Back to School on a budget

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You know it’s coming. The commercials have been irritating us all summer long, and I think Costco has already finished up with school supplies and moved on to the upcoming holiday seasons! That’s right – back-to-school is nearly here! For those of you in the states, I am probably a little too late with this post; I think you mostly start in August? But in Canada, most schools start the first week of September, so hopefully, I can still help my Canadian friends!

Whether it is clothes or supplies, the costs of this time of year can certainly add up quickly. Today we are going to rock through some tips to make your back-to-school shopping budget-friendly!

1 – Ask yourself: What do we NEED?

There is this crazy thing that happens before school starts each year. People are running around, buying brand new lunch kits and backpacks and binders, even though they have last year’s perfectly good ones sitting in the hall closet.

Sound familiar?

Before you start piling a cart full of STUFF, do an inventory of what you already have and can use again. No one cares if Johnny is using the same lunch kit as last year, or Julie has the same backpack still. I have been using the same Lululemon bag as a lunch kit for the better part of three years, and I guarantee the awesome friends I eat lunch with don’t think twice about it.

Last year I bought a $10 backpack/lunch kit combo on sale at Walmart. I WANTED to get something ‘cool’ and fancy, but we were nearing the end of our get-out-of-debt hustle, and I didn’t have any extra dollars in my budget to indulge in something fancier. And I am ALL for the $10 special. But by the end of the school year, the bottom of the backpack had started to rip, and the stitching had come undone on the lunch kit. So as we head into grade one in a few weeks, I decided that yes we did need to get a new backpack and lunch kit. But I bought a better quality pair (Roots, from Costco), and I am confident that NEXT year I won’t need to buy a new one. And I want my son to understand that we do not buy things we do not need.

Do a double-check of the clothes too, so you know what you NEED. Do the jeans you bought in April still fit? Is there a pile of clothes on a shelf from Aunt Mary that the kids finally fit into? Double-check before you shop.

I am not saying we don’t buy anything new. As a teacher, I know how much I like to have a ‘first day of school’ outfit that makes me feel ready for the year. Just make sure you are buying what you NEED rather than just buying for the sake of buying!

2 – Thrift Stores rock!

It took me a long time to be able to give this advice and mean it. Not because I don’t like shopping at thrift stores, but simply because I don’t like shopping. Full stop. I’d rather hop online and do all of my shopping from the comfort of my home.

But, and this is especially true for my steadily growing son, a new wardrobe every four months is necessary but EXPENSIVE. And since kids grow through their clothes so quickly, the stuff you find at thrift stores is often like-new!

We did a back-to-school shop yesterday and guess how much I spent? $32. THIRTY. TWO. DOLLARS. 2 pairs of jeans, 6 long-sleeved shirts, and 3 T-shirts. Pretty great deal, right?

Check out your local thrift stores for some sweet savings!

3 – Plan ahead.

If you aren’t familiar with sinking funds, get started right here!

But if you are already rocking this type of intentional savings, high five! Getting ready for back-to-school by saving early in a sinking fund will save your August or September budget and keep you from overspending when the time comes.

4 – Stick to the list.

I’m new to the world of shopping for supplies. For as long as I have been teaching, my school’s charge a $35 fee and we order the supplies to use in the classroom. So parents only need to send indoor shoes and a water bottle.

Here’s the advice, and this is from the teacher in me.

Stick. To. The. List.

If the teacher asked for a specific colour of duotang or a syle of notebook, it’s because they have a plan for how they are organizing the classroom. When every kid has the plain green notebook, and one has a coil-bound book with hologram puppies on the front…well, I think you get it. I promise the teachers are not creating those lists on the fly and they certainly aren’t doing it to be difficult. There is a plan for the supplies they ask for, and while you might not understand it, I promise there is always intention behind the very specific requests.

So please, for the sanity of teachers everywhere, stick to the list!

5 – Shop online and get cash back!

You know I am always looking for a good strategy to save money or get cash back. Back to school is no exception. Using a site like Ebates or Swagbucks can help you earn some money while you shop online!

Up to 6% cash back at Amazon. 4% cash back at Old Navy. You seriously can’t beat getting money back on your purchases!

Join Ebates today and earn a bonus $5 when you spend $25!

6 – Don’t take your kids with you.

I am new to the school-shopping game – our son is going into grade one this year. In Kindergarten we didn’t need to send supplies. I have done a bit of reading to see what other parents are doing to save money on school supplies because I want to be able to give you the best advice I can.

A common theme that I have noticed is spending a lot of extra money because kids are demanding the ‘cool’ supplies. I GET it – I want the cool supplies too. But what if you left your kids at home and shopped for what they need without them? So you can buy within your budget and get what you need without spending $30 on the ‘must-have’ binder.

I’ll do the back-to-school shopping without my little. There will be no whining, no pouting, and less stress for this mama!

7 – Shop around.

Staples? Walmart? Amazon? Dollar Store? Target (I WISH!)? When the time comes, make sure you check where you can get the best deal.

With that said, be mindful of quantity (make sure the package sizes you are comparing are the same) and quality (the generic glue sticks from the dollar store are generally crap, but you can get a box of 24 Crayola crayons for $1.25, compared to $4.99 on Amazon!).

Bottom line – if you are looking to save some money, do your research about where you can get things on the cheap!

Wrap up

Alright friends. I hope you are ready to head out into the aisles to shop with intention and get through the back-to-school shop without breaking your budget!

And, if you are already done your shopping for this year, don’t forget to Pin this post to refer to next year!

7 easy tips to stick to your back-to-school budget!
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