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Budget-friendly back-to-school shopping

By Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, 21 Sep, 2019
  • Budget-friendly back-to-school shopping

Here are some tips to weather the chaos and cost of back-to-school shopping.

What a beautiful summer we’ve had – warm days and cool nights! But now we need to start talking about back-to school. Wait…what? Didn’t the kids just get out of school? Yes but they’re heading back in a few weeks so here are some tips to weather the chaos and cost of back-to-school shopping.

Spend some time taking inventory of what you already have. Kids wrap up the school year with a bunch of stuff in their backpacks. Check to see what can be reused for this coming school year. This should include school supplies, clothes and shoes. Perhaps some items can be passed down to younger siblings, cousins or friends. And let’s be honest, some stuff just needs to be recycled or composted (think back to that apple you put in their backpack in June)!

Make a master list of all supplies needed. You can cross off whatever you already have and now you have the list to shop from. Remember that this is the list that you’ll be working from so include everything – clothes, shoes, school and lunch supplies and electronics.

Ask your kids to go through the list and make some decisions on what they need on the first day of school and what can be put off until later. Remember that not everything needs to be purchased on day one of school. It’ll still be warm so your kids can wear their summer clothes and they won’t go through 200 sheets of paper or 10 pencils in the first month. You can take some time to make your purchases, which can relieve your budget a little. 

Do some research and compare prices. Depending on how old your children are, you may consider giving them a job/quest/challenge to find the lowest prices on various items. Perhaps there’s a prize for the best savings. If your children are too young then download an app like Flipp where you can search various store flyers, find the best prices and then shop somewhere that price matches.

Give your children a clothing allowance for back-to-school outfits. This allows them to make some money decisions, assuming they’re old enough. This will help you stay within budget and it’s a wonderful opportunity to teach your children some important money lessons like quantity versus quality, needs versus wants, name brand versus not and taxes. And depending on your children’s ages, you may consider having them contribute to their clothing costs, especially if they want something outside of your budget. You contribute the amount that works for your budget and they’re required to pay the difference. You’ll notice very quickly how important that item is to them.

When you go shopping, decide early on whether you’ll do it alone or bring the kids. If you go alone, you’ll get it done a lot faster and likely won’t be tempted by the latest and greatest. However, if you decide to take your kids, treat the event as a learning opportunity. Firstly, have a hearty breakfast because nothing can ruin a shopping trip like a ‘hangry’ child and/or parent. Also agree to the “rules” which could include “if it’s not on the list, it’s not going in the cart” and “we speak with kind voices and tone.” Consider creating a challenge or quest for your kids to find the best deal or best savings. And don’t forget to reward the “team” for achieving their quest, perhaps homemade pizzas and a good movie. By involving your children right at the beginning of the process, letting them do some work and make their own decisions, you can minimize the impact of peer and market pressure to get the latest and greatest.

And finally, here is a bonus tip, consider starting a savings account for school supplies and contribute to it each pay cheque. This will alleviate any financial stress because you’re breaking up the costs over the course of nearly a year. The back-to-school season can be chaotic, costly and a little bittersweet because summer is over and everyone is a year older. However, it’s also a time to set some new goals, get back into a routine and before we know it, Halloween will be here. So until then, remember to work your back-to-school list and breathe throughout the whole process. You’ve got this!

About the Author

Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy is the Director of Education and Community Awareness at the Credit Counselling Society. She presents at conferences in Canada and the United States and serves on expert panels. She is a regular contributor to Canadian Living and Reader’s Digest, and is frequently interviewed by media outlets. Stacy has co-written two workbooks and developed personal finance curriculum for workshops and webinars. 

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