August is when kids enjoy the final stages of summer vacation and parents dread shopping for school supplies, clothes, and books.
This year, the average back-to-school spending per child is expected to be almost $700 – with clothing and electronics being the two largest expense categories. Consider these tips for saving and stretching your family’s school budget.
- Make a list of what you need for each child
This starts by taking inventory of what you already have – for example, notebooks from the last school year. This also means balancing “wants” against “needs” – for example, your child may want a new pair of shoes but there may still be several months of wear left in the pairs of shoes already in your home.
- Set a budget per child
This will vary by age – for example, you typically do not have to spend as much for a grade-schooler as for a college-bound student.
You can use this as an opportunity to teach kids about how to set a budget and stick to it. One pro-active way to motivate kids to “shop smart” is let them benefit from any savings – for example, if your budget for a new pair of shoes is $75 and your child finds a pair for $50, the $25 savings becomes the child’s to spend as they want. Or perhaps to put into a savings account!
- Comparison shop
“Back-to-school” sales will be heavily advertised, so use apps to help you find the best deals -- for example, mySimon provides information about many product categories while CamelCamelCamel tracks prices on Amazon. And be sure to ask if the store you are shopping at will match the best price you can find online.
You can take your savings even further if you find a coupon that can be applied to the “best price.” When shopping online, look for free shipping deals – and try placing your order through a live representative because they have the authority to waive shipping charges or to give you extra discounts that are not available when you order manually on your own.
- Postpone purchases for a month into the school year
Stores typically start marking down school items in September, so you will save big if you wait for these sales to make purchases such as clothes, lunch boxes, back packs, and sport equipment.
There are two benefit of postponing clothes purchases: (1) during the first few weeks of school, your kids will see what the latest styles are and will be able to select the most up-to-date wardrobe, and (2) you will be able to spread out your spending on new clothes, so you are not overwhelmed at one time.
- Consider non-traditional sources
Reach out to family or neighbors for a potential swap of electronics or books or even clothes. Dollar stores are a good source for basic supplies such as paper, pens, and notebooks.
Consider thrift stores for gently-used items that are in good condition, especially if your kids are going through growth spurts and need new sizes of clothing every few months.
- Books come in many options
You can save 40% to 60% on the price of books by choosing versions that are digital or used – or you can look into renting, instead of buying.
- Don’t count on a tax holiday
Georgia lawmakers eliminated the back-to-school tax holiday in 2017 and neighboring states are not going to be of any help either -- Alabama offered its version July 19 – 21, Tennessee’s was July 26 – 28, and South Carolina’s ends today, August 4.
With a little planning and research, you should be able to earn an A+ in school supply shopping.
Navin Shah is Chairman of Royal Hotel Investments, which owns and operates two hotels in Covington and one in Conyers. He is also Vice Chairman of Embassy National Bank, a community bank in Lawrenceville that he helped establish in 2007 and has become one of the leading SBA “Preferred Lenders” in the southeast. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com