It's that time of year again! There's no reason to let Back to School season bust your budget. Not only is it a great time to save while shopping, it's also one of the best times of the year to teach kids some basic money management skills. Take this opportunity to include the kids with these 7 Ways to Save Big on Back to School.
Buy Quality and Reuse
Back when I was a kid, part of back to school shopping was picking out a new lunchbox and backpack every year. Was it your tradition, too? With three kids, that adds up, so we aim to reuse for as many years as we can. My son is using his black backpack for the fourth year, and it's still in great shape. By teaching kids to take good care of their property and buying quality items to begin with, you're setting yourself up to save money while teaching important values.
My daughters were sent home in June with the contents of their desks, so we've gone through and found the items that can be reused this year, making our shopping list shorter and saving us money.
Shop Early (or Late)
Both? I say that because for school supplies, I've found that it's best to shop early in the summer. If we wait until the week before school starts, bins of supplies are empty at the big stores, and we can't find what we need. With clothing, however, I tend to wait and shop late. My kids can get away with shorts for the first month of school, so I wait to buy pants and jeans until late September and early October, when prices have dropped and the “hype” of back to school shopping is over.
Know About “Loss Leaders”
Decide Whether to Take the Kids
Yes, really. Up to a certain age, they're the impulse buyers and can contribute to over-spending. You don't have to take them with you, but it can be a great learning opportunity with a little planning.
Now that mine are older (9, 9 and 11), I have them look through the weekly store flyers to find the best deals. They get a small budget and are responsible for shopping for their own basic supplies. This mirrors the way we run our monthly budget at home, with entertainment and other expenses, so they're learning first-hand how to work from a budget. I focus on wants vs. needs and how they relate to family values, which is how we've approached teaching money skills to our kids over the years.
When they were younger, I started by having each preschooler go up to the cashier with their pennies (back when stores had 1-cent folders, pencils, etc.) so they could learn how to do a transaction, speak up to the cashier, and wait for change (all good skills to learn!). As big kids, they are capable of handling these transactions, keeping an eye on the numbers as they ring up, figuring out how many dollars to hand over, checking the change, etc. It can take a bit of time at the register, so I take them to shop at non-peak hours (early morning or mid-morning on weekdays are usually best).
Keep Shopping Lists With You
Shop Smart Online
If you're going the online route, know what things cost. It's easy to be won over by the convenience, but often the prices of school supplies are much higher. For clothing and shoes, be sure and use coupon codes for free shipping and %-off discounts. I buy most of my kids' clothing online with free shipping; that way, if something doesn't fit, it's just one trip to the store to return it. I also know what stores & brands fit my kids and stick with those.
Share the Bigger Picture
Let the kids know that back to school shopping is just one (of many) expenses during the year, and discuss how it connects to the larger budget. My kids know that we have a monthly budget allotment for clothing and it doesn't change just because school is starting. We also wait to buy new sneakers in late August just before school starts; the kids compare different styles, and we discuss price differences, such as why some brands cost more. For our family, budgeting money for our next vacation is high on our priority list, so we're not willing to overspend at back to school time. This encourages the kids to help save money and gives us a family goal to work towards. Whatever your larger goal, such as saving for college, include your kids in the plan, so you're modeling responsible financial behavior for them.
How do you teach kids about finances and saving money, especially on back to school costs?