Pop quiz: Do you know how much you’re spending on all those back-to-school notebooks, clothes and backpacks?
Answer: They can easily add up to $500 to $1,000 per child in the first 30 days of school.
Surprised? According to the National Retail Federation, most households spend more than $600 a year on back-to-school shopping. For college students, that figure rises to about $900. Altogether, Americans will spend more than $20 billion preparing for the return to the classroom this year. But, there are back-to-school savings opportunities out there. Here’s how NOT to get schooled on back-to-school expenses.
Put in Planning Time
First, gather any back-to-school supply lists from your kid’s schools, add the clothing and any extras they’ll need, then look through the calendar to try to predict the cost of upcoming school activities. As parents, we often get surprised by expenses that we shouldn’t. With your list in hand, it’s easier to set a realistic budget for each category. Then, stick to the list! Because impulse buys are abundant at back-to-school hot spots.
Inventory Your House First
Before taking your list to the stores, search your own home for items that could fit the bill. You might already have a number of prequisite products, such as pens and empty folders, in your home office. Or items from last year that can be reused again – think pencil cases, scissors, etc.
Focus on Big Ticket Items
There are so many ways to save these days: coupons, incentive programs, rebates, weekly specials and online-only deals. To cut through the clutter, focus on finding the best process for the most expensive items on your list. Don’t worry so much about what the prices of the crayons or pencils are, because you’re going to find pretty good deals everywhere on those. You’ll save the most money on those big items, as well as time and gas money.
And get those important items early to make sure you get what you need – for instance, a calculator or other supplies that need to be a particular brand or model. For the more generic items, prices typically drop at the last minute and/or late in the season.
Follow Your Favorite Stores
Back-to-school clothing sales start appearing in mid-July and run through the end of August, and the options can be dizzying. They’re putting lots of coupons out there, so try keeping track of your favorite retailer’s deals by following them on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Then use those coupons in conjunction with sales to really get the biggest bang for your buck.
And consider getting on stores mailing lists. Sign up for store e-mails early and keep your eyes peeled. Think Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Best Buy, Target and Walmart and any other store where you would regularly shop for school supplies. Additionally, these shops will likely offer back-to-school sales and coupons, sometimes exclusive to their mailing list. Plus, you can comparison shop from the comfort of your inbox. When back-to-school season is over, you can always unsubscribe.
Price Match Cheap School Supply Deals
Doorbuster back-to-school deals tend to limit the number of items a buyer can purchase. But, you can price match a product at other office supply stores and even Walmart. Doing this increases the number of items you can get for those low prices.
Always Search for Coupons
Whether you are standing in line at the checkout counter or filling your cart online, get in the habit of doing a quick search online for coupons before purchasing. While you might not find a coupon to meet your needs, you may find one and end up cutting your bill significantly, all because you typed a few words into a search engine.
And keep tabs on daily deal sites. Just like regular retailers, daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, OpenSky and Gilt offer back-to-school savings as the summer winds down. As an added bonus, you can manage your preferences, so these sites will alert you when deals pop up for particular products.
Be Cheap – But Not Too Cheap – on Backpacks
Backpacks are the big budget busters for families. The best way to save on a new backpack is to always avoid the big name brands and more importantly, always avoid the character-themed backpacks. Those are always priced 20-30% higher and simply not worth the extra money. However, you still want to buy quality backpacks, such as Timberland, Rockland, LL Bean and Embark, that will actually last through the entire school year.
Buy Your Textbooks Used
Since 2006, the cost of college textbooks has increased by 73% - that’s more than four times the rate of inflation! Today, individual textbooks often cost more than $200 and are sometimes as much as $400. However, buying a used textbook can offer significant savings. One algebra textbook, which retails for more than $200 on Amazon, is available used on the site for just $45.
Comparison shop for textbooks as well. If you want to save even more money on your textbooks, do some comparison shopping before making a purchase. Try TUN’s Textbook Save Engine or CampusBook’s search feature to determine which options are the cheapest for individual books. Be sure to look up textbooks using the ISBN numbers, so you can be sure you’re comparing the right versions.
And did you know you can license an e-textbook online? You can also save money by licensing (similar to renting/borrowing) electronic copies of your textbooks. Typically, textbooks are available for set periods of time, such as one semester.
Take Advantage of Tech Deals for College Students
Many stores provide discounts on electronics for college and high school students. Check out the Apple Education Pricing page or Best Buy’s College Student Deals. Be prepared to provide proof of your student eligibility with an ID card or college transcript.
Avoid Cold-Weather Clothes
Retailers are ready to sell you on all their fall and winter clothes, but few of these items have been marked down at this point in the summer. And frankly, your kids won’t need them just yet. Wait until you see more sales on cold-weather gear to stock up.
Get Your Kids Involved
If you bring your kids with you while you are back-to-school shopping, make them budget. It’s never too early to start teaching your kids some financial literacy. By establishing a budget for their back-to-school shopping, you can make them part of the process while teaching them that money is a limited resource. This also works with extra-curricular activities. Does it cost $50 to join Spanish Club? Varsity volleyball uniforms and fees are $150? If so, then they need to know that their activity of choice is not only a time commitment, but a financial commitment as well.
"You're off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!"
~ Dr. Seuss
~ Dr. Seuss