The weather is warm and the days are long, but soon those back-to-school supply lists will come knocking on your wallet. Whether you’re buying school supplies and clothes for one child or many, it can be a big hit to the family budget. Families of K-12 students spent an average of $630 on back-to-school supplies, clothes and electronics in 2015.
You don’t have to let back-to-school break your bank, though. Here are some tips to help you save money and resources while getting the kids prepped for another exciting year at school.
- Set limits – make sure your kids know you have a budget and let them know exactly what your spending limit is on back-to-school items. Everything doesn’t have to be shiny and new. Give them some responsibility for choosing which items to buy new and what to buy (or find) used.
- Give your kids the closet challenge – it’s likely there are unused notebooks, pencils, markers and paper tucked in a closet or behind a dresser, all leftovers from last year or summer craft projects. Challenge your kids to a search-and-find mission to locate used, but usable, supplies (backpacks, writing tools, rulers and more) that match the classroom supply list. Compare what you find at home to the school list, and cross off anything you won’t need to buy. Ten used pencils work just as well as ten new ones. Dress them up in a colorful new pencil bag if you need to.
- Shop at garage sales or thrift stores, dollar stores and bargain sales. These are places to find decent low-cost school supplies for a song. Check to see if there are any creative reuse places like SCRAP in Portland, OR where you can get inexpensive school supplies as well as crafty materials you can use to dress up that old backpack with a new patch and make it look new again.
- Join forces with the neighbors – if you do need to buy new items, buying in bulk may save you money. A 100-pack of pencils is cheaper per pencil than a 12-pack. If all the kids on the block need some of the same supplies, you could pool resources and share a big box of pencils, saving everybody money.
- Do a clothing swap – that same group of neighbors may be willing to share clothes, too. Instead of going to the nearest thrift store, try swapping clothes, shoes, even backpacks and lunch boxes with each other up and down the street first.
- Go waste-free for lunch – if your kids pack their lunches to school, consider buying reusable lunch containers, snack/sandwich bags and water bottles. They will save you a ton of change in the long run by eliminating the need to buy throw-away plastic bags and expensively packaged juice boxes and will keep all that plastic out of the landfill to boot.
- Focus on the big ticket items – if you do need to buy new, focus your shopping on the big-ticket items like backpacks and clothing. Check the Facebook and Twitter feeds of your local stores for back-to-school sales and coupons. Watch for back-to-school flyers in the paper.
- Take advantage of the tax-free holiday in your state – If you live in a state where sales tax is usually collected, check to find out if/when your state offers a tax-free week for back-to-school items. But beware the lure of buying more than you need or things not on your list. Don’t get suckered into spending more than you should.
- Pay with cash – the envelope system of paying cash for purchases is a powerful tool to keep from overspending. You can even give an envelope of budgeted dollars to each (older) child, along with the back-to-school list and have them to do their own shopping. Help them make decisions along the way about priorities and how to stretch their dollars.
Teaching your kids to value gently used clothing and supplies also teaches them to save natural resources and to be aware of how things are made. Budgeting and spending wisely provide great opportunities for kids to see how everything is connected.