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Back-to-School Shopping: 4 Ways To Save

By ModernAdvisor | August 3, 2016

The greatest lesson of the school year begins before the first day of class. This is the lifelong lesson of frugality. Shopping for back-to-school essentials should prime excitement for the year ahead without the stress of year after year costs. In this post we’ll look at some of the unconventional ways to save. Some of the most effective strategies for saving are hidden in plain sight.


Start Back-to-School Shopping Late

Yes, you read that correctly; start late. Many families begin back-to-school shopping well before the academic year begins. This, of course, is a smart approach. You want to be ready before the assignments begin. However, you won’t be using an entire year’s worth of supplies on day one. When you try to predict what a year of school will require you’ll almost always be left purchasing supplies that you never need. By waiting you’ll better understand what is really needed in each class. Additionally, you’ll see what supplies can be used across a variety of classes and avoid doubling up on items and thus doubling up on costs. A few basic supplies will easily suffice for the first day.


Starting late also allows you to enjoy the lowest costs. Once the school year has started, retailers, anxious to liquidate seasonal merchandise, will dramatically drop the prices of back-to-school supplies. This is when the real deals can be found. At this point you’ll have a much clearer idea of what’s needed for each class and the shopping list becomes shorter.


When you start late you’ll also discover that many of the items you need are those you already have around the house. Once the necessities come into focus you’ll be surprised that much of what you need is still hiding around the house from last year. Take a personal inventory of these things and keep a list. The most ignored strategy for saving money is organization. Avoid waste, become efficient, save money.


Design Your Tiered Plan

Back-to-school supplies can be broken into categories. The purpose of splitting up the list is to strategize when to buy. Higher ticket items like electronics are often cheapest at the end of the summer. This may be a rare exception to the above rule of starting late.


If a specific electronic item is needed (a particular graphing calculator) you may find the best offerings are when the retailers are most competitive at the end of the summer. Other back-to-school durables like backpacks will also be cheapest at this time of year. On these more expensive buys be sure to go for quality. The cost may be greater in the short-term but the year over year value will save you in the long run. Avoid any style trends here. Styles in the world of teens and adolescent change like the weather. This year’s hot pick will be abhorrent next year and likely to sit ignored in the closet. Go for simplicity that works despite changing trends. Use and reuse.


Other electronics are historically cheaper after the school year begins. Printers will be at there lowest cost in September. If you need one for the school year consider waiting. Be sure to do your homework on ink efficiency. The cost of the printer may be low but the lifetime cost of ink becomes a slow drip from your finances. Consider choices like the Canon Pixma iP4700, which is a cheap option with a low cost of ink over the printer’s life. Wireless speakers are also part of the September club offering the best deals after the school year starts.


Let Your Budget Drive The Plan

Prioritize for your budget, not the supply list. Pick a number and stick to it. If your budget takes precedence then you’ll be successful in your goal to save. This is also a valuable time to capitalize on a “teachable moment.” You child should join you in this goal and learn first hand how to budget, commit and save.


If you subscribe to the practice of an allowance consider this unconventional approach: permit your child to have their full allowance all at once. Yes, there is an inherent and clear risk here. However, if this is preceded with an honest and upfront conversation it will work. Your child must understand that there will be nothing after this lump sum and that once it’s spent it’s gone. Better still, have your child use their allowance towards any preferred, but non-essential back-to-school purchases. Often the difficulty of staying within a back-to-school budget is not the retailers but the capricious wants of the child. Get them involved.


Dress For Success

Clothing is tricky. There is likely to be some parent and child angst in this category. The most affordable option is to use thrift stores. While this is the cheapest way to buy clothing it will be a tough sell for any child. It remains an inexpensive option nonetheless.


For new clothing consider using seasonality to your advantage. No need to outfit your child for the entire school year at once. Make what you have now last for the start of the school year. At the same time focus your clothing shopping on the outgoing season to get the best deals. This system takes time given that you’re always a season behind but the long-term savings will be rewarding.


Finally, focus on the essentials. These are the items your child will need nearly every day. By opting for the cheapest brands (often a store brand) you’ll save the most on purchases that will have the biggest quantities (e.g. socks, underwear, etc.). These are not part of your durable item list and a lesser quality (cheaper) choice is alright because these kinds of items are not desirable to use year after year like a winter jacket or a pair of gloves.
Let this be an activity for you to enjoy with your child. When you work together to save the enjoyment is shared. IF you fall below your budget you’ll be presented with the perfect opportunity to reward your child with a fun purchase.

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