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5 Ways to Survive Back-to-School Shopping

July 25, 2013 : Ellen Hunter Gans - Guest Contributor

Ed note:
Back-to-School shopping can be tough. The supply lists are endless, plus there are new outfits and the latest student gadgets to worry about – so how do you get everything covered without destroying your budget? You can take advantage of the Tax-Free holidays that some states offer for one. Then try these tips from The Simple Dollar’s Ellen Hunter Gans to help you prioritize and save.

While it might feel like you are in the thick of a long summer, the reality is that it’s just about back to school season – a time of year when a parent may feel the odds are really stacked against them. Between the non-stop ads featuring “must have” items and the demands of your kids, who fear they’ll be the only ones at school without the latest and greatest, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help you sort through the madness and identify what you really need. Here are a few insider tips to cut costs and survive the start of school with wallet and sanity intact:

Identify and eliminate non-essential expenses

Delay purchasing certain items until you know  your child will need them for a specific class – leave it up to the teacher to specifically announce what your kid will need. This is also a chance for your tweenage and teenage students to own the responsibility of assessing their classroom needs, and then approaching you to ensure they get what’s needed. If you communicate this responsibility to your kids, their sense of independence will grow, likely without them even realizing it.

Some non-essential items you can hold off on buying until students are explicitly told to do so may include post-it notes, scissors, pencil sharpeners, graphing calculators and three hole punches. Remember to use your best judgment based on what your son or daughter tells you they need and on what you know about their upcoming year of school (especially if they have older siblings who have gone through the exact same program).

Make a list and stick to it

Stores’ back-to-school sections are designed to make extra items “jump” into your cart. Arrive at the store armed with a comprehensive list for each of your kids. Resist the urge to grab something off the beautifully displayed endcap unless it’s on your list. It’s never good to bog your kids down with things they don’t need, and that they won’t really use; if anything, it just enables them to demand even pricier back-to-school junk in the years to come.

Understand that it’s not “now or never”

It can be tempting to take care of everything now.

Back-to-school deals are great for fall clothing, but your student will probably want to freshen up their wardrobe in the spring anyway, so why not save some of the clothing budget for then? Spread out clothing purchases throughout the year to lessen the wallet pains in September. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a state with tax free holidays, take advantage of them.

Consider dollar stores and coupons

Another strategy you might not have considered? Dollar stores.

They can be a gold mine when it comes to hunting down inexpensive notebooks, pens, pencils and other basic supplies. The more coupons, the more you are able to budget for expensive school needs that may creep up, such as a pricy calculator or, if the student is old enough, the dreaded laptop.

Buy in bulk, share and reuse!

Consider going in with another family or two on bulk purchases, especially if someone has a membership to a wholesale store.

Additionally, your child might balk at reusing last year’s backpack, but it’s worth considering. What about the lunch box? Maybe there are art supplies tucked away somewhere in the house?

While your kids may be hooked on the idea of newness, this is an excellent opportunity to explain the importance of appreciating what you already have (or have inherited), and then putting what you have to good use. You can also explain why reusing what you already have is an environmentally friendly choice.

Ellen Hunter Gans - Guest Contributor

Ellen Hunter Gans - Guest Contributor

The Simple Dollar

Ellen, M.A., MSc. is a writer, editor and communications strategist who contributes to The Simple Dollar's credit card portal.

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