“Back to School” Make Every Dollar Count

As much as we wish to preserve their innocence and keep them young forever, kids grow up before our eyes and their expenses often grow with them. “Back to school” season is upon us and added expenses ranging from new clothes, supplies for the classroom and extracurricular activities can throw a monkey wrench in your finances if you are not prepared.

The National Retail Federation’s 2012 Back-to-School spending survey found that the average person with kids in grades K-12 will spend $688.62 on their children, up from $603.63 last year. If you have school age children, “back to school” can lead to charged up credit cards and unbalanced budgets.

Whether or not you are prepared for this year’s “back to school” season try these tips to stretch your dollar.

Make a Game Plan

  • Rule number one; leave the credit cards at home! If you haven’t budgeted throughout the year for “back to school” evaluate your current budget and determine what you can comfortably afford to spend. Pencils and paper purchased on credit will cost you more if you put off paying for them until next year rolls around.
  • Rule number two; make a list! Walking through the aisles at your local department store can be overwhelming. Marketing for “back to school” is big business and everyone wants you to spend your money on the latest and greatest gadgets and accessories for school. We all want our kids to fit in and have the essentials but you have to ask yourself, “Do they really need this stuff?”Chances are your kindergartner will not need a scientific calculator or a planner, so don’t be tempted to throw these unnecessary items in your cart. Most schools will provide a list of needed supplies; stick to the list.
  • Rule number three;shop around! Before you go, scour the store circulars and compare prices online. Sites like Pocket Your Dollars have done all of the hard work for you.
  • Rule number four; use coupons where you can! Visit coupon sites like Retail-Me-Not to find even more savings. Many coupon sites are running back-to-school promotions with big savings on everything from dorm room accessories to pencil sharpeners, and when you combine a 15-percent-off coupon with a five-percent cash back rebate, your savings will really add up.

Quality Counts

I am all for saving money and going with the less expensive product, but I have been burned following this method. I’ll give you an example where spending a few extra bucks up front will save you in the long run.

Back packs. Last year my son went through 3 backpacks. I know this sounds crazy, but unfortunately for me true.

  • Back pack #1: A Steelers themed backpack purchased at Walmart for $16.97 lasted until Christmas, when both, not just one of the backpack straps fell off.
  • Backpack #2: An Air Jordon themed backpack purchased at a Ross department store for $21.97. The zipper went off the track to the point of no return by March. Since I am not inclined to sew and found having it fixed by someone not worth the price we trashed backpack #2 as well.
  • Backpack #3: An LL Bean backpack ordered online for $39.95 guaranteed 100% to last a lifetime or they replace it for free.

So after two “cheap” backpacks I spent double the price, but could essentially make it through my son’s remaining school years with the same backpack. Well worth the extra $20. This is of course unless he pitches a fit that he hates the color, style etc. before then.

School Supply Swap

Bartering and trading have become increasingly popular as many of us struggle to stay ahead of rising prices and sluggish economy. I have met a lot of parents through my sons sporting activities and we always swap equipment that is too small or just not what our kids want to use anymore. In most cases equipment is in gently used condition but “new” to your child.

This year I decided to see if anyone was interested in swapping clothes and school supplies. I have had an overwhelming response! Many have outgrown jackets worn a handful of times, extra boxes of crayons purchased on clearance at the end of last year, and lunchboxes they are looking to part with.

Consider getting together with your friends and neighbors for a back to school swap!

Have everyone bring their outgrown clothes, extra school supplies, no longer “cool” backpacks and swap for things you could use. You may be able to score some free gear and save money for the items you absolutely need to buy, like new socks and underwear J

What are your tips for keeping “back to school” season affordable?

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About Suzanne Cramer

5 Responses to ““Back to School” Make Every Dollar Count”

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  1. Beth says:

    I like the idea of a school supply swap! Every year a few other mom’s and I are on the phone the weekend before school starts going over needs and who has what that someone else is missing.

    As a mom of 5, I have never, ever spent over $600 on back to school. My kids wear clothes from the mall and usually have either a Jan Sport or Dakine backpack on their back, (Dakine backpacks are also guaranteed for life), but I have some simple saving strategies that have saved me a ton of money. Before you ask, I have 1 “out of the house” and working, 1 in college, and 2 teenagers in high school, and a 3 year old at home.

    I start early, hitting up the summer clearance racks. I wait until August for B1G1 free jeans, (It’s awesome when a pair of $50 jeans becomes a pair of $25 jeans, I shoot for 4 to 5 complete outfits per child, (after the first few days, no one notices how crisp your clothes are…), and I let them fluff their wardrobes at Plato’s Closet. I also get on every mailing list possible for stores my kids like because many times I will be invited to a sale where I get first dibs 24 hours before a sale starts online. I also buy most of my youngest son’s jeans at thrift and consignment stores because he is very rough on jeans and I can consistently find Levi’s, Old Navy, etc. I have found them new with the tags still on many times for less than $10, (and he’s less picky.) Plus, not all thrift stores are the same and there are many in my area that are nicely organized and even a few that are “boutique” style!

    As far as school supplies, I coupon, check the flyer’s each week for the cheapest “needs”, I buy quality pens and pencils because they work better.

    • Suzanne Cramer says:

      @Beth Wow you are a savvy shopper!! Many parents go overboard and purchase way more than their kids need to start the school year; it sounds like you have back to school down to a science 🙂

  2. My cousin from MD spent her summer vacation in the Philipines, our hometown, where clothes are cheaper without sacrificing quality. I gave her $300 shopping money for my three kids. I Yesterday, she delivered 3 bags of shopping items for each of my kids. Each bag contains a school bag, two pairs of shoes, 12 pcs of shirts, 3 pairs of pants, and 6 pairs of socks. Not bad for $300, isn’t it? My brother-in-law will also be sending the kids some school supplies as a birthday gift for them who will be celebrating their birthdays soon.

  3. Suzanne Cramer says:

    @Manette That is awesome!! I wish I had a connection like that; good for you 🙂

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