It’s still hot and humid outside, but retail stores are already advertising “back-to-school” sales. While kids aren’t ready to say goodbye to their daily treks to the neighborhood pool or endless sleepovers, parents should start planning for the hefty price tag that accompanies the return of the school year. In 2018, families with elementary through high school-aged children spent an average of $680 per child on back-to-school-related expenses. So, before your family takes one last trip to the water park, review our back-to-school savings tips to minimize the potential stress on your pocketbook.
Pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, and other necessary school supplies might be lurking in hidden places in your home. Start with last year’s backpacks, craft room drawers, playrooms, etc. Empty bags and drawers. Dig to the bottom of playroom storage containers. Your goal isn’t to locate new items but to determine what duplicate items you have on-hand that can be used during the first weeks of school. Reusing these items is not only environmentally friendly but will help you avoid unnecessary spending.
Create Your Shopping List
After you’ve checked your home for back-to-school supplies, it’s time to make a shopping list. Visit the school’s website to see if the back-to-school supplies list is posted online. Printed versions are often available at area grocery and office supply stores. Cross off any items you have on-hand.
Scan the Advertising Circulars
Gather advertising circulars from your local stores and match your shopping list to sales and special offers. There’s no need to drive from one store to the next to grab the latest back-to-school sales ads. Check your mailbox, online, or your cell phone. Your mailbox might contain more than junk mail this time of year. Sales bulletins are also available online and via mobile apps such as The Coupons App and ShopSavvy. Simply add the name of the retailer next to the item on your shopping list and mark the store as “favorite” in the app.
*PRO TIP* Ask retailers if they’ll price-match a competitor’s offer. This can help you save time and gas by limiting the number of stores you need to visit.
Buy School Supplies in Bulk
Your local warehouse store can be a way for you to save big even without coupons, but only if you shop smart. For example, there’s no use in buying 10 scissors in a pack when you only need two. To make buying school supplies in bulk work for your family, partner with at least one other parent. While bulk items can be used next semester or next school year, remember that each grade level will vary on the required supplies needed each year.
Purchase Gently Used Uniforms
School uniforms should be purchased used if you intend to save money. Thrift stores and uniform swaps are the best ways to secure a gently used school uniform. Contact your child’s school to ask about existing annual uniform swaps or coordinate with other parents and start your own yearly exchange.
Buy on Clearance
Many of the best deals aren’t advertised. While a store might say it has a clearance sale, shoppers won’t know until they visit the clearance racks if they can use the items. When you visit the stores on your list, head to the clearance rack first. You may find a comparable item on the rack that’s less expensive than the advertised sales item.
HINT: Standard school supplies typically hit the clearance shelves by the third week of school. This is the perfect time to purchase additional supplies for the following semester.
Shop Tax-Free Weekend
Plan to shop sales on your state’s sales tax holiday, aka tax-free weekend. This year tax-free weekend in Texas is Friday, August 9 – Sunday, August 11, 2019. Shoppers can purchase most clothing, shoes, and school supplies up to $100 per item and skip the sales tax.
As long as your family has a plan, spending less than the national average on back-to-school shopping is possible. Gain a head start on next year’s expenses by opening a designated savings account and depositing money regularly. Combine consistent savings with smart spending habits and you might earn the title of “savings valedictorian.”
Written by Freelance Personal Finance Writer, Tracy Scott