My children are all grown now, but I can vividly remember our back-to-school shopping trips. I’d have the cart and all three of them would run up and down the aisles, grabbing things and dropping them in the cart while I was saying things like, “Do you really need SEVEN new folders?” and “Don’t you already own a pencil sharpener?” When we’d finally get up to the cash register, there would be a mound of supplies, a huge bill and one shocked mom.
Pencils, paper and folders can add up really fast, especially if you’re shopping for more than one child. But if you’re careful, it doesn’t have to.
This year, model smart behavior for your kids and plan before you shop. Don’t be like me and head out with just a credit card and three supply-crazy kids.
Here are Ten Tips for getting what your kids need for school without going broke:
1. Make a list - Get the school supply list and go over it before you leave the house. Figure out what you already have, what you really need and what can wait ’til later in the year.
2. Build a budget - Back-to-school shopping happens every year so it’s something you can plan for. Put a little money aside from each paycheck so you’re not overwhelmed. If you have more than one child, figure out how much each child can spend and then stick to it. To make it fun, tell them if they come in under the budget, you’ll split the savings with them.
3. Get help from your kids - Get your kids involved with the process early. Have them look for coupons and sales in the newspaper. Little kids can cut out coupons and older kids can use their math skills to figure out what all their supplies will cost.
4. Shop smart - To save money, buy generic or store brand items. Instead of plastic bags, use reusable containers and a lunchbox for their lunches. Figure out if buying lunch or taking it is more economical and do that.
5. Teach your kids to prioritize - Getting new shoes and supplies helps them get excited for the new school year, but talk to them about the need to make choices. Have them decide which things are most important to them (a new backpack?) and which things don’t matter so much (sneakers for gym class?).
6. Shop the sales - It may still be the beginning of August, but the back-to-school sales have already started in some stores. Take advantage of the sales, but don’t feel like you have to buy an entire year’s worth of clothes before school starts. There will be great clearance sales later in the Fall so only buy what you absolutely need right now.
7. Make it fun - Before hitting the stores, send your kids on a home scavenger hunt to see how many items on the supply list they can find. The one who finds the most gets a prize.
8. Recycle, reuse - Don’t just automatically throw everything away at the end of the school year. Save the folders, paper, pencils etc. that can be reused the next year.
9. Sort, sell, shop, save - A great way to save money and clean out your closets is to go through your children’s clothes, toys, equipment, etc.. (with their help) and take them to a resale shop. You’ll earn cash and then can turn around and shop the racks for great deals on gently used items your kids may need.
10. Encourage saving - Tell your children the money saved on school shopping will be used for a special fun activity, like going to an amusement park. Encourage them to reuse as many items as possible and then let them splurge on one fancy thing they just can’t live without. Here’s a handy back-to-school calculator to help you save.
Back to school shopping shouldn't just be about buying supplies and clothes. It’s also the perfect opportunity to teach some great financial skills, including budgeting, sales, comparison shopping, etc… As a parent, keep track of what you spend so you’ll be better prepared the following year. Happy shopping!