Tips for Buying Back to School Supplies

9 Smart Spending Strategies for Back-to-School Season

By Mike Peterson
In August 31, 2016

If you’re a parent, you’re likely eyeing the calendar with a mix of anticipation, relief, and dread. On one hand, the approach of the new school year means a return to your normal routine, and it means an end to finding new ways to keep the kids entertained and occupied day in and day out.

But on the other hand, the back to school season is really darn expensive: A new school year means new clothes and a mile-long list of supplies. Daily lunches. Fees for sports, band, clubs, and other extracurricular activities …

Back to school time is expensive, there’s no question about it. But if you do your homework, you’ll find that there are ways to financially prepare and even cut costs here and there.

Get ready for your first class at Debt Guru University. Today’s course? Back To School Spending 101. I’ve got some great lessons to help you get an “A” in saving money on everything from backpacks to textbooks to new clothes – and there are even a few opportunities to help give your kids a crash course in responsible spending!

Ready to get started? Here are nine things you can do to save money this school year.

  1. Buy in bulk. Back to school time is one of the few times where it really does make sense to purchase large quantities to save money. Stock up on industrial-sized packs of school staples like #2 pencils, pens, and notebook paper, and you can probably check those items off the list for the whole year.
  2. Splurge on “Buy it for life” items. Okay, so “buy it for life” might be an exaggeration – but I do think it makes good sense to spend a little more on items that could last for most of your child’s school years. For example, a sturdy, well-made backpack from a reputable brand (think JanSport, North Face, or L.L. Bean, for example) will set you back $30 or more – but it will definitely last longer than a cheapie you bought for ten bucks from a discount store – and many of them come with warranties or guarantees. A good reusable lunch tote is another purchase worth a little extra cash.
  3. Save on “Buy it for now” items. Not everything you buy for the school year will be a long-term commitment. A good example: Kids outgrow clothes and shoes – sometimes very quickly, so there’s no reason to empty your bank account to buy them. Stick to decent-quality, low-priced items that will last through the next growth spurt. Another area to save? School supplies. These items are consumables and there’s no reason to buy higher-priced brand name items when the good ol’ generic brand will work just fine.
  4. Buying books? Think used, digital, or rentals. Many high school kids are expected to buy novels for English classes, and college students are expected to buy ALL of their textbooks. Buying used books will definitely help you save – but there are some new options available, too: If your student has an e-reader, they may be able to get a digital version of the book for a fraction of the price. Or, consider renting a book for the semester.
  5. Get social. I’m normally not in favor of spending too much time interacting with retailers on social media. In general, I feel that a constant barrage of Facebook-only flash sales or exclusive email offers can prove too tempting to resist. But during back-to-school season, it’s definitely worth “liking” a few of your favorite stores or signing up for sales emails to score some savings.
  6. Don’t forget activities. Clothes and school supplies aren’t the only expenses that come with a new school year. Most extracurricular activities cost money, too: And if your kid is into sports, drama, Spanish club, band or any other extracurricular activity, make sure you’ve budgeted enough cash to cover any related membership fees, uniforms, or equipment.
  7. Keep it basic. Try to avoid purchasing school supplies and clothing that is too trendy: think backpacks or lunch totes emblazoned with the latest cartoon character/boy band/superhero movie; or super-trendy clothing that will be out of style in a month or two. You can make basic clothing more fun and on trend with budget-friendly accessories, and you can even add a few inexpensive character T-shirts to the mix. But by and large, you should choose items that can be mixed and matched and worn/used for at least the entire school year.
  8. Make back-to-school shopping a teachable moment. If your kids are old enough, use this shopping season as a way to help them learn about money. Consider giving them a small spending budget and letting them spend the money on school-related purchases of their choice. But make sure that they know that once the money is gone, it’s gone.
  9. Plan for wallet-friendly lunches. Avoid pre-packaged novelty lunches aimed directly at kids – you’re paying extra for those little build-your own taco or pizza kits, and they’re not especially healthy. Homemade lunches like sandwiches, salads, and even creative takes on last night’s leftovers are much easier on the wallet. You can also save by purchasing reusable containers: A single nylon lunch tote, or a compartmentalized plastic Bento box can take the place of a year’s worth of brown lunch sacks or plastic baggies.

Okay, class. That’s our first lesson from Debt Guru University. There won’t be a quiz – but I do hope you can use what you’ve learned when you start back-to-school preparations. And remember, if you need debt advice or have questions about debt, credit, or credit cards, you can always reach out to Debt Guru.  Contact the Debt Guru team today for a free debt relief consultation.

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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