It is an event that happens once every year — one that many parents dread. Yet either way, this year’s back-to-school spending is expected to bring in a record $83.6 billion.
While much of that involves clothing and hardware that kids can use for a long period of time, the National Retail Federation finds $4.9 billion will be spent this year on school supplies, such as notebooks, folders and pencils. With all due respect to retailers who depend on the back-to-school shopping season for their bottom lines, many moms and dads want to save real money on school supplies. With summer electric bills that resemble mortgage payments, who can blame them? The question is, what can parents do to save money?
Here are smart tips and intelligence sought, given and corralled from all over — with some personal wisdom thrown in, too.
1.) Don’t shop with your kids. As a father of two girls, ages seven and four, I’ve learned how hard it is to get in and out of a store, let alone make it up and down every aisle to get the items on our list. Nonetheless, this tip comes from a blogger who points out that kids are going to want character-branded items that cost more than generic items with no faces of animals, cartoon royal families, and reptiles that moonlight as ninja warriors. As California-based shopping blogger Kyle James points out, your number-one goal is to shop deals and save money.
“Kids are going to use the good ol’ fashioned yellow pencils that you buy because, guess what, they have to!” he said. “That’s the way it works, always has, always will.”
2.) Shop during sales-tax holidays. These days, many states observe periods just before the start of school to allow people to shop for various items and avoid paying sales tax. It may not sound like much, but it can add up if you have several children, all of whom have classroom requirements. Plus, people living along a state’s border might have the option of shopping in, say, Mississippi one weekend and Alabama the next.
To find out whether your state has a sales-tax holiday, do a simple web search. Be sure to check a variety of articles and websites, and always look for the date on which the information was posted. It could be that your state just began a sales-tax holiday, or the place you call home has changed the time frame. Also, double-check which items are eligible. Remember, you are trying to save money.
3.) Comparison shop. Buy in bulk, shop in dollar stores, and even conduct sweeps of the kids’ closets. That’s a recommendation from writer Heather Levin in MoneyCrashers.com. While that last point sounded strange to me, it is possible (read: likely) that kids have a few pencils, folders or notebooks left over from last year to use again at school this year.
No, it’s not shiny and new, but gently used materials never hurt anyone. Plus, a ginormous package of notebooks from the Buy More, or generic wax crayons from General Dollar Tree, mean more money in your bank account. Consumers can also use coupons from newspapers or apps. Others might want to take time shopping at stores that price-match items, especially products that were sold out at the last store visited.
4.) Delay, delay, delay. School systems might frown on this idea, but if your child does not need certain items during the first few days or weeks of school, try buying them after they’re put on clearance.
“If you can wait to buy these items, you will be able to take advantage of back-to-school clearance deals that happen every September,” suggested Kyle James, the same blogger who advised parents to avoid shopping with their kids. “I’m talking like 75 to 90 percent off items that retailers desperately need to clear out to make room for Halloween candy and costumes.”
Heather Levin of MoneyCrashers.com put the savings at 50 to 75 percent off. Regardless, you can save a lot of money.
“Keep in mind this will likely limit your selection,” said Levin. “But if you don’t need specific items, you have an excellent chance of scoring some great deals by shopping after the rush.”
5.) Shop for next year. This tip from me may result in a few eye rolls. But if you are really frugal, consider buying clearance items and storing them. Some things never change. This includes a school’s fondness for certain types of pencils, erasers, folders and notebooks.
If you are really frugal, consider buying clearance items and storing them.
This, I think, is another reason to buy generic items or things that do not feature characters. Those faces or themes may be “so last year” by the time your child uses them.
Go with simple colors. As far as notebooks go, pay attention to the college or wide-rule preferences that your child’s teacher or school asks for each year. This way, you can buy those items now and use them later.
Ultimately, moms and dads could decide to buy various school supplies the next time they run errands and “just be done with it.” Others will give these tips a try. In either case, one thing is certain. If you aim for no savings at all, you will hit that. Every time.
Chris Woodward is a reporter for American Family News and OneNewsNow.com. Based in Mississippi, he is also a contributor to OneMillionDads.com and EngageMagazine.net and a regular contributor to LifeZette.