How to save money on back-to-school shopping

August 19th, 2011 Kim Ross

To your kids, shopping for new clothes, gear and school supplies may be the only good thing about going back to school, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune every year. Start your back-to-school shopping with a game plan to save money and make your life easier. Here are 9 tips to help you get started.

Make a list.

Use the list of recommended supplies from your child’s school as a starting point. If you don’t have a list yet, check with parents at your school who have older kids. Sit down with your child to go over the list together and organize items according to importance. You’ll be teaching your child how to get organized, set priorities, manage money and start saving for items your budget won’t allow.

Reuse items from last year.

Once your list is complete, take some time to search your home office for items you already have. If you dig deep enough in your closets, you may find plenty of school supplies left over from last year. Take an inventory of the supplies you have on hand and plan to reuse items that are still in good condition. Check those items off your list.

Determine your budget.

Decide how much you plan to spend for back-to-school shopping this year. As you do your shopping, keep a record of your purchases and be aware of how these purchases fit into your overall budget.

Stick to the list.

Don’t waste time and money on unlisted items. Also, hold off on buying trendier gear such as lunch boxes and pencil cases. Kids may love the extra supplies they see in the store, but once they start school and see that their friends are all using something else, those extras will probably go unused.

Comparison shop.

Scour the weekly ads to find the best prices on supplies and back-to-school basics. Keep a list of these prices with you so you can easily compare prices and find the best value.

Shop end-of-summer sales.

Kids wear some clothes, such as short-sleeve polo shirts, all year long, so hit the big summer sales and snap up discounted items that can be worn well into fall.

Buy basics in bulk.

Basic items such as paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks are often sold in bulk at discounted prices. Consider going in with a group of other parents to split the cost and divide up the items. Or, if you have items left over, set up a supply shelf or storage container at home that can be used all year to avoid late-night shopping trips to buy notebook paper when your child runs out. Plus, you’ll know where to find unused items when it comes time to shop for supplies next year.

Search for quality used items.

You may be able to find great deals on clothing items, backpacks and other supplies at consignment stores or garage sales. Taking time to find quality used items can pay off when you find the items you need at a fraction of the price.

Involve your children in the process.

Parents and mentors can use the back-to-school shopping experience as an opportunity to explain the difference between “wants” and “needs.” For example, your child may want to purchase a box of pencils featuring his or her favorite cartoon character or superhero, but at $3 per package, the pencils are a luxury compared to a standard box of pencils that may cost $0.50. Discuss the difference between “wants” and “needs” and explain how this has an impact on your family’s back-to-school shopping budget.

Kim Ross

About the author

Kim Ross is Second Vice President/Retail Managing Officer at MidWestOne Bank. She works with MidWestOne customers to help them manage their personal finances and identify effective money management solutions.

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