August is here once again! That means your kiddos will be heading back to class sooner than you probably expected. If you drained your wallet on back to school supplies last year, now is when you prepare to be a smarter, savvy shopper this time around. Back to school means big sales and big money for companies that cater to student needs. If you sell notebooks, velcro binders, or pens, the month leading up to school is your Black Friday. What does this mean for you? As long as you do your research, only buy what you need, and exercise patience when it comes to sales, it can mean big savings. And it’s easier than you think, once you know where to get started:
First, let’s chat about some of the things you really DON’T need right out of the gates. Between popular trends, advertising, and the ever-impulsive wants of your kids, it can be tough to understand what’s necessary and what simply isn’t. Some items can wait a few weeks, others you don’t need at all.
Consider waiting on these items…
Trendy gear. So much of advertising today is playing on the often-fickle tastes of your child. Companies strive to make a product popular with kids, in the hopes that they will pressure their parents into buying that item. If you’ve ever used the candy-free aisle at the grocery store, this isn’t news to you. This year’s big item doesn’t stay expensive forever though! Waiting on trendy gear until the price drops after Labor Day can save you considerable cash.
New wardrobes. A big part of back to school excitement is getting a new outfit to show off. If you do some planning, you’ll end up saving a bundle of money while keeping up with this year’s look. Sure, most retailers will offer up some degree of back to school sale, but it usually pales in comparison to the type of savings you get when approaching the end of a season. Most kids will wear short-sleeve polo shirts and things of that ilk well through winter, too—so it might be worth it to wait.
Rolling backpacks for kids. As a rule, the weight of your child’s bag should be no heavier than 15% their body weight but your child can be a prodigy and still not be lugging around enough textbooks to justify using a rolling backpack between classes. If the weight of your child’s bag is overburdening them, you should take a moment to assess how much of the stuff they’re lugging around is genuinely necessary. In many cases, a lot of what kids are dragging around with them can be left in a locker or at home.
Tablets. Every parent wants their child to have an edge in the classroom. It’s not surprising that parents will gravitate towards new technologies to give their kids an upper hand. Whether or not tablets and high-end laptops are beneficial for developing minds is debatable, but one thing is for sure: tablets aren’t cheap. While many school districts today give kids access to an iPad® or other readers, those that don’t almost certainly won’t develop curricula that punish students without access. Furthermore, many kids miss out on learning crucial study skills involved in note taking and problem solving, where most students use notations on paper to refine techniques.
So now that we have the non-essentials out of the way, how do we save on essential back to school items?
Ways to Save:
Think before you buy. Different products will go on sale at various times of the year, depending on when companies expect them to be the highest (or lowest) in demand. Two of the biggest back to school expenses operate on different demand cycles:
- Clothing tends to sell on quarterly cycles, where the middle-to-end of each season means pushing out existing merchandise at a lower price point. End of summer sales for short-sleeved, lightweight clothing are a great deal, whereas the end of winter is perfect for buying sweaters and other gear for when the weather outside is frightful. Buying out of season can save you a bundle in the long term. Just be wise and purchase them with the expectation of growth. Your little one is likely not going to be the same size in the spring as he or she is now.
- Companies that sell school supplies rely on the big back to school push to move massive quantities of folders, pencil cases, rulers, markers, calculators, i.e., Items your child can buy once and use for most of the school year. If you can use some of these items from the previous year you can save quite a bit by waiting a few weeks after the first week of school.
Find generic equivalents. Branding on many office and school supplies is subtle. When you’re buying paper or pens at the local pharmacy, you may not think whether you’re purchasing the most budget-friendly brand out there. Store brands are often the best buy for your budget. Do a little research for a better idea of what brands are more affordable, and, more importantly, which ones you should avoid. The same is true for buying compatible ink cartridges. Compatible ink cartridges are usually going to be cheaper than the original name brand. Make sure you get them from trusted brands or you might be in for an unpleasant printing experience.
Let the kids raid the home office. Allow your kids take from the supplies you have on hand at the home office before you go to the store and buy duplicates. Often, they’ll find fun and creative ways to re-purpose the things you just have laying around.
Supermarkets! Your local supermarket covers most everything you need to get through your day (and then some). Most large supermarkets and chain pharmacies feature sections for office supplies and stationery. They also frequently offer deep discounts on these items, especially after the back to school rush is over. Check your weekly flyers and see if there’s anything you can nab on the cheap.
Make things harder to lose. Overloading kids with stuff makes it more likely they will end up losing the things they need the most. Taking a minimalist approach to outfitting your child for classes not only saves money, it makes it far less likely that things they regularly use will get lost. Putting pencils, pens, and other frequently-used supplies in one, brightly-colored bag or box will also make it easier to find these important items.
Thrift smarter. Like most things, thrift has gotten smarter thanks in large part to technology. Most people associate thrift shopping with co-op swaps, yard sales, and dollar stores, but now other options are locally available for people looking to purchase lightly-used clothes and goods. Many neighborhoods have local resale networks connected online, often using social media networks like Facebook. For example, a private invite-only group exists in my neighborhood where people exchange furniture, used clothing, exercise equipment, and a whole lot more. Local resale networks are especially good for parents of young children who will outgrow clothes and shoes long before they’re worn out.
Back to school can be exciting without being expensive. If you spend a little time preparing and purchase your goods when the price is right, you can get everything you need to send the kids off to class without breaking the bank.