It is that time of year again! The time of year when you walk into any store and suddenly, you and your children are thrown into a sheer panic!
Yes, the school supplies are out! You can't walk into a store without feeling the ticking of the clock as the days of summer are becoming fewer and fewer.
- Did we get to do all that we wanted to do this Summer?
- Did we spend as much time together as we could?
- Do I have a million dollars to buy my kids their school clothes and new school supplies?!?!
No. No. And No!
Whether your kids attend private school or public school, starting school isn't free. You can break the bank if you aren't careful! Commercials and retailers have our kids believing they have to have the newest name brand backpacks and school clothes. Not to mention that all their notebooks have to have Justin Bieber's face or Spiderman logos all over them.
In years past, when I just had one kiddo in school, I would just let her load up the cart with whatever school supplies were on the list without checking stores or prices. Those were the days! But now that I have two kids in public school, one in private school, and all three in sports, there is a lot less money laying around for school supplies.
There are ways to help stretch the funds this time of year. Here are some ideas on how I stretch our dollars......
1. Make only one trip to the stores for school supplies and do not hit the stores without the school supply list given to you by your school. Most schools have specific items they want your child to have and you can waste a lot of money on additional items they don't need. You could easily spend $15 on a huge zipper binder that may not even be allowed in their classroom. Having a list will ensure you get what is needed and that you don't end up having to hit the store twice or three times, which always costs you more money.
2. Check store flyers and sales. Compare prices before you make your purchases. Some stores will price match, so be sure to bring your store flyers shopping with you. Keep an eye out for coupons this month on items they need for school.
3. Buy generic when you can. But, be sure to check your school lists. Some teachers request certain brands on some items like paint, glue or markers, but paper, notebooks, pencils, etc. are always cheaper when you purchase generic brands.
4. Take advantage of the ink cartridge recycling rewards program at Office Max and other office supply stores. At our town's Office Max, you get $3 in store credit for every used printer ink cartridge you turn in. Two years ago, I turned in 10 ink cartridges over the summer and received a $30 credit in the mail. I used that $30 at a blow-out Office Max sale and was able to get all my son's school supplies for free!
5. Talk to your kids ahead of time about your budget for school supplies and what items are most important to them. Are they more interested in a nicer backpack and willing to go with cheaper notebooks and generic pens? Have they been eyeing a new lunchbox with a thermos that is important enough to reuse last years backpack to purchase? Having these conversations with your kids at home helps them understand that there is a limit to the amount of money you have for school supplies.
6. If you have multiple children, consider purchasing your Kleenex and paper towels at bulk stores. Costco and Sam's Club often have generic items that sold in bulk are cheaper than purchasing large quantity of single items at regular stores.
7. Give your kids a budget and make them a part of the process. Last year, I gave my kids each a $25 budget. They could spend $25 however they wanted, as long as they got everything on their list. If they had any money left over, they got to keep it. It made me laugh how much of my kid's personalities came out in this process! My son was ALL over that deal and decided to reuse last years Nike backpack that was still in great condition, purchased brown bags in lieu of a lunchbox, checked out the best sales and bought as much generic as he could. He walked away with almost $10 in cash. He was a happy boy and never once did I have to steer him away from the unnecessary items that he usually thinks he needs for school. My teenager spent most her money on a new bag to keep her books in and a nice binder. She had a few dollars over and bought herself some earrings. :) This worked out so well, that we ended up doing the same thing with school clothes. They each had a budget and worked hard to get as much as they could out of their amount.
8. If coming up with that money is hard all at once, keep your school list in your purse during the summer. Each time you grocery shop, have the kids grab one or two items on the list and be sure to mark them off your list to keep from buying the same items more than once. Keep a bin somewhere in your house that the kids won't get into them and just keep adding to your stock pile. This is a great idea for families with older kids that have a lot of high school fees to pay at the beginning of year.
School supplies don't have to break the bank. And don't fall into the trap that you are a terrible mother if your kids don't walk into school wearing the newest designer back pack and sporting $100 tennis shoes. Teaching your kids to budget is a lesson that will serve them well throughout life, lasting long after that designer backpack is in the garbage!
How do you save money on school supplies? I would love to hear your ideas.