Financial Education Blog

Save money on back-to-school shopping

We’ve arrived at that magical time of year where parents scour sale ads and coupon apps for hot deals while children try to squeeze every last minute out of summer break. Yes, it’s back-to-school shopping season. The experts at the National Retail Federation predict that Americans will spend approximately $82.8 billion on back-to-school costs associated with grades K -12 and college; families with kids in elementary school are expected to spend an average of $685 before the school year begins.

How do you pare down those costs? Here are a few suggestions.

Make a list and create a budget
This advice is sage for any spending. Once you have your list of supplies from your child’s school, add to it any other essentials you know you’ll need: clothing, shoes, lunchboxes, book bags, etc. Then, do a little research on how much each item will cost, and create a budget. If possible, use receipts or credit card statements from the previous year to inform that budget. The real trick is sticking to the list. Take it with you when shopping to assure you’re getting the right supplies. If you’re an impulse buyer, try shopping online to avoid throwing extras into your cart.

Use a card with points or rewards
The first rule of budgeting is to pay yourself first. The same rule applies to back-to-school shopping. Use a rewards credit card that offers redeemable points for purchases, such as the 7 17 Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card with the ScoreCard® Rewards program, which can be redeemed for merchandise, travel discounts, gift cards, or cash back.

Host a swap
This takes a little planning but it’s worth it. Plan an afternoon or an evening with friends who have school-aged children, too. Ask them to bring extra supplies they have that won’t be used because their children have moved on to middle school or junior high as well as clothes their children have grown out of and can’t wear. Organize them by type and let your friends swap away. You can even turn it into a charitable event by donating anything leftover to a local charity or shelter – with your attendees’ permission, of course.

Consignment stores
Growing kids tend to grow out of their clothes before the school year ends. Why shell out big bucks for clothes that won’t last that long? Check out consignment stores for quality, name brand, gently used clothing that won’t cost you a fortune. Plus, if you have clothes that your kids have grown out of, you could save even more money by trading those in for store credit.

What’s in the inventory?
Full disclosure: I don’t have kids yet, but I fondly remember shopping every August for folders, binders, notebook paper, colored pencils, markers, tissues, glue sticks … the works. I also remember that, without fail, something went unused, or more likely, my younger brother would “misplace” something on the first day of school. It would be replaced, and then the “misplaced” thing would subsequently be found when we would clean out our book bags for the next summer’s adventures. All of that to say, take a look at what you might already have before going out to buy it again. You never know what school supplies might be lingering in the back of a closet or cabinet, or at the bottom of a second grader’s book bag.

Bonus tip: Use this as a way to teach your kids about budgeting!
This is a great way to start the money conversation with your kids. Review the supply list and include other needs through the year, such as clothing or extracurricular activities. Present them with the budget, and get their input on how much should be spent on each item. If there is something that they want to splurge on, encourage them to use funds from their own allowance.