It’s that time of year. Kids of all ages are heading back to the classroom. Whether you have an elementary school student or a young adult going off to college, you are in planning and budget mode for the extra expenses that come this time of year. Parents, use the following ideas to help you sing for joy at the thought of kids heading back to school and not the blues due to an inevitable divot in the budget.
According to the National Retail Federation, families are spending 55% more than they did a decade ago. Families with Children in grades K-12 plan to spend an average $673.57 on apparel and accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies, up from last year average of $630.36. The numbers usually follow a pattern. During the first year, spending often increases as families stock up on supplies. These drop off in the next year as they get a second year out of longer –lasting items, like backpacks or computers. Spending then increases in the third year once children outgrow clothing or items need to be replaced. For parents of college freshmen, the average is more along the line of $1,300.
Some strategies to attack back-to-school expenses:
Have the talk – Set up a realistic budget
Back-to-school season is one of those classic teachable moments for parents to improve their kids’ financial literacy. So, given that kids want a say, why not give them some financial responsibility in the purchases as well? Share the budget process. Give them the whole picture and all the items that are needed. Have them help allocate the funds hypothetically, and see what kind of struggles or successes they come up with. This will help establish expectations when the time comes to actually spend the money on what is really needed.
“It’s important that kids learn to accept what you have and accept where you are in life,” explains Al Hicks, certified financial planner at Summit Planning Group. “When we were kids, our parents said, ‘We can’t afford it,’ and we didn’t argue. The reality is that most parents can’t afford it today but don’t say it.” Your child’s teacher just emailed the supply list, your mailbox is stuffed with back-to-school circulars, and piles of perfectly stacked notebooks are taunting you from store aisles. But there’s no need to panic and lose those good summer vibes: Just take a few deep, cleansing breaths before checking out these foolproof shopping strategies.
- Go shopping first in your closets and drawers.
Don’t buy a thing until your kids try on their clothing from last year and you assess what still fits and what needs to be replaced. Hunt for leftover school supplies that you may have stashed and forgotten. Designate a special box to save these items, so they are ready and available throughout the year.
- Make a list of what you plan to buy—and stick to it.
This might seem obvious, but it’s especially crucial if you’re taking your kids to stores. To resist the siren call of impulse purchases, just keep repeating your mantra, “If it’s not on the list, we don’t get it.”
- Create a budget and share it with your kids.
Figure out an amount that’s realistic and commit to it. If they’re old enough, get your kids involved in the planning as well—it can count as real life math experience! It’s also a great early financial lesson to understand that, say, the electronic light-up backpack will use up half the budget, or that novelty folders cost twice as much as solid-color ones. Have the kids research the cost at different stores on the internet.
- Don’t like the price? You might be able to go lower.
In the past, larger stores like Target and Wal-Mart have been committed to matching their competitors’ prices. After doing a shop comparison, ask the manager, at the store of your choice, if they will honor the competitors’ price offer (assuming it is lower, of course).
- Skip the crowded back-to-school displays.
You might fondly remember going to get your own supplies with your parents. Getting home with the brand new items, feeling excited about opening and using them and comparing with your friends. But the days of buying Trapper Keepers and push-a-point pencils with your parents at the local shopping center doesn’t compare to the power parents have with the Amazon app in their arsenal. Shopping online after kid bedtime can save the hassle of navigating stores with over-excited children who may have lots of extra requests.
If your school’s PTA sells individual boxes of supplies online, it’s worth taking advantage, especially if they offer delivery right to the classroom. And since a portion of the proceeds usually go towards fundraising, it’s a win-win in terms of convenience and warm fuzzies.
- Don’t leave money on the table.
The savviest online shoppers never pay full price at major retailers. Always check for discounts by searching for “Discounts on school supplies” or “School Supply coupons” or use the name of the store you are shopping at online and search for “Staples discounts or coupons.” Sites like coupons.com may bring up additional offers. You can also use comparison-shopping apps or in-store savings checkers like Target’s Cartwheel to be sure you’re maximizing your discounts.
- Join forces.
You often save more by buying items in bulk, so it might be worth teaming up with one or more families in your class to share buying power. A recent Amazon search showed that one bottle of a popular hand sanitizer was $6.24, but a two-pack of the same brand was only $3 more. And if one of your parent pals is a warehouse-store member who’s willing to shop for the crowd, this is basically the equivalent of winning the back-to-school lottery.
- Bring the shopping home.
Want first-day outfit inspiration? On sites like Kidbox, Kidpik and Rockets of Awesome, you first set up a profile for your child with sizes and style preferences. They’ll send you a box of seasonal clothing a few times a year, or more or less if you prefer. You’re not required to purchase anything and you won’t necessarily save much money, though some sites offer designer brands at lower prices. But the thrill of getting a package in the mail might make your child extra-receptive to trying on things he/she normally wouldn’t.
- Buy new shoes in the next size up, too.
When you find a sturdy pair your child loves, buy a second pair that’s one size bigger, so long as it’s a year-round shoe like a sneaker. If your kid has a mid-winter growth spurt, you’ll have at least one option she can wear right away.
- Splurge on the backpack.
Your kid’s school bag will get lots of abuse, so it’s worth spending a little more on something that won’t get destroyed by Thanksgiving. If your child isn’t picky about colors, remember that darker hues will show their age more slowly. The ideal knapsack has padded shoulder straps, smooth-gliding zippers, side pockets for water bottles and a chest strap to help distribute the weight evenly. Well-established companies like Lands’ End and L.L. Bean also offer lifetime warranties to protect against damage like rips and broken zippers, so the pricier initial investment may be worth it long-term.
The bottom line is that parents have always been the first teachers of financial behavior, and kids learn by example and stories. Talk with your student about what financial choices you made as a young person and especially what mistakes you made and how you learned from them.
Better yet, make a plan to be proactive for next year. Start a special savings account that you set up a payroll deposit or some sort of regular deposit of $20 or more each month. If you start today, by the time the next school year expenses roll around, you’ll have saved $240 or more to go toward your expenses. We hope this was helpful and gave you some ideas on how to get started and save some money for this 2017-2018 school year supply shopping season.