It may only be July, but it is already time to start thinking about the second largest shopping season of the year, back to school shopping. Especially with the Rochester Public School calendar starting a week earlier this year (which my 13 year old is not happy about I will add). This time of year, with new clothes to buy, supply lists that get longer every year, and lunch accounts to replenish, it can get expensive for families fast!
In fact, the average mid-west family spent nearly $433 per child on getting their kids prepared for the school year in 2017, and that number is expected to increase for 2018. I checked out the school supply lists from several schools here in Rochester, did some quick number crunching, and found that the school supply list for a 3rd grader would cost around $117.17, for a 7th Grader: $124.89, and for an 11th Grader: $257.71. Add in the need for new clothes, replenishing lunch accounts, PTSA donations, and you will easily hit the $433 per child. So, to help you and your family afford this year’s school expenses I have put together a few money saving tips, check them out!
Back to School Shopping Tip 1: Shop at Home
And I don’t mean online (although that's a good idea too), see what supplies you already have on hand before you hit the stores. Every year there are similar items on school supply lists so look to see what items on the list you already have. Backpacks, binders, and pencil cases, for example, can be reused from year to year. If you have more than one child sort out what clothing items can be handed down to younger siblings before shopping for brand new clothing. For those clothes that no longer fit, bring them to places like Children’s Exchange or Once Upon a Child to get some money back, which brings me to tip number two.
Back to School Shopping Tip 2: Visit Second Hand Stores
When shopping for school supplies don’t forget to check out second hand stores, like Good Will, they often have gently used and sometime even new, office supplies that you may be able to save you money. The Dollar Tree can also a great place to check for low cost items that are on your back to school shopping list. While you’re shopping for school supplies at the thrift store, don’t forget to browse the clothing racks. You can save a lot of money on clothing and still find quality pieces. When your kids are growing it doesn’t make sense to spend top dollar for clothes that won’t fit by next year.
Back to School Shopping Tip 3: Get Social
Follow your favorite brands and stores on social media to get back to school deals and discounts. Taking advantage of coupons and sales can help you save money, especially on clothes! Also, join the local Facebook buy and sell groups to watch for others in the area selling the items you need for your kids' school needs. You could even organize a supply and clothing swap between you and your friends or neighbors to help you all save money!
Back to School Shopping Tip 4: Skip the Name Brand Items
While it can be hard to say “no” when your daughter “just has to have that Trolls notebook”, it really will save you more money in the long run to skip it. Stick to the basic or store brand items whenever possible. While it may not seem like a large price difference from item to item, those few extra dollars can add up fast. This is also an excellent opportunity to teach them money management skills. If you don’t think that your kids will be reasonable about not getting the fancier items, it may be best to do the school shopping without them to help maintain your budget.
Back to School Shopping Tip 5: Space out Your Shopping
School starts around the same time every year, so start picking up some of the things now. Every time you make a trip to the store, grab a few things here and there, like pencils and glue, which you know will be on the list. Sometimes spreading out the expense can make it easier to stay on budget. Plus, the sooner you shop the more opportunities you have to save money. When you wait to the last minute, often times the cheaper items are gone and the only items available are the more expensive versions (speaking from experience here). Shopping earlier and buying a few things at a time really can help you save in the long run.
Of course, if you are really struggling to supply your child the basic items they need to be successful in school this year, check out the United Way’s Running Start for School program. Through this program, every year the Rochester area community comes together to donate school supplies to the families that need a little extra help to afford school supplies. First Alliance Credit Union branches are drop-off locations for those who would like to donate to this amazing community program, or you can make a donation online.