It’s that time of year…back to school season. And as the calendar moves closer to that first day of school, a panic can set in. And we don’t mean just amongst students. Parents can be left scrambling to purchase all of the back to school supplies, clothes, and other items their child or children will need. In short order, those back to school expenses can add up. Often, they can become a lot more significant than you originally planned, putting a strain on household finances.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll offer up an overview of how to spend less on back-to-school shopping, provide some advice and helpful links on budgeting, discuss some options for financial assistance to make it through the back to school season. And provide a detailed list of back to school shopping tips to help you save money, and still get everything your child needs to tackle the new school year in style.
Just a note – the data, statistics, and other information in this article are based on resources and reporting from Canada. However, many of the tips within this article may be applicable to a wide range of countries and markets.
Back to School Expenses
First, it’s important to note what the average Canadian family incurs in terms of back to school costs. For 2018, survey data published on Morningstar indicated that around one-third of parents reported that back to school shopping and the expenses of back to school shopping were the biggest source of stress during the late summer season. This is despite the fact that around two-thirds plan to do some or nearly all of their shopping early and online. It’s not so much the availability of items or finding deals, but simply the cost, quantity, and never-ending avalanche of deals and discounts from companies that are competing with one another for your attention and retail dollars.
The surprising expenses of back-to-school shopping in 2018 averages $166 per-student for Canadian families. This excludes ongoing spending throughout the school year, and the inevitable forgotten or unexpected items that need to be picked up after the first few days of classes. And remember, this is an average. There are many places where per-student spending can easily be $500 or more, especially if purchasing new clothing, new technology equipment, or other big-ticket items, in addition to the basic school supplies.
These expenses tend to increase as students get older in most cases, with the needs of younger children tending to be far fewer (and cheaper) than those of older children. The biggest ticket items, regardless of student age, are listed below in the order of descending cost:
• Technology Accessories (e.g., printer cartridges, calculators, etc.)
• Bags, Backpacks, and Accessories
• Writing/Coloring Implements
• Paper Products, Binders, Folders
• Craft Supplies
• Locker/Other Decorative Accessories
Of course, there are other expenses that could easily be categorized in the back to school shopping season but generally aren’t defined that way in studies, surveys, and statistics. Still, they can be a drain on financial resources for many families. Therefore, expenses like haircuts, extracurricular activity fees, instrument purchases, sports equipment purchases, registration or parking pass fees, and similar should all be considered as part of the back to school budget.
Back to School Budget
One of the best ways to try to manage costs is by implementing a back to school shopping budget. This can be an excellent exercise to help control spending, as well as teach your children the value of money. Allocating needs vs. wants, and having them try to get the most from their “wants” list with the budget you set, can be great practice for your children to learn good money management skills later in life.
Even without involving the kids, setting a budget and sticking to it is important. It’s far too easy to spend more than you planned, especially when you’re in a store doing the shopping. Set limits on your overall spending, as well as limits on a per-trip or per-store basis. This will help keep your spending from spiraling out of control.
For help with back the expense of back-to-school shopping, there are some great resources online. One of the best is the back to school budget calculator. While no parent wants to disappoint their kids, it’s important not to go crazy. There are very few items, even on long, detailed school lists, that are absolutely essential. Making sure those are covered, without blowing your budget, is the first, and the best way to control spending.
Back to School Shopping Tips
Regardless of your financial situation, no one wants to spend more than they absolutely have to. So, we’ve compiled some of the best back to school shopping tips and financial tips to help you save money. If you use your budget as a guideline, and the school supplies list as a reference, you’re off to a good start. Add these tips into the mix, and you can greatly ease the stress and pain in the pocketbook that the new school year can create.
1 – Take Inventory
First and foremost, you should take inventory of what you already have. Most people tend to have a lot of leftover supplies, either from the previous year’s school term or purchases that were made throughout the year. There’s no need to re-buy things if you already have them sitting in your closet or drawers at home. This can also involve clothes and technology products.
2 – Generate a List of Needs and Wants
Most schools and grades provide a supply list, though not all do. If you have one, use it as a basis for a master list. Combine multiple children’s lists, plus the things they say they need, and what you think they need. Get together and break the list out into needs and wants. Most things on the school’s list should probably be needs, along with any basic supplies you feel they left off. Other things, like clothes, tech, accessories, are generally wants. Then both you and your (older) children can get a sense of what you need to shop for, and what might have to wait for a while.
