If you’ve been to any stores in the last few weeks, you can tell it’s back-to-school shopping season. Some aisles are filled with glue sticks, folders, and backpacks. Others the latest fashions so kids can be off to school in style. The kids might not be ready to head back, but you need to begin thinking about everything they’ll need to greet new teachers and friends in just a few weeks.
This weekend (August 3-5th) is a special Sales Tax Free Weekend in some areas of Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And Texas, Maryland, Connecticut, and possibly Massachusetts are planning for weekends coming up in August. (Make sure to double check on this guide from Clark.com or in your local news to see if stores near you are participating.)
Back-To-School Shopping is Big Business
Did you know back-to-school shopping is the second biggest shopping season of the year? According to Deloitte, 25% of U.S. households – over 29 million families with K-12 children – are predicted to spend over $27.6 billion in 2018 getting their kids ready for school.
Here are a few results from Deloitte’s 2018 Back-To-School (B2S) Survey:
- The average household plans to spend $510 (up $9 from 2017)
- At least 57% of that spending will take place in-store
- 83% of shoppers plan to spend in mass merchants
- Customers are using digital devices to shop but purchasing them less often now
- Estimated spending includes $15.1B on clothing and accessories (55% of money spent), $6B on school supplies (22%), $3.7B on computers and hardware (13%), and $2.8 B on electronic gadgets
- Overall, the most spending happens the first two weeks in August (*but it does vary by region)
A National Retail Federation annual survey reported higher estimated back-to-school spending in 2018. Their study showed families with children in K-12 schools planned to spend an average $170 more or $684.79 each, for a similar total of $27.5 billion.
If you average those two surveys, it’s suggested a typical family will be spending about $600 in the next month to get one child ready for school. But many families have two or three (or more) kids in school at the same time. Based on the surveys, these families could be spending more than a thousand dollars for back-to-school shopping.
Since many families struggle living paycheck-to-paycheck and others want to stick to a budget and use any extra money to fund retirement and college accounts, it’s important to look at ways to save money getting the kids ready to head back to school.
Invest Time Before You Spend Money on Back-to-School Shopping
Between work and trying to enjoy the last few weeks of summer with your kids, time is at a premium. But before you put the kids in the car and grab the lists of supplies, taking a break to invest some time going through what you have at home can save you money.
Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories
Going through your kids’ dressers and closets can really pay off. Getting new school clothes has turned into a huge business when many kids have plenty of clothes to wear. It’s not that you shouldn’t buy your kids a new outfit or pair of sneakers for the start of school. But unless they have grown out of everything – a new wardrobe is usually not necessary.
Use What They Have
Whatever your kids wore at the end of last school year may still fit for the first month or two of the new school year. If shorts and t-shirts were fine in April and May, wearing the same ones for August and September makes sense. Wait until school is started and fall weather arrives before you buy your growing child new pants or sweaters.
The same goes for their backpack, lunch bag, and other accessories. A new school year doesn’t mean everything needs to be new. And if your child complains that “all the other kids are getting new things” – having a money conversation about needs and wants and working to earn money to buy things might be the cure.
When They Need New
If your child does need new clothes, shoes or a backpack for school, make a specific list of what they need. Then save money on back-to-school shopping by sticking to that list when you shop. And before you go online or head to a store, check with family or friends who have kids who may have outgrown clothes. And swap too small clothing for your kids with others who are looking.
You can then look online at sites like eBay, OfferUp, or Facebook Marketplace and in neighborhood groups like Nextdoor. You may find large sets of clothes offered by sellers called lots. If the clothes are in good condition, this can be a great way to save money and time. While getting a lot of shopping done all in one place.
Consignment shops, thrift stores, and garage sales are another fine place to shop. Kids grow so fast that you may find some clothes with tags still on them or others very gently used. If you have an active Freecycle group near you, there may be people giving away clothing they no longer need there too.
When you do head to a department store or mall for your back-to-school shopping, there are ways to save money. Just remember to stick to your list! Some stores mail coupons home or have them online, and you can often stack them on sale prices in stores to save even more. If you use a cashback or rewards credit card and pay it off at the end of the month, you’ll save extra.
You can try picking up a discounted gift card for your favorite store at Raise or Gift Card Granny. Saving an extra 5-10% at some popular stores makes it worth a look! And many stores offer better deals online. But before you start searching, don’t forget to click through a cashback site like BeFrugal or Ebates to boost your savings even more.
Here’s our review on BeFrugal
One last thing to consider is a few companies like Jansport offer a lifetime warranty on purchases like backpacks. They may cost more up front, but if they get used for years, it’ll pay off in the end.
Most schools ask parents to provide some supplies for their kids to use at school. If you don’t have the list yet, check your school’s website or wait until the first day of school. The lists may look very different depending on what grade students are in and may include things you haven’t predicted.
Use What They Have
This is another case where looking around your home before you shop can save money. Go through desk and junk drawers, craft supplies, and your pantry to see what you can cross off your list. Buying packages of pens and pencils when you have dozens at home doesn’t make sense. It may only be a few dollars an item but it all adds up.
When They Need New
Many big-box merchants, office supply, and drug stores offer significant discounts for necessary school supplies. If you think it’s worth your time for smaller items, use store sale flyers or apps like ShopSavvy to look for the lowest prices. Or head to a Dollar Store near you to see what inexpensive things you can find. Just remember that the quality of those items varies too. Some are great bargains and others may not be worth the savings.
Wait until the first week of school is over to do your back-to-school shopping, and choices might be limited. But the prices of many remaining items will be slashed as school supplies become clearance items and Halloween decorations take their place. This is an excellent time to pick up items your kids use each year for a fraction of the usual (even discounted) price.
The same discounted gift cards and cashback sites you used for clothes can be used for many school supplies too. Just remember that a few extra clicks can save you even more money.
Computers, Hardware, and Electronic Gadgets
If bigger-ticket items like laptops or graphing calculators are on your back-to-school shopping list, use apps and services to help you find the lowest prices. But make sure you check with the school to see if there is a specific item/brand needed in a course your child is enrolled in before doing any spending.
There are schools using 1:1 devices with their students and they will provide the equipment. In this case, buying a laptop or tablet might not make sense. Just do your “homework’” on the needs and check communications from the school before spending hundreds of dollars on something your child might not need.
When you do go to purchase electronics, the cashback sites, discounted gift cards, and rewards credit cards – in addition to back-to-school prices can help you save big on these expensive items.
Spending Less as You Gear Up for Back-to-School
If spending $600 per child on back-to-school shopping is the average – some people spend a lot more, and others a lot less. If you use some of the tips discussed here to lower costs as much as you can – hopefully you’ll save money and still have everything you need to start the school year off right.
With the little bit of the extra you save, you may want to buy a few additional supplies for donation or donate a few dollars too. There are plenty of kids whose parents struggle with money and can’t get everything on their lists. Your school may have a “stuff the bus” week to collect school supplies or a “clothing closet” taking donations of new and used clothes. Check with your school to see how you can help those who with less than you. So every child has what they need heading back to school.