Back-to-school shopping is expensive.
The recently-released 13th annual Huntington Backpack index, a measure of how much households spend on school supplies and related fees, revealed that the amount that parents of elementary school children can expect to pay this year is a whopping $1,017. That’s up almost 60% from last year while middle school costs are up 36% and high school spending is up 23%.
What can parents do to reign in the spending on pens, notebooks, paper and all the other mysterious items that teachers seem to request these days? Here are a few tips that will help you save on your back-to-school shopping.
Be a smart shopper
Nearly every state has a sales tax holiday, where certain items — generally school supplies and/or disaster preparedness supplies — are exempt from state sales tax. The dates and eligible items vary from state to state, but it makes sense to hold off on purchases if you know you have a tax holiday coming up soon.
Late summer is also a time when office supply stores and big box retailers have select school supplies at unbelievable prices. Make sure you read the fine print, though — there are often spending requirements or other limitations on the deals.
When you’re shopping for clothes and shoes, always ask about military discounts. Also be sure to take advantage of price matching — many retailers, including the Army & Air Force Exchange Service stores, will match their competitor’s prices, saving you gas, time and money. Plus, this year AAFES is offering shoppers a 15% discount to anyone that opens a Military Star card account, which is an additional 5% than normally offered.
Play the waiting game
When my kids were in elementary school, I can’t tell you how many times I scored great deals during the summer at the back-to-school sales only to find out when school started that my child’s teacher had a very specific list of their own. Even when the school had put out a list on their website, there were items that my children’s teachers wanted.
Eventually, I learned to be more cautious in my purchases. Sure, I still shop the back-to-school loss leaders at the store, but I either only buy things that I know will come in handy, like folders and pencils, or I wait to buy the rest until after I get the “real” list from the instructor.
Another option is to buy items during the sale and keep the receipts so that you can return or exchange if necessary, assuming the store’s return policy allows it.
Give kids a budget
As my kids have gotten older, they have become much more particular about the brands, types of school supplies and clothing that they want. When they got to middle school, I decided to do away with the typical back-to-school shopping frenzy.
Now, I give them each a flat amount of money per quarter to spend on their school supplies and wardrobe. It’s amazing how frugal my teens are when they are using their “own” money. They scour the sales racks at the mall and suddenly dollar store brand pencils are fine. Both my kids also like to stretch their funds — and find vintage clothing — by shopping at thrift stores.
Get free supplies
For the past 10 years, Operation Homefront and the Dollar Tree have been teaming up to provide military kids with school supplies via the Back-to-School Brigade. Registration is currently open for 2019, and you can check to see if there’s an event happening near you.
Other nonprofits, such as the United Way’s Mission United, may offer back-to-school supplies as well. Do a search on your local area or visit your local installation’s family center.
One of the easiest ways to save money once school starts is by having a plan for your meals so you don’t find yourself eating out or grabbing take out.
There are plenty of free meal planning apps and websites out there. I find myself using a combination of different websites — two of my favorites are Skinnytaste and Meal Planning Mommies — and I use recipes to create a shopping list and a weekly menu. There are sites that for a nominal fee will do all the planning for you.
Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a costly spending spree. With a little bit of planning, you can save some time, money and your sanity.Read comments