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7 Ways to Save on Back to School Shopping in 2019

In 2019, Americans are expected to break records with Back to School spending – that is according to a study by the National Retail Foundation.

“Families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average of $696.70. That’s up from $684.79 last year,” the study found.

Those families with college-aged kids expect to spend $976 this year.

The economy continues to do well and that helps spur additional spending. But, the money-making economy doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to ensure that you aren’t overspending this year on your kid’s back to school supplies.

The Dollar takes a look at 7 ways to save money on back to school shopping.

How to Save on Back to School Shopping

1: Have a plan

Resist the temptation to stroll into a store with a clean slate.

More often than not, this will cost most of us more money because we aren’t focused on particular items that our kids need.

Oh, that would be nice!” – without a list, too many of us will make rash decisions on items that our kids probably won’t need.

Instead, have a plan. Most schools distribute a supplies list every year. Center your plan around that list, but also decide on whether or not your child needs named-brand supplies.

They may want named-brand, but do they need it?

2: Don’t assume all “Back to School” sales are sales

Just like on Black Friday, not all “sales” during the Back to School season are actual sales. Many retailers advertise back to school sales as a way to get customers in the door, banking on the assumption that most will walk out with more than what they need.

Or, many will sell knock-off items for cheap, or increase prices just before the “sale”, making it appear as if the item is now available for cheap.

If you do a little homework before walking into the store, you will decrease your chances of walking out with a “sale” item that wasn’t truly on sale at all.

Pro tip: Consider buying lightly-used or refurbished electronics. These items are often available even cheaper than so-called sale items and offer your student access to powerful technology, often at a fraction of the new price.

3: Set a budget

Give yourself an honest and objective budget, then stick to it. Most parents can probably get away with spending less than $500, especially if we only buy what our child truly needs. More on this in the following points.

A few helpful ways to stick to your budget:

  • buy used or refurbished as much as you can by using websites like eBay and Craigslist
  • get creative with what you already have (more on this below)
  • don’t buy named-brand items when a high-quality alternative exists
  • use credit card rewards points when possible

4: How many supplies do you already have?

It might surprise many of us to find out how many back to school supplies that we already have for our kids. While it might be tempting to use the back to school season as an excuse to buy new stuff, we might already have many of the supplies that our kids need.

For example, how many pens and pencils do you already have lying around the house? Can those be re-used? And, does your child need a brand new wardrobe or can he or she go to school dressed in what they already have?

5: Check out the dollar stores

Today’s dollar stores offer incredible value for most savvy budget shoppers and offer very similar supplies that your kids need for a fraction of the price.

Instead of going straight to a more expensive retailer, check out a dollar or thrift store first and stock up on whatever you can. Then, shop at other stores to acquire those things that weren’t available or weren’t high enough quality.

For example, notebooks, pens, and pencils are generally available at dollar stores for a fraction of the price of other retailers. If you pack your child’s lunch, these stores often sell plastic food containers as well for super cheap.

Here are 21 things that you should always buy at dollar stores. They include:

  • notebooks,
  • greeting cards,
  • party supplies,
  • storage containers,
  • seasonal decorations,
  • and so much more…

6: Shop without your child

This tip might seem counter-intuitive, but it could also help prevent overspending on things that your child wants rather than needs.

Most kids want expensive, named-brand and “in style” items to keep up with their friends at school. Unfortunately, those things cost substantially more money. To avoid the nagging from your child for these more expensive items, shop without them.

Go to the store with your list of supplies (remember to start at the dollar store!) and get as much as you can while your child is doing something else.

7: Shop off-peak

One of the best ways to save money is by shopping for back to school supplies when nobody else is.

Throughout the summer and fall, pay special attention to sales (yes, actual sales) for supplies that your kids might want or need and then acquire those items when they are the cheapest.

Getting everything at once, during the “back to school shopping season”, means retailers can count on your business and are less likely to offer truly money-saving sales.

Bonus tip #8: Let your child spend their money

Use the back to school season as a way to teach your child money management. If your child is old enough to get an allowance (or work a summer job), let them buy more expensive items that they want on top of your back to school budget.

For example, a new jacket might cost $30, but your child wants the more expensive $80 jacket instead. Consider letting your child spend the additional $50 to get the “nicer” (read: “named-brand”) jacket if they want it bad enough.

Use this same philosophy for anything else they might want. Establish your budget, then let your child earn extra money (or spend some of what they already earned during the summer) for nicer items.

By Steve Adcock

Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.

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