Last year at this time, I wrote a piece that highlighted the fact that Americans spend nearly as much on back-to-school shopping as they do during the holidays.
In my mind, that made it imperative for everyone to bring their "A" game to the back-to-school shopping arena. After sifting through the numerous comments and suggestions readers shared in response to last year's article, it's clear that many of you are doing just that.
So, I've updated my tips and included a number of new ones that originated with thoughts from members like you. Here are just a few ideas:
- Spread it out. I encourage folks to shop for holiday gifts year-round, and the same could be said for back-to-school purchases. There's nothing that says your kids need closets and backpacks stuffed with everything they'll need throughout the year on the first day of school. Instead, smooth the financial impact by buying over time. Heck, if you're feeding them right, they may even grow over the course of the year, so buy too early and you could get limited use out of your purchase -- or worse, forget what you bought.
- Stay off the bandwagon.There's no more surefire way to break the budget than to buy the hottest gift or gadget -- now or during the holidays. Stick to the basics, and don't let your back-to-school shopping become a foot race with the Joneses. This could be another great teaching moment: a discussion of needs vs. wants.
- Make a list. Speaking of teaching moments, you can make any type of shopping more efficient and less costly by starting with a budget and building a shopping list. This will keep you on track and allow you to avoid impulse buys. Do it yourself, or better yet, if your kids are a bit older, bring them in on the exercise.
- Can you say sale? Everybody loves a deal and if you can match up a sale with something on your list, you've got the makings of a definite winner. Of course, sales happen throughout the year, so the back-to-school season may be a great time to buy and stash a holiday gift or two. And if, at the same time, you take advantage of those tax-free days offered throughout the country, you'll get the most bang for your buck.
- Shop at home. You may miss out on some fun (or misery, from my perspective!), but scouring the house for last year's leftovers can put some cash back in your pocket. Additionally, swapping everything from supplies to shoes with friends and neighbors -- before school starts -- could provide another savings opportunity.
- Skip the mall. A lot of readers pointed out the big benefits of shopping at consignment stores or even thrift shops (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.). Last December, as I packed trash bags full of lightly used clothes my kids had outgrown, I thought, "Wow, somebody is going to get a deal." Let that somebody be you.
- Be a cash buyer. The definitive solution to staying on budget during any shopping spree is to use cash. When the money is gone, the shopping is done. An equally effective alternative, in the interest of budget education, is to consider putting money budgeted for back-to-school purchases directly into your teen's checking account -- and then setting them loose with their debit card. From comments readers shared with me, it appears many kids find the will to shop smart when they know they get to keep any leftover cash if they come in under budget -- and that could mean enough money for an extra outfit or two.
It's back-to-school time. Start the teaching and learning process early with savvy choices about what your kids need and where to find it without shelling out a fortune. Good luck!