After two months of finding ways to keep kids busy while they’re at home for summer break, back-to-school is one of the most wonderful times of the year… for parents, at least. However, for many, especially against the backdrop of rising prices on just about everything, the elation can quickly turn to anxiety when considering back-to-school spending.
While the amount of school supplies provided by each school varies, as a parent or guardian, you can almost guarantee that there will be costs associated with the new school year. The amount spent on back-to-school expenses will depend on grade level, clothing needs (e.g. indoor gym shoes) and resources available, but can take a toll on your finances.
If money is already tight or you weren’t able to budget for the return of classes, back-to-school expenses can add up and potentially add to existing debt that you carry. Though some expenses are unavoidable, we’ve compiled our top tips to help you tackle back-to-school, on a budget.
It’s always a good idea to start to plan your shopping trips in advance. As soon as you can, get a copy of the required supplies for your child’s class, take note of everything needed, and then think about any additional purchases like clothing, sneakers, or backpacks.
Next, you want to look at your current budget and savings to figure out how much you can spend on back-to-school items. Once you have a number in mind of what you can afford, review it against your shopping list, set a budget, and stick to it. Communicating this with your child beforehand will help set expectations and avoid disappointment. Creating a budget, regardless of your financial situation, is a great way to avoid overspending during this expensive time of year.
Take stock of your inventory
After you’ve made your budget and your list of required items, take stock of your current inventory or leftover items from the previous school year. Typically, we buy more than we need, especially when it comes to things like loose-leaf, pens, and pencils. If you have useable supplies from last year, shop from home first. Other supplies, such as pencil cases, pencil sharpeners, markers, backpacks, and zipper binders tend to last more than one year. Before buying new versions of these items, see if any that you have on hand are still in useable condition.
When it comes to clothing, go through your children’s closets before heading to the mall. Have they grown and now need a new size, or will their clothes from last year fit? Are their gym shoes still in good condition? How much of each basic item, like jeans, plain t-shirts, socks, and sweaters do they already own? Clothing tends to be the largest back-to-school expense, so having a good idea of what’s already in your child’s closet will allow you to plan out what they’ll need for the school year and deter you from over-purchasing.
Get on mailing lists
While signing up for promotional emails from stores can be somewhat annoying, they can be beneficial during busy shopping seasons like back-to-school. If you don’t receive flyers at your home and prefer to shop online, subscribing to store email lists will help keep you up to date on sales and discounts.
Sometimes, stores even offer special discount deals to their email subscribers which can offer large savings depending on your purchase. If you’re a frequent online shopper, try discount sites and apps that offer cashback or member rewards. A 10% off coupon or free shipping might not feel like much, but when you’re spending a lot of money, it can make a big difference.
Put the plastic away
If you prefer buying in-store, try going cash-only. If you’ve budgeted to spend $80 on school supplies, take that amount with you to the store and leave your credit cards at home. This added restriction will make you think about your purchases and help you choose practicality over what might be trendy. Whatever cash is left over, if any, can be used towards upgrading an item, purchasing something else, or saved for later in the year. If you prefer using a card or want to shop online, you can purchase prepaid credit cards as an alternative.
While there is nothing wrong with using credit to purchase these items, you should have a plan to pay it off in full as quickly as possible. Credit cards can have high-interest rates, and the longer you wait to pay off your balance, the more you’ll ultimately end up paying for your purchases.
DIY school supplies for a personal touch
To avoid spending extra money on branded school supplies, try personalizing basic ones instead. Using stickers, pins, patches, and funky tape, kids can easily add personality and flair to their school supplies. By purchasing more basic or hardy items that your kids can use year after year, you’ll save in the long run and will be able to afford to buy fun and removable decorations. It’s also a great activity for a rainy summer day that allows your kids to unleash their creativity.
The first day of school will come quicker than you think. While everyone’s back-to-school list will be different, you should try to avoid last-minute shopping to help you stay within your budget and not settle for leftover, expensive school supplies. If you’re having trouble finding the money for school supplies this year, reach out to a local community centre or food bank. Many host school supply drives that donate essential items to children whose families are struggling to afford them.
If debt is limiting your ability to support your family, it might be time to get help. A Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) can help you renegotiate your debt and start your journey to debt freedom. Reach out and book your free consultation today.