Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

back to school shopping

Summer is nearly over, which means that “back-to-school time” is here. It seems that every year, the major financial costs that are part of a new school season continue to rise. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), school and college shoppers are projected to spend over $83 Billion this year.  And no one is immune to back-to-school costs, including military families.

Luckily, recent media reports also reflect a growing trend of shoppers to delay purchases until after school actually begins to ensure they are buying the right fashions and supplies. This means that a large percentage of families have not yet completed shopping, and there is still an opportunity to save money on purchases.

In addition to the annual school “start-up expenses” – such as new clothes, computers, backpacks, and supplies – many parents are increasingly responsible for additional fees, including:

  • Supplemental textbooks;
  • Field trip and activity fees;
  • Picture and yearbook fees;
  • Sports fees and uniforms;
  • Fundraisers;
  • Requested donations from parents.

This increased burden on parents makes it even more important to establish a financial plan and stick to it. Here are 7 back-to-school tips to help save money this school year:

  1. Make a Budget: Write down your anticipated costs for all of your school needs before you go shopping. Include hidden and optional costs such as after-school lessons, clubs or activities, hot lunch or milk charges, and before- or after-school care.
  2. Review Your Budget: Evaluate your projected expenditures. Look at the total annual number. Can you afford it? If not, your best choice is to prioritize your expenses and start eliminating the ones at the bottom of the list. Think about what expenses you can put off for the time being, such as whether you can make a backpack last another year.
  3. Look for Savings: Wait a few weeks after school begins to find markdowns on back-to-school inventory. Comparison shop aggressively, and use the Internet to check costs. Visit thrift stores, yard sales, and eBay to find bargains.
  4. Reduce Lunch Costs: Actively compare the cost of school lunch programs to the cost of packing a lunch. The cost of school lunches continues to rise, but they can still be cheaper than Lunchables or other favorite pre-packaged kids’ meals. Your best bet is often to shop smartly and make healthy, economical lunches.
  5. Be a Conscious Shopper: There is a lot of pressure on kids these days to buy certain brands. Don’t give in. Look for the best quality you can get for the best price. If they insist on the brand name, offer to pay the price of the non-brand name item and let your child pay the difference.
  6. Involve Your Kids: When working to control household costs, you need everyone on-board. Explain to your children that the family is establishing a budget for school costs. Get their input and ideas on how to save money. Have them help identify what it will cost and where they want to shop. Exercise your veto power when necessary.
  7. Avoid Debt: The NRF estimates that over 25% of shoppers will use their credit cards to pay for their back-to-school purchases. If you use your cards, be sure to pay them off in full, immediately to avoid interest costs. If you carry a balance, you will pay far more than the sticker price for your purchase.

Even with rising back-to-school costs, it is possible to plan ahead and stick to a budget. Controlling your spending and avoiding debt can help reduce your stress and give you more time and energy to enjoy the school year with your children.

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Ethan Ewing is a veteran consumer financial services and online marketing executive. He manages all aspects of Bills.com, a leading consumer finance website that provides practical financial advice and free financial tools and resources. Ethan is a driving force behind Bills.com’s growth. He has held leadership positions at two Experian companies and built a lead generation business for Ameriquest Mortgage. He holds a BA from Denison University.

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