Back to School Shopping Tips

Back to school means budgeting for school supply shopping!

Back to school means budgeting for school supply shopping!

Whether you’re staying in your hometown or have recently PCSed, your kids are likely starting school this fall. And all parents are facing the sometimes-dreaded school supplies list!

Kids’ school supplies can be expensive, especially when brand preferences are named and teachers ask for specific classroom contributions. The bills can start to get a little overwhelming when school clothes, shoes and sports equipment are added in the tally. If your kids are home schooled or go to private school, add books, uniforms and other miscellaneous items to that list. We feel for you!

An average budget for elementary school and middle school supply lists is anywhere from $100-175. Add in shoes and some key clothing items and that figure can easily climb to $250 or $300. But there’s no reason you can’t aim for much less! At the very least, you can comfort yourself with the idea that you’re getting the best deal you possibly can.

Here are a few tips from those who have been-there-done-that.

  • Buy Used! There are some really fantastic sites out there for gently used clothing like ThredUP. SargesList is offering an exclusive extra 20 percent off your first order. Enter the code “SARGES20” at checkout by September 30, 2013. Enjoy! (Does not apply to shipping or with other offers.)
  • First things first – don’t forget that budget. It’s difficult, but work with your family to set a dollar amount and stick to it. Work with your kids to set spending limits on clothes and shoes and set reasonable expectations early. It’s not worth taking out a second mortgage! Last year’s crayons will probably do until you can replace them a month or two down the line.
  • Always ask for a military discount!
  • The really savvy shoppers and great planners (unlike some of us – ahem!) swear by buying a little bit every month leading up to school so that everything fits in the budget and you don’t feel panicked/inclined to overspend. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve heard is hitting up the clearance sales that hit after peak school supply season is over. If you can get yourself organized around October, stock up for next year on everything you can think of and save yourself the trouble! This is just like the holiday season – it comes every year!
  • Many parents recommend not shopping with their kids. It’s easier to stick to the list and make decisions about pricing without their personal preferences weighing in.
  • Also try used sports equipment stores, consignment shops and try hitting up your local SargesList for other things you might need. Kids grow quickly and you can score some great deals.
  • Where to go? The possibilities are endless and although wholesale (too much!) or dollar stores (less quality for the buck) might seem tempting, many parents swear by the door-buster deals they find at places like Target, Walmart and Office supply stores. School supplies are often drastically reduced this time of year and/or include free items and Buy One Get One Free deals to get you in the door. If you stick to a list and shop around, you’ll be in good shape. Base stores will also have deals. Although they may not always be as extreme, don’t forget to add in tax-free savings.
  • Things like backpacks, rulers, scissors, pencil boxes and the link probably don’t need to be replaced. If your child got them dirty but didn’t break them, let them ride it out for another year. If something breaks, you can deal with it then.
  • Older kids need expensive electronics like calculators? Try Amazon to shop prices and remember to bring competitor coupons to local stores to get the best deals. Also, look into renting or borrowing programs from your school for expensive supplies. Often times, a school district can work with a family in need or recommend good resources.
  • Keep everything in perspective. Often times, “required lists” are not truly required. If you’re really worried about budgeting, contact your children’s teacher and explain your situation. Your child’s grades will likely not suffer if they don’t show up with a box of tissues, disinfecting wipes or printing paper. If your budget allows to send in those things, great. If it doesn’t, send it in later in the ¬†when you catch it on clearance or skip it.

 Need some extra help?

Look for local programs in your base and community or check out Operation Homefront’s Back to School Brigade program, which provides free school supplies to military kids.

Check your state for tax-free school supply holidays. Virginia will be hosting one in August and other states do them periodically as well.

Happy back to school shopping!

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