Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping

With 8 kids in school, Mighty Mommy knows how expensive and time consuming back-to-school shopping can be. Here are 5 ways to help you save money (and your sanity) as you send your kids back to school.

Cheryl Butler,
August 26, 2013
Episode #245

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...I then proceed with how much we can reasonably allocate for these items. I sit down individually with each of my kids and explain that I’ve set aside “X” amount for their shopping.  Because we have a large family, my kids understand that it may take up to a month or more for everything to be purchased. The older kids who have part-time jobs are usually willing to pitch in towards big–ticket items like brand name sneakers. 

For more tips on planning out your expenses, check out Money Girl’s episode on how to create a budget.

Savings Tip #3:  Take Inventory Before Going Shopping

Inevitably, you will see some savings after Labor Day that you won’t normally see the weeks before school starts. 

Before you head to the store, take some time to do an inventory of school supplies left over from last year so you don’t duplicate what you already own.  Each June I create a school bin where I collect the decent items from all my kid’s backpacks and desks—this includes pencils, erasers, markers, unused notebooks, binders, and even lunch boxes and backpacks. If they're in good shape, I store them to be used in the new school year.  I always start here before I spend a dime on new items.

Savings Tip #4:  Shop Late

Don’t panic if you haven’t been hitting the school sales advertised since Independence Day.  Unless you want a particular item that might be hard to come by, like a certain brand of backpack or a trendy style of shoes that you know will sell out in your child’s size right away, relax and plan on stocking up on the basics like composition notebooks, glue sticks, crayons, and even clothing items, a week or so after school is underway. 

Inevitably, you will see some savings after Labor Day that you won’t normally see the weeks before school starts. Plus, the stores won’t be nearly as crowded and crazy.  Late into the fall season you’ll really notice school items marked at a great discount price—I like to pick these odds and ends up and stash them away as stocking stuffers—don’t forget, the holidays aren’t far away!

Savings Tip #5:  Apparel and Shoe Shopping

Clothing, sneakers, and shoes are definitely the biggest cost factor when going back-to-school shopping—unless your student is in the market for a new laptop or iPad, in which case you might want to visit my colleague, Tech Talker, and learn how to buy a new laptop, as well as check out our joint episode on Kids and Technology.

Start by taking a wardrobe inventory including undergarments, socks, gym clothes, fall jackets, rain coats, hoodies, and accessories.  Then check out what basics your child has left over from last year that can still be worn such as jeans, t-shirts, and tops.  This may sound like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many people skip this important step because their closets are disorganized or they simply don’t feel like doing it.  By investing an hour to do this, you’ll save time and money by not duplicating things you already have.  It’s also a great opportunity to purge and clean out your kid’s drawers and closets for the new school year, ultimately allowing younger siblings to benefit from an older one’s outgrown clothes or helping out a neighbor by passing along items your kids aren’t wearing any longer.

Most students in the U.S. return to school while the weather is still relatively mild, so many will be able to wear shorts and shirts from their summer wardrobe.  For my fashion-savvy kids who want to buy whatever’s trendy, I let them start with a few key pieces and build their wardrobes around those items paired with neutral t-shirts, dark pants, and jeans. Each of my kids gets 3 -4 new outfits to start back with and then as fall goes on, we start adding in a sweater or two here, a new blouse, a pair of boots etc. This way, we keep our spending in check so we don’t end up going into debt for the sheer sake of having everything all at once. 

If you know your child’s true shoe size, you can benefit greatly by shopping for brand name footware online.  Coupons are also widely available at this time of year for athletic shoes, saving you sometimes up to 40% off popular brands.  

One more thing: Don’t be afraid to give consignment shops a try. You’d be amazed at how many top-of-the-line items you can find for your family that are in excellent condition at less than half (and sometimes even 75% off) the cost of clothing at your favorite stores.

How do you save money on back-to-school shopping?  Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Back-to-school time is full of mixed emotions, but shopping for school items doesn’t have to be stressful or break the bank.  Best wishes for a healthy and enriching new school year.  Until next time…………….HAPPY PARENTING!



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