Back to School on a Dime
by Tiffany Amber Stockton
You’ve heard it. The moans and groans of children everywhere as summer break draws to a close, and the looming school bells are ready to peal again. You likely are also groaning at the school supply list or seeing the pants above the ankles and the shirts suddenly revealing belly buttons. Children can hit a growth spurt overnight it seems, and now you have to buy new clothes as well as school supplies.
What about the budget, though? There have likely been vacations, summer camp, or day trips with the kids out of school, and your bank account isn’t as nicely padded as you’d like it to be. That’s okay! You’re not alone. I’ve been there myself, but I just completed the back-to-school shopping last week, and I picked up everything both of my children needed for under $150 total. You can have that kind of success too!
Here are some tips and tricks to make the back-to-school shopping stress disappear like the days of summer break.
1. Turn Your Home into a Store
I don’t know about you, but I am always amazed when my children ask me for yet another notebook, more paper, more pencils, or more crayons when I know there are drawers full of this stuff somewhere in our house. The problem? It’s not all in one place.
The other day, my husband and I were going through boxes in our storage room and discovered an entire box full of binders! And they were all in fantastic shape. Some of them even still had folders inside. Since both of my children love to be creative, a simple binder is perfect. They can personalize it and make it their own using all those crayons, markers, colored pencils, pencils, pens, and stickers we have everywhere.
Since binders, folders, and items that write, draw, or highlight comprise the majority of supply lists, gather up what you’ve already purchased. Children clean out their desks at the end of every year, so grab a bin and store everything that’s still useable for the next school year. You can probably cross off half of your list right there.
2. Host a Back-to-School Swap for Clothing and Supplies
If you are connected to families in your community or your church, it’s a great idea to check on swaps or host one yourself. You could contribute the clothing your children have outgrown and swap for what other children have outgrown. The same goes with supplies. When you clear out your house, gather up the excess and share it with others, then maybe find some needed items from them.
For fun, you can throw in a potluck or set up a sprinkler for the kids to have fun while the parents swap.
3. Browse the Ads and Sign Up for Store Emails
Make sure you’re signed up for store emails to be notified of their special promotions. This works great when you spread out your shopping over multiple trips to capitalize on the best prices for the items you need. For example, a recent week-long promotion at Staples offered a dozen items at more than 50% off for the first set number of those items purchased. After that, items were charged at regular price.
If you need more than the designated number of an item, grab the maximum and come back another day that week for the rest. If you also sign up for rewards programs offered, you earn points to use toward future purchases, and sometimes you save right at the register.
4. Sign Up for Cash-Back Offers
Look for companies like Rakuten, MyPoints, or Honey which offer additional coupons, free shipping, cash back, and points for online purchases. It’s like bonus money!
5. Shop Thrift, Bulk, and Dollar Stores
If you are okay with gently used clothing and items, the thrift stores are perfect! Our local thrift store has a sale in July where all kids’ clothing is $0.99 each. Combine that with half off Saturdays or Friday coupons, and you could get two weeks of clothing for under $25 per child.
Bulk stores like Sam’s or Costco can be a great way to stock up on items every child needs, or even the items your child’s classroom requests throughout the year. Buy it in bulk now or throughout the year, and you have it on hand when needed.
Dollar stores are also a fantastic place for supplies. They often have generic or off-brand items that are every bit as good as the name brand, and you can get more for less money.
6. Don’t Forget Your Coupons!
These could save you a bundle. Oftentimes, stores allow coupons on top of in-store promotions, so make sure you have these with you when you shop.
7. Shop Off-Season
You don’t have to wait until July to shop. Some things you know you’ll be needing each year, like pencils, markers, specific clothing, etc. When you shop off-season, you can get items at their lowest prices of the year and stock up or plan ahead.
Remember that bin I mentioned with the first tip? Keep it handy for stowing items to be used in the future. This could include buying clothes in a bigger size for next season when the current season goes on clearance or having extra items for when the ones you give your children get lost or are beyond their use.
This is only a starter list of possible ways to save some of that hard-earned money. Whatever you do, involve your children in the process, so they learn to be good stewards of their money too. Now, go have fun and save some dough!
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and bestselling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and three dogs in Colorado. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.