The start of a new school year is just around the corner. While an improving economy means that the cost of school supplies is down slightly from last year, according to the National Retail Federation, the average family will still spend about $635 on back-to-school purchases this year.
"Back-to-school shopping is costly for many families, particularly those in low- to moderate-income households," said Deatra Riley, financial education manager for CredAbility. "Planning and some research can help you stay within your budget." It is important that families spend wisely and buy only what they need to get the school year started.
Here are some tips to help:
Begin with a list of all back-to-school needs and expenses including supplies, equipment, clothing, and fees for sports, music and science labs. Next, check around the house for what your family already owns. Look for and reuse calculators, rulers, pencil sharpeners and anything else that is still in working condition. Last year's backpack may be just what is needed to start the new school year. In fact, wait just a few weeks after school starts and many backpacks and other accessories will be on sale for a fraction of the original price.
Network with other parents
Seek out or host a clothing swap online or in your neighborhood; this can be a great way to recycle your gently used items and save money on the things you need this year. Also, research the potential savings of buying school supplies in bulk and splitting the cost with other parents in your area.
Make a budget and stick to it
Decide how much you will spend on school supplies ahead of time and, if possible, set aside the cash to avoid overspending. If you do use credit cards, have a plan to pay them off quickly to avoid having your school shopping cost even more.
Let your kids do the shopping
Using the school supply shopping list, establish a budget and let your kids do the "shopping." Depending on their age, you might choose a handful of items that they are responsible for picking out within their budget. Explain to them that they must purchase all the items without spending more than the budget. As they shop, help them weigh their options. They might decide that the fancier, more expensive pencil case is within reach if they choose the generic glue stick over the name brand. Consider letting them keep any leftover money as an added incentive for them to choose wisely.
Take advantage of sales tax holidays
In many states, parents can enjoy tax-free shopping for many school supplies, helping their back to school budget go a little further. Georgia's school supply tax holiday is Aug. 9-10. Clothing, including shoes, with a sales price of $100 or less per item, school supplies with a price of $20 or less, and computer equipment with a price of $1000 or less are covered. For more on the sales tax holiday and what items it covers, click on the PDF attached to the article or go to https://etax.dor.ga.gov/salestax/holiday/5-15-13_Georgia_2013_Sales_Tax_Holiday_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Plan your shopping
High gas prices mean it may not pay to go to several stores to save a few cents on school supplies. Check the newspaper and online ads and map out your shopping plan to maximize your savings and stay within your budget. Many families are buying online and using store brands to help balance their back-to-school budgets. Research which stores have items you need on sale and look for coupons or discounted gift cards at popular online sites like www.coupons.com and www.giftcards.com.
Shop online and at discount retailers
Online shopping is on the rise which means many retailers are offering good online prices for school supplies. Look for free or inexpensive delivery. Outlet stores, big box stores and discount chains can save you money on uniforms, electronics and other school supplies. Check out your neighborhood consignment shops and thrift stores too. Some have designated space for school uniforms and you may get some great bargains.
Shop at school
Many schools offer pre-packaged school supplies for students. Often coordinated by the PTA as a fundraiser, families can purchase supply packs from the school at costs comparable to what you would pay at a retailer. You will save time and gas by not having to shop and your child's supplies will be waiting for them on the first day of school.