According to a recent Women & Co back-to-school survey, not only do mothers spend more on their children’s fall wardrobes than they do on their own, but they can on average expect to spend id="mce_marker"31 on new clothes and $48 on school supplies per child. No wonder the National Retail Federation reports that the average family will spend nearly $690 this back-to-school season.
Credit Image: stevendepalo on Flickr
If those numbers make you gasp, not to worry. It’s entirely possible for you make sure Junior and Sis have all the supplies and clothes they need without breaking the bank -— and still leaving you a few bucks for your own new duds. Here are five ways you can save money on back-to-school shopping, and help your kids better understand the value of a dollar:
1. Get organized. Before you even set foot in a store, make sure you know exactly what it is you will need for the new school year. That starts with getting the school supply lists from your child’s teacher, but that’s not nearly the end of it. Using that list, start doing some excavating in your own home: It’s probably filled with barely used and brand new pens, pencils, crayons, etc. If you’re a born-organized type, you may have already corralled last year’s supplies all together in June -— but even if you’re not, spending an afternoon searching for “free” supplies at home will be more than worth your time. Have your kids help on this scavenger hunt. It will help them to understand the importance of not wasting money when they still have the necessary materials.
Finding unused supplies isn’t the end of your inventory, however. Take some time to look through Junior and Sis’s closets to see what they can still wear. Your kids will really enjoy putting on a fashion show of last year’s clothes, and it will give you a much better idea of what you really need to buy.
2. Have a clothes trading party. Once you know what you have, you still don’t necessarily need to go shopping yet. First, invite several families over for a clothes trading party. Everyone will bring clothes that no longer fit their kids, but might just be perfect for someone else’s. Any clothes that are left over at the end of the party can be donated. This is a fun and frugal way to beef up several families’ wardrobes -— and can be a great way for moms to get some cute hand-me-overs, as well.
3. Shop before you shop. Bargain-hunting used to involve driving all over town to comparison shop, but that was back in the days of id="mce_marker".25 gallons of gas. These days, it pays to do your comparison shopping online before you head out to the stores, both on the store websites and on comparison websites, so you can know where the prices are. Women & Co. also suggests that you set up price alerts for big-ticket items like computers and backpacks so that the Internet is doing your comparison shopping for you.
Making your buying decisions ahead of time will also ensure that you make and stick to a list. If you are cherry-picking the loss leaders at each store, then you’ll know exactly what you want when you arrive at the store, and it will be much easier to avoid the tempting but budget-busting items that might otherwise call your name.
It is important to involve your kids in this pre-shopping step. Not only does it help them to understand that Mom is not an ever-giving ATM, but it also gives them an opportunity to practice some math skills and learn the unique thrill of finding a bargain -— all of which will serve them well as adults.
4. Buy in bulk. Every house in America has a black hole where pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paper clips disappear, never to be seen again. If you purchase these items new every time the old ones go missing, it will start to seem as though your wallet has a black hole in it, too. Instead, buy these often-misplaced items in bulk, so you can go “shopping” in your storage closet throughout the year. Just be sure you actually double-check the price-per-item of the bulk supplies to make sure that you’re actually saving. Sometimes a bulk package is just more expensive.
5. Judiciously use gift cards. A great way to score “free” money for your shopping trip is to find gift cards to your preferred stores at sites like www.giftcards.com and www.giftcardgranny.com. On these sites, gift card recipients can sell their unwanted gift cards for less than face value -— but the cards are still worth the original price.
You don’t have to spend a bundle to send the kids back to school in style. It just takes a little patience and planning to lower your back to school spending. If you use all of these frugal tips, you’ll have no excuse for spending more on your kids’ wardrobes than your own.
Emily Guy Birken
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