If you have a school-age child, you know that back-to-school supplies are a necessity. Thankfully, though, overspending isn’t. In fact, with a little bit of planning, parents can stretch their dollars without sacrificing quality or quantity.
These five smart steps will help you get more bang from your back-to-school bucks.
- Don’t buy what you already own. A survey this past July by the company Deloitte, revealed that 26% of parents with school-age children are planning to reuse last year’s school items. That’s a really smart way to cut costs in a tough economy. So, before heading to the store, be sure to check your drawers and closets (and even under the back seat of the minivan) for back-to-school items that might be usable again this year—things like backpacks, lunch boxes, book covers, pencils, crayons, and glue sticks. Having just one of each of these items could decrease your spending by roughly $40 per child.
- Stock up when prices are down. Knowing that some supplies will be lost and others broken, make sure to buy one or two extras if you find a great deal. Then, when the pencil snaps or the glue stick dries out, you won’t have to go to the store—and perhaps overspend—to find a replacement. Make sure to keep the supplies in a place where you can easily find them. A good idea is to designate a certain drawer in your house as the “school supplies drawer”.
- Go generic (sometimes). Buying a well-known brand almost always costs more than its store-brand or generic counterpart, but is it worth the extra cash? In some cases, (such as for high-end technology products), the answer generally is “yes.” But that’s not usually the case with school supplies. For example, other than the cost, there isn’t much difference between a Staples pencil and one from Dixon Ticonderoga. The same holds true for glue sticks, loose-leaf paper, and many other school items. So don’t buy an item based on brand-name alone. You might get more for your money with the lesser-known brand.
- Determine wants vs. needs. Every child needs a pencil for homework, right? But what do you do when your child wants the latest liquid graphite version that costs (no joking!) 1,000 times more than the standard #2 pencil? This is a good example of when it’s smart to buy based on need, not want. It’s certainly not wrong to buy something special for your child, especially if it motivates him or her to achieve more in school. However, if the primary goal is to stay on or under budget, then it’s almost always better to purchase the lesser-priced item that still gets the job done.
- Take a bite out of your school lunch bill. Food isn’t traditionally considered a school supply, but there’s no denying that it’s a big part of your daily expenses. And that means there’s a big opportunity for saving money. Think of it this way: If you can cut just 50 cents off of your child’s daily lunch bill, you could save about $125 this school year. One way to do so is to buy bigger packages of certain items, such as potato chips or cookies, and use portions from that package to fill smaller plastic baggies for your child’s lunch box. Bagging your own cookies might not be as convenient as having the Keebler elves do it for you, but the savings are well worth the extra effort.