second largest shopping season. The average family of K-12 students plans to spend about $600 on back-to-school items this year, says the National Retail Federation. Since many of these costs—general school fees, sports fees, etc—are non-negotiable, it’s important to save moolah where you can. School supply shopping, with a little extra time and effort, can be one of these cost-savings areas. Here are some tips to checkout before you head to the stores.
Make a List
One summer, my family was on vacation at the lake right up to the beginning of the school year. Since we had less than a day at home between vacation and the first day of classes, mom decided to do school shopping on vacation. Bad idea. We didn’t have our school supply lists and ended up with millions of folders we didn’t need and we completely missed the graph paper and binders. Boy did the Voelker children feel dumb on that first day and Momma V ended up spending an exorbitant amount on school supplies that year.
If you take away nothing else, let it be the golden rule of school supply shopping—make a list. See if your school offers a checklist for students—check the stack of back-to-school papers or the school website for this bad boy. If you can’t find the list, never fear. Many office supply stores or large retail stores have kiosks with checklists for nearby schools. Bottom line, have an idea (in written form) of what you’re looking for and how much of each product.
Shop at Home
Before you even pack up the mini-van for the inevitable shopping trip, scour your home for supplies. If you don’t already have a school-supply station, create one. In our home office, there are two drawers dedicated to school supplies only. This is where extra supplies are stored throughout the year and where rulers, calculators, binders and other materials that can be recycled for the next school year are stored in the summer. Before we hit the stores each August, each child must go through the stash and ‘shop at home.’
Buy in Bulk
Shop early and buy in bulk for those items you know you’ll need (and are short of at home). Things like large packs of loose-leaf paper, notebooks and folders begin to go on sale in mid-July. Stock-up on these items as your budget allows, because remember, what you don’t send to school goes in your home supply stash for next semester or next year.
School supplies are popping up in unexpected stores. So breakaway from your mainstream office supply stores and head to dollar stores and craft stores where you’ll often find better prices. Speaking of prices, watch for sales. Check your local newspaper circulars to find the best deals on crayons, binders, etc. It takes a little extra time, but knowing when and where the sales are allows you to plan your shopping trip. So not only are you saving on supplies, you save on gas by not having to run back and forth to stores to return items after you find them cheaper elsewhere. Finally, if you have the circulars handy, see if your store offers price-matching; show clerks the advertisement and see if they’ll lower their price to meet the other store’s (hello gas savings).
Teach the Value of a Dollar
Those character folders and backpacks are a parent’s nemesis. As soon as a child sets their sights on one of these over-priced items, you’ll hear no end of, “Mommy please, everyone uses the Harry Potter pencils! Please, he’s my favorite! I can’t write without themmm!” Be strong.
While most parents find the Barbie folders to be an absolute waste of money, use this as an opportunity to teach your kiddos about a budget and the value of a dollar. Explain that each child has a certain amount of money they may spend, if they want that folder, then they’ll have to go for the off-brand backpack or cheaper notebooks. Not only will your children get a mini-finance lesson, they’ll be more involved in the shopping process and you’ll cut down on complaining by allowing them to have some autonomy in their purchases (i.e. don’t complain about your plain folders, you chose the Cars backpack).
Postpone the Trip
If you can get away with the supplies you have on hand for that first week of school or so, postpone your big shopping trip. Many stores have giant clearance sales just the week after school starts. This is also a great time to stock-up for next year. Bonus: No crowds.
Uniforms: Don’t Buy New Unless You Have To
Uniforms are God’s gift to parents. They simplify the morning routine and in the long-run, lead to significant savings on clothing. Unfortunately, uniforms are expensive upfront, and this savings is not realized until months later. To reduce this initial cost, don’t buy new clothing unless you must. See if your school has a used uniform sale (or start one), talk to friends with older children to see if they have hand-me-downs, or checkout local secondhand stores which usually have tons of outgrown uniform clothing. We all know how quickly children grow so there’s no shame in used uniforms. Parents unite over cost savings and are happy to help via hand-me-downs or by selling old uniforms at a school sale.
Keep these tips in mind and your pocketbook and sanity will benefit. Happy shopping!
Growing up, guest author Maggie Voelker was responsible for school shopping for herself and her three siblings while her mom worked, and she’s all too familiar with the chaos that is school supply shopping. Now a recent college graduate, she works as a content writer for an online discount socks provider, specializing in knee socks and dress socks for your kids in uniforms.