Although it’s not news to parents, back to school costs are nothing to sneeze at. According to the National Retail Federation’s annual Back-to-School Spending Survey of 6,500 consumers, the average family with children in grades K-12 planned to spend $630.36 on clothes, electronics and school supplies this year. Regardless of whether you have overspent, underspent, or kept to a budget, we have a few back to school shopping tips for kindergarten through college graduation that you may be able to incorporate into your spending (or saving) repertoire.
Students in any grade or year – Shop out of season. Shopping post-season sales and clearance racks is a great way to build up you or your child’s wardrobe on a budget. Take inventory to determine exactly what pieces you or your kids will need for the upcoming year, and then organize your budget around what you still need to buy. Keep a look out for winter coats, boots, and jackets in late February, and summer clothing in late August. If you have one, shop where your Student ID gives you a discount.
Elementary – Ask yourself if you can reuse last year’s or buy high quality items that will last longer. This holds true for backpacks. Speaking of backpacks, choose your brand wisely. Eddie Bauer, JanSport, and L.L. Bean have lifetime guarantees. For clothes, consider buying from Target’s newest line, Cat & Jack. Some items are designed to be gender neutral and all pieces are guaranteed to last a year. The t-shirts can be passed along from older brother to younger sister! Boom! Savings!
Stick to the list the school gives you and consult with other parents about whether items are suggested or required. If at all possible don’t bring your kids when you shop. It’s not worth the begging, whining and bargaining that can result. If you do have to bring them, teach them about budgeting by handing them a certain amount of cash, say four dollars and tell them they must find markers for that amount.
High School – Trade in old sports equipment to a store like Play it Again Sports or sell it on Craigslist to help pay for new sports equipment. Otherwise the cost of extracurricular activities and sports can really add up. If prom is in their plans, encourage daughters to borrow dresses or renting one through Rent the Runway. If your high school student needs to buy big-ticket items like a printer or a laptop, this might be just the right occasion to introduce him or her to a RMLEFCU kids credit card. Once they have a part time job or other source of income as a teenager, they can begin making regular payments. RMLEFCU offers kids credit cards and starter cards for college students. Not sure if they’re ready? Read our earlier blog post to confirm or deny whether it’s a good idea.
College – Find out how much the meal plan options cost and decide whether you can cook or eat out and spend the same or less per meal. Give some serious thought to becoming a Resident Advisor and eliminating or drastically reducing your rent. Save money on textbooks by buying used from other students or on Amazon. When the class is over, resell textbooks back to the bookstore. You may think you’ll use them – and maybe if you’re an engineer you will – but for the most part that is wishful thinking and they will become the most expensive item on your bookshelf for many decades to come.
Although this list is not exhaustive, we hope we have introduced ideas to help you wrangle back to school expenses into the realm of reality. Best of luck!