Keeping Back-to-School Costs Down

Many retailers are doing everything they can to win your back-to-school business, helping you to stretch your dollar—and keep your children happy consider these tips to keep your shopping costs down this year:

Delay some purchases until after school starts.

For classroom supplies, you will probably get a list from your child’s teacher or school, and it makes sense to wait until you receive that.

“Do not buy anything until you see that list,” says Christina Vercelletto, senior editor at Parenting magazine and a mother of three. “You’d be surprised how picky teachers are getting about what brands they want you to buy. ‘Guesstimating’ is a waste of time and money.”

And if you have questions about what’s on a teacher’s supply list, or if you aren’t sure if one type of item can be substituted for another, don’t be afraid to ask. “A lot of parents think that what comes down from the school is on high, but an e-mail or phone call to the teacher is more than welcome,” says Tim Sullivan, a former English teacher and president of School Family Media, a media company that connects parents with schools.

When it comes to clothes, your son or daughter is likely to take great interest in what other kids are wearing during back-to-school time, so it’s important to wait it out a little bit, says Bill Jackson, CEO of San Francisco-based GreatSchools, a nonprofit group committed to improving education from pre-K through 12th grade by getting parents involved. “Don’t spend any extra money until you know what your child might enjoy most, and that could come a week or two after school starts.” If patience isn’t exactly your status-conscious kid’s forte, don’t worry. “If you explain to kids why a particular strategy is smart,” says Jackson, “they’re amazingly responsive.”

Look for and stick to bargains.

Keep an eye out for back-to-school sales and deals advertised in the newspaper and online. In some areas, local health departments also offer free basic school supplies to parents who bring their children in for immunizations.

Stores will try to lure you in with their promotions in the hopes that you’ll buy other, nondiscounted items. Some are promoting 50-cent boxes of pens and pencils and outright giveaways just to get people in the door. But once you’re inside, keep your eyes on what’s on sale, Jackson urges. If something’s not on your list and it’s not on sale, just say no. One store might have products “on special” that other stores don’t, and it might mean going to more than one store. But you’ll find the basics like T-shirts and lower-priced jeans on sale at one of the popular retail chains. You might also be able to get a price match by presenting a competitor’s advertisement.

Also consider your local dollar store, bargain stores, and even eBay. Scissors, glue, erasers, rulers, crayons, and more can be found here, and many of the items are the same familiar name brands. They may not have everything you need, but it’s worth a shot to see what they have in stock, recommends the Family Education Network, a division of the publishing company Pearson PLC.

And try setting a budget for your kid’s supplies and clothing. It will help your child learn how to manage money, and if you give an allowance, it could inspire him or her to save money for a big-ticket item that your budget won’t allow.

Reuse Supplies.

Backpacks, binders, folders, and even pens can have a second life. Tearing out the marked-up sheets of a used notebook, for instance, and decorating it with stickers, magazine cutouts, or photographs can give it a fresh new look. Check to see if your child’s backpack has a lifetime warranty. According to, some companies, like Jansport, will repair broken zippers or replace damaged backpacks free of charge.

“You might not need as much as you think you do,” says Vercelletto. “Just because a friend has that pricey backpack doesn’t mean yours isn’t still perfectly good from last year.”

If you do decide to purchase a new pack, however, be mindful of the weight it can add to your child’s back, which pediatricians say can be as much as 40 percent of his or her bodyweight. The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines you can use—such as wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back—to ensure a safe fit.

Experts agree that because environmentally friendly living is becoming a popular trend, it might be easier than it used to be to teach trend-savvy kids that reusing an item is cooler than purchasing a new one. Your recycling efforts might still be met with some resistance from your child, says Jackson, but in cases where you really don’t need something, you should stick to your guns and reuse it. Also consider garage sales and thrift stores as a source of secondhand items of good quality.

If you have more than one child going back to school, Sullivan recommends consolidating duplicate items on their supply lists. For example, every teacher’s list might have a calculator on it, “but if I have four kids, do we really need four calculators? Probably not,” he says.

In a new national poll commissioned by GreatSchools and survey firm Harris Interactive, 57 percent of families said they plan to reuse old supplies this school year.

Organize a Clothing Swap.

Instead of tossing those too-small tees or jeans and hitting the mall, have your kids gather their friends—if they’re of varying ages, even better—to bring unwanted or unused clothing to a meeting place. Everyone can then “shop” for a new (and free) wardrobe, and it’s a good way to declutter a closet and enjoy guilt-free shopping. Says GreatSchools’ Jackson, “The fun of hosting a gathering where kids can participate and exchange items is great.”

But if your child is still dying for that one expensive name-brand sweater or pair of sneakers, maybe it’s OK to splurge just once, says Jackson. You can say to them, “What’s the one thing that you’d really like to make special?” And then you can agree to work together to keep the price down on everything else. Parenting magazine ‘s Vercelletto stresses, however, that it’s very easy to get sucked into buying things that aren’t on your list. If you really want to save money and teach them that less is more, she says, you must emphasize, “It’s not on the list, we’re sticking to the list, and this is how we do it in our family!”

Post adapted from U.S.News – Money’s article: