Back-to-School on a Budget: 10 Ways to Shop Smart
- July 25, 2023
While America’s students aren’t strolling into math class quite yet, here are some numbers to consider: school spending is expected to reach around $31.2 billion in 2023. Per child, that’s a cost of $597. Translation? Inflation has made back-to-school shopping a spendy venture.
If this gives you pause, don’t panic! Here are some simple ways you can save more this season.
1. Plan Ahead
Before you start shopping, jot down a list of the necessary items you need to purchase for the upcoming school year. Every student’s needs are unique, but some categories to consider are classroom supplies, clothing, electronics, and extracurricular materials. Having a spending list will help you estimate the costs involved and allocate your budget accordingly.
2. Set a Budget
Determine a maximum amount for your back-to-school shopping based on what you need, what you currently have in the bank, and your other expenses. It’s natural to overspend (anyone else experience nostalgia surges at the sight of pencil boxes?) but aim to stay within your budgetary limits so you aren’t surprised when it’s checkout time.
3. Do Your Research
Scope out back-to-school deals and compare prices across different retailers before making any purchases. Take advantage of sales and discounts, many of which happen shortly after school begins, in August and September. If you’re online shopping this year, do a little research on promo codes you may be able to use at checkout.
4. Prioritize Essentials
Identify the “must-haves” on your list and focus on purchasing those first, starting with the most expensive items (electronics, for example.) Knowing you’ve got the essentials covered will save you stress when it’s time to buy the remaining items on your list. You might find that you can stagger some of these other purchases and save up in the short term.
5. Use Cash
While credit cards allow us the convenience of shopping now and worrying later, it’s smart to use cash whenever possible. Not only will you have a clearer idea of what you’re spending as you go, but you’ll avoid having surprises on your statement balances with potentially high interest rates attached.
6. Get Thrifty
Dollar stores, teacher supply websites, and online community groups like OfferUp often offer new and gently used items at lower prices. And when it comes to items like clothes, lunch boxes, and clothing, consignment stores in your neighborhood could be a great budget-friendly alternative to big box retailers…vintage denim, anyone?
7. Involve Your Kids
The start of another school season offers an opportunity to teach your kids about the basics of budgeting. Depending on their age, you can enlist their help in creating lists and shopping. Remind them of your budget expectations and encourage them to make thoughtful choices. They’ll appreciate having some say in what they bring to school on day one, and they’ll gain some real-world context on money management—win win!
8. Scope Out Alternatives
Sometimes, there are less expensive alternatives to popular brands or items, especially when it comes to clothing and electronics. Explore store brands or generic options, which can be just as functional but cost significantly less. Reading product reviews can help reassure you that you’re not sacrificing quality where it actually counts.
9. Track Expenses
Keep track of your spending by saving receipts or maintaining a record of your purchases through a personal money management app—chances are you may have one you use already. This will help keep you accountable and allow you to review your expenses as you knock out your shopping list to ensure you’re staying within your budget.
10. Enlist Help
Need some guidance when it comes to mapping out school spending? Here at GreenPath, many of us aren’t just financial counselors, we’re parents juggling school costs, too. Check out our interactive budgeting worksheet and connect with us if you’d like to create a personalized plan that puts you (and your student) at the center.
Tara Spicer (She/Her)
Tara Spicer is a writer for GreenPath Financial Wellness, covering everything from budgeting best practices to financial literacy for families. A former book editor and University of Michigan alum, she divides her time between the page and parenting in Seattle, Washington.
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