Each summer, schools send parents lists of classroom supplies that students need to arrive with. According to the National Retail Federation, back to school shopping and back to college spending in 2017 is expected to reach a staggering $83.6 billion, up more than 10% over last year.But when parents dutifully make all of these purchases, the price tag can be surprising large.
And when you add other back to school items such as clothing and backpacks, it can stress your household budget. In fact, the average family will spend $688 during the back-to-school shopping period, including $239 on clothing, $204 on electronics, $130 on shoes, and $114 on supplies.
Thankfully, there are some practical ways that you can trim your back to school costs while ensuring that your child has all the supplies necessary to succeed.
Speak with your children’s teacher
Some schools will prepare a large list of supplies that students need to bring with them, and simply send it to all of the families over the summer. Naturally, some schools make conservative assumptions of how much supplies to purchase, to ensure that all of their needs are met. But when parents reach out to their child’s teachers, they can ask whether all of these supplies are truly necessary.
This can be a good conversation to have at the end of the initial parent-teacher conference that often precedes the first day of school. And if your household is on an especially tight budget this year, don’t be afraid to share that with the teacher.
Try a ‘pay as you go’ strategy
Most households don’t purchase a year’s worth of supplies at a time, so why should you do so for your classroom? One way to save money is to send your children to school with enough to get them started, but not necessarily enough to last them through the entire year. This approach has several advantages, beyond just deferring costs.
First, you might have realized that certain supplies are seldom used or are unnecessary, before you’ve purchased a year’s supply. In addition, you and your child might find that some particular supplies are of poor quality or are unsuited to their needs. You may even find that you child’s classroom needs entirely different things based on unforeseen changes, but you’ll still have the budget to meet those needs.
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Leverage credit card rewards
An easy way to save money on back to school supplies is to earn valuable credit card rewards from your purchases.
For example, there are several small business credit cards that offer bonus rewards for purchases from office supply stores, which specialize in back to school supplies this time of year. Other credit cards can offer additional rewards at supermarkets and at department stores, which can also be great places for back to school shopping.
Another way to use your credit cards to earn additional rewards is to look at their online shopping portals. Many credit cards offer an online site that links to dozens of major retailer’s sites. But when you go through the portal to reach these sites, you’ll earn additional rewards on your purchases. Many times, these shopping portals you can earn 2x – 10x rewards for your online purchases from these major national retailers.
If you are trying to leverage your credit card rewards to save money, you have to keep one thing in mind at all times. You’ll only be saving money when you avoid interest charges by paying your credit card balance in full. Otherwise, you will be incurring costly interest charges that will more than make up for any rewards you receive. If you are carrying a balance on your credit cards, then it’s better to buy your back to school supplies with cash or another form of payment.
Stay away from expensive, trendy items
One of the biggest factors that can drive up the cost of your back to school shopping trips is the tendency to buy into the latest trends. The need to have a particular brand is especially strong with middle and high-school students. Buy by avoiding the temptation to spend more on a brand name item, you won’t just be saving money, you’ll be teaching your children an important lesson.
By spending within your means, you can teach your children to value practicality over fashion. One way to save money while avoiding costly brand name goods is to visit a dollar store. According to Deloitte’s survey on back-to-school shopping trends, 40% of respondents planned on visiting a dollar store for their back-to-school supplies.
While today’s dollar stores no longer sell everything for just a dollar, they do offer generic goods at highly discounted prices. While you might prefer name-brands for many household needs, generic goods can work very well for school supplies.
Look for tax free weekends
In 2017, there are 17 states that offer a tax free weekend to help parents save money on their back to school shopping.
These states typically exclude clothing, schools supplies, and sometimes computers from their sales taxes, which are often around 10%. Before heading out to purchase school supplies, check to see if your state has a tax free weekend coming up, and what purchases are eligible.
You want your children to arrive at school prepared to learn, and purchasing clothing and supplies each year is a part of that effort. By determining which supplies are truly needed now, and finding the most cost effective way to purchase them, you don’t have to overspend when you send your children back to school this year.
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