It’s August, which means for many families, it’s time for back-to-school shopping. The second weekend in August is the traditional start of retailer’s back-to-school shopping season, the second-highest earnings period outside of the holiday season according to the National Retail Federation. The lure of back-to-school shopping deals and discounts is great, with retailers offering deals as high as 50% off and buy-one-get-one-free promotions. Here are some tips to consider before heading back-to-school shopping and so that you don’t get trapped by great deals and steals that might ultimately hurt your overall family budget later. Be sure to know your family’s back-to-school budget well, so that you can work within it.
Tip 1: Take the time to budget wisely
Time is money and money is time, so take the time to budget wisely. Spending the time to really look at the costs associated with the academic year and knowing what you have to spend, need to spend and can afford will save you money. Don’t forget to comparison price before you go shopping and factor in whether online deals are better than in-store deals. Free shipping might trump the cost of gas to the mall, for example. Also, if your kids are old enough, include them in the process so that you can start them on a financial literacy path that recognizes the importance of budgeting. Do these calculations before you head to the mall, stores or click “confirm purchase” online.
Tip 2: Think long-term budgetary framework
Most families are on a tight budget, and even if yours is not, shopping for going back to school should be considered as an investment in products and services needed throughout the school year not as a one-time spending spree. Keeping this long-term budgetary framework in mind when shopping for going back to school will help you stay focused and within your family budget so that you’re not sorry later and don’t break the bank.
Tip 3: Factor in ten months of school lunches
For most in Michigan, school begins the Tuesday after Labor Day and lasts until the first or second week in June, depending upon the vacations and half-days in your school district. Consider the cost of roughly ten months of school lunches, or milk if your child takes their lunch to school. Don’t forget to also include potential field trip fees and other fee-based items that may crop up during the school year when doing your back-to-school budgeting.
Tip 4: Include the cost of extra-curricular supplies
When budgeting for back-to-school shopping, don’t forget to include the cost of items related to your child’s extra-curricular activities. For example, cleats and socks for soccer, ballet slippers and leotards for dance for should be included in your back to school budget. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of gas for driving your kids all over creation or the cost of using a kid’s taxi service such as Michigan-based Kids Kruiser in your back-to-school budget.
Tip 5: Leave some budgetary wiggle room
When calculating your back-to-school budget, make sure you save some emergency funds for unexpected things that may crop up like your child forgetting his or her lunch at home and needing to buy a school lunch. Chances are, if you are a working parent, you will not have time to rush a lunch to the school and will instead need to pay the “emergency lunch bill” the next day.
Tip 6: Buy a few boxes of small envelopes
If you place your child’s lunch or milk money in envelopes, don’t forget to include those in your back-to-school list and budget. At the very least, you will need a box or two of small envelopes for permission slips and notes to the teacher throughout the school year.
Tip 7: Anticipate growth spurts and don’t overbuy clothes and shoes
There are few things worse than feeling that you wasted money after buying your child an entire new wardrobe and within a month, they have had a growth spurt. Like with appliances dying the day after the warranty expires, the growth spurt seems to occur the day after store deals and coupons have expired. Since there is nearly a full month left before school starts, don’t use the deals to overbuy. Instead, for buy-one-get-one deals, buy one in the child’s current size and buy the second one in the next size up. This way, when the inevitable growth spurt happens on the second day of school, you will not be scrambling to replace everything that you purchased in August.
Tip 8: Think beyond September
While winter is looming in the distance and holiday sales will be cropping up before you know it, this is still Michigan, where the cold can come on strong, quickly and earlier than expected. Consider purchasing a three-in-one or convertible jacket that can take your child from the cool fall mornings through the bitter cold of Michigan winters. Retailers like the Children’s Place are great places to get these must-have items now. Then, put it away so that you can have it ready on that first sub-40-degree morning.
Tip 9: Stock up on the “staples” now
If you have a school supply list from your district, school or child’s teacher, make sure to take it with you when you shop for school supplies. Stock up now on pencils, notebooks, crayons, markers and glue sticks for example. You will use them all year both at school and for homework. Keep the extras in a spot where the kids cannot get to them and “waste” them. That way, when your child has lost yet another number-two pencil or ground their crayons down to stumps, you have more ready for replenishing. Also keep a set for at-home use only for homework and crafts so that the ones for use at school can stay there.
Tip 10: Keep it simple
While the kids will gravitate towards their favorite licensed products (think Disney, Angry Birds, Mario Brothers and Hello Kitty) and that it’s great to indulge their tastes and personal flair, make sure to also buy some of the more plain products. First, they cost less and are more budget-friendly than the licensed products. Second, in March when your child is no longer into whichever character they loved in August, you will have some back-up supplies ready. Third, your child’s teachers will love the reduction of the distraction factor. Keep this tip in mind for buying clothes as well. Solids and stripes can go with practically anything and are great for layering.
Tip 11: Sign up for year-round savings and perks
Many retailers offer their loyal customers additional deals, coupons and perks throughout the year. While you might be in a hurry at check-out, take the time to enter your information. If you don’t want to be bombarded by e-mails from retailers in your regular personal or work e-mail, set up a separate free e-mail account that is dedicated to shopping deals and provide that e-mail address. Remember, you can always opt-out of the e-mails if you find that their repeated communications are overwhelming.
Tip 12: Stay focused
When shopping, no matter how great the deal or sale may seem don’t forget to ask yourself if you really need to get item right now and if it is realistically within your budget. Realize too that in a few months, there will be close-out sales and holiday sales, so if shopping for back-to-school items means getting some things now and other things later, that still will work as long as you stay within the budget that you already set up for the academic year. Use only a portion of your family’s back-to-school budget for your August in-store or online back-to-school shopping expedition.
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