5 Rules for Back-to-School Shopping

By Mike Peterson
In August 26, 2012

School’s almost in session again, and that means the inevitable back-to-school shopping trip.  Pencils, notebooks, art supplies, clothing, lunch totes – it all starts to add up pretty fast.  If you’re on a budget (and these days, who isn’t on a budget?), it’s a good idea to have a game plan before you hit the stores.

Here are five ways to make sure you don’t blow your back-to-school budget:


1.  Shop your closet (and your junk drawer) first.  Before you head out to buy clothing and supplies, it’s a good idea to take stock of what you have at home.  Start with clothing:  What does your child have?  What still fits him, and what has he outgrown?  What will he need for the upcoming year?  If you have several children at home, consider hand-me-downs, too.

Once you’ve assessed the clothing situation, it’s time to think supplies.  You might have tons of pens and pencils in your junk drawer (or wherever it is you keep odd pens, pencils, highlighters, and other things) – check there first before you run out and buy packs of brand new ones.

Now, you should have a fairly good idea of what you have, and what you still need.  Make a list of the items you need to buy.


2.  Set a budget – and have a game plan for “extras.”  Now that you’re ready to go shopping, it’s time to talk numbers.  Don’t leave the house until you have a firm idea of how much money you have to work with – otherwise, it’s too easy to overspend.

It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time how you’ll handle requests for extra things like fancy designer notebooks or trendy shoes that aren’t on the “needs” list.  There are a few ways you can handle this:  You can give your child a set dollar amount – say, $20 — to spend on fun extras.  Tell her she can use that money however she wants, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.  Or, tell her that she needs to use her own money to buy things that aren’t on the list of needs.  You can also allow her to select one extra item of her choice – but only one.


3.  Save the comparison shopping for pricier items.  When back-to-school time rolls around, every store in your city is going to have little things like pencils, pens, and notebook paper on sale at dirt-cheap prices – you’re likely to get that stuff for next to nothing no matter where you go (plus, most stores offer price matching, so you’ll probably get the same deal no matter where you go).  Instead, save the bargain hunting for the bigger stuff – backpacks, calculators, jeans, and the like.


4.  Don’t buy everything now.  It’s really easy to get swept up in back-to-school madness. You feel as if you absolutely must buy everything your child needs right now, while the shelves are stocked and the sales are on – but there are a few fairly compelling reasons to space out the shopping:  First of all, most school-related stuff will be on sale for even less after the back-to-school shopping season dies down.  Second, your child may change his mind about what he wants once he sees what’s “in” this year.  Instead of getting everything at once, stock up on the essentials – pens, paper, notebooks – and then wait about a month.


5.  Buy for quality – not just for price.  When it comes to back-to-school shopping, there are things that are perfectly okay to skimp on – consumables like pens and pencils, notebooks, art supplies, and the like.  Those things aren’t meant to last, so it’s fine to buy the cheapest of the cheap.  But when you’re buying things that your child will be using for the long haul, you should consider more than just a low price.  A $10 backpack might sound like a killer deal – but it might not last the year.  Look for higher-quality items, even if they cost a bit more.

Have any other tips for a frugal school year? Leave me a comment and let me know how you save on school gear.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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