Amazon also has a back to school suggested supplies list for each grade level that you can use as a refernce.
3 – Don’t Forget to Remove Existing Items from the List
Any items you have in inventory from should be removed from the list, since that is money you won’t have to spend on new school supplies. At the same time, this can be another excellent area to incentivize kids to look through their own stuff and see if there are items on the list that they do, in fact, have stuffed away in a drawer somewhere, long forgotten, that can also come off the list. You can even work it out as a bit of a game, where the more items they can recycle from their own school supplies, the more money you can put towards some of their “wants” lists.
4 – Try Setting Aside Back to School Funds throughout the Year
This one can be difficult, especially for families that are already having a tough time making ends meet. Nevertheless, the back to school financial tip that most experts emphasis is to try to set aside some money throughout the year, knowing you’ll have a large spate of expenses at the end of summer. This can be done physically if it helps, putting money in a jar or container every week or every month, and is another activity that you can get the kids to patriciate in, as well.
5 – Compare Prices and Deals, Especially During Late Summer Sales
There are tons of back to school sales, and almost every retailer – online or brick-and-mortar – tends to have deals and discounts. While it can be a bit of work, be sure to compare prices between brick and mortar retailers and online websites such as Amazon before making a purchase. Often, what’s on sale or discount at one retailer isn’t at the other. Retailers and manufacturers tend to use certain items as loss leaders at each chain, priced well below normal, and sometimes even below cost. The goal is to get you into the store to buy a bunch of other things. Compare prices, look at deals, and take advantage of them, resisting the temptation to buy a bunch of other supplies while you’re in a particular store.
6 – Buy Clothes in the Off Season
Clothing deals are often best found at the end of the season, as retailers look to clear out their inventory and get the new season’s stock in place. This means that the best time to shop for fall clothes is often at the end of fall of the previous year. This applies for all the seasons, so trying to plan ahead and buy clothes in the offseason, or at the end of the season, can often save you a lot in markdowns, clearances, and other promotions.
7 – Use Rewards and Loyalty Points
If you need a boost to your new school year budget, it might be an excellent time to redeem retailer reward or loyalty program points, credit card rewards, or other incentive program benefits. While this likely won’t pay for everything, it can help ease the burden of the late-summer expenses that come with the new school term.
8 – If Kids Want to Come Shopping, Make Them Play by the Rules
It’s important to include kids in their own back to school shopping, but this can often spell disaster for your carefully-constructed budget. Be sure to lay down some ground rules with regards to following a list, what you’re going to spend, and so forth, or make it clear they’ll be in trouble, should stay at home, or whatever discipline you feel is appropriate. Don’t let them goad you into spending more than you can afford, or more than you intended.
9 – Lean On Friends, Family, and Neighbors
Sometimes, one of the best ways to get the school supplies you need is by asking friends, family, and neighbors. People tend to have a lot of things in their homes that they don’t use or need. Grandpa might have boxes of pens you can have. Aunt Sara might work for a paper company and have loads of printer paper you can have. These are just some ways to get your supplies other than buying them. You can even arrange a kind of swap meet with other mothers and friends. Jane down the street might have 20 spare notebooks but no pencils, and you might have 20 boxes of pencils but no notebooks. This can result in a few items here or there, which all add up, especially if you have more than 1 child. This can help shave a little bit off of your back to school list, and it can be a social get-together as well.
10 – Plan For The Year
One of the best ways to stay on top of your back to school costs is to plan ahead, and plan for the entire year – or even plan for the following year. It may seem counterintuitive, but saving money in the long-run can sometimes mean spending more in the short-run. If you can spend a few dollars more on a backpack that will last for at least 2 or 3 school years, rather than buying the less expensive one which will need to be replaced every year, it might cost you far less in the long run. The same is true for binders, calculators, technology products, and clothes – anything non-consumable, really. Think ahead, and you’ll be able to get ahead with your finances!
If you simply cannot manage to afford even the basics for back to school, many districts and non-profit organizations have programs to offer financial assistance. Some retailers also offer layaway or installment payment options, especially for bigger purchases like computers or technology items.
Alternatively, if you need some short-term help with cash flow, a short-term loan might be the best way to keep your bills paid, and your children’s needs met. At iCash we provide easy access cash advance loans, that you can apply for online and get instant approval.
You can get up to $1,500 dollars and they are the only trusted licensed lender in Canada to offer fast 5 minutes e-transfer deposits. A short term loan might be just what you need to get over the spending hump that tends to occur with back to school shopping.