Financial Advice

Be a Wise Consumer


Lessons in Back-to-School Shopping

Reading, writing, and arithmetic come at a price, literally, as families enter that late-summer rite of passage known as back-to school shopping. Armed with lists detailing the precise number and color of folders, pens, paper, three-ring binders, and more, students and parents traverse the store shelves. But finding bargains can be a challenge.

The National Retail Federation says families with students in grades one through 12 spent an average of $696.70 per student on back-to-school supplies last year. Add to that new school clothes at about $284 per child, per a Deloitte study, not to mention computers, calculators, and hardware.

The good news is you can turn that back-to-school shopping into a teachable moment in wise consumerism with a few tips and techniques.

Make a Plan
Where to start? Your students’ supply lists, of course. Before you venture to the mall, take an inventory of your kids’ rooms and desk areas. There is a good chance that you’ll uncover at least a few items on the supply list that have been left unused from the previous school year. Score an unopened ream of paper and a couple of three-ring binders hidden away in the closet, and voila! You have crossed a few items off the shopping list. Even gently used markers, pens, and pencils are plenty good to start out the new school year. (They can always be replaced later as they wear out).

If your school offers pre-made school supply kits, you might find they save you money and time. About 27% of parents opt for them, according to a NPD Group study.

At the same time, take an inventory of other needs your kiddos have. Will the backpack you spent $100 on last year make it through another few months? Does last year’s jacket still fit, and what about other clothes and shoes?

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Many students are embarking on a new academic journey by enrolling in online schools. Many of the supplies will be the same of course, but not all of them. You may be able to do without some of the traditional supplies, like backpacks. On the other hand, you’ll need to add some new items to the list, including (but certainly not limited to) a comfortable workspace, a computer, earbuds or headphones, and a reliable internet connection. As with any other school, check their recommended lists to make sure your student has what they need.  

Make a list and budget based on needs versus wants. A special savings fund earmarked just for the school season shopping can also help you plan ahead and stay within your means.

Sales and Coupons Are Your Friends
Don’t wait until the last weekend before school starts to begin shopping. Watch for sales year-round. New Year’s Day is traditionally a great time to pick up discounts on office supplies like paper, pens, folders, and such. Stock up on items that are perennial favorites on the teacher lists.

The Deloitte study found that 69% of parents with K-12 kids said sales and discounts are key in their shopping strategy. Watch for clearance and end-of-season sales on clothes. Get on store emails to be alerted to special offers and store coupons. Don’t overlook dollar and discount stores, where you often can snag great bargains on staplers, calculators, and other small office/school supplies. Check sites like Groupon and for coupon offers. School shopping is a good time to put your credit card rewards to work, as well.