It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
…ok, maybe second.
The jolly man in the red suit may not be making his appearance for another three months, but it’s back-to-school season. That means wiping your child’s tears and rejoicing in once again having some spare time to yourself.
However, back-to-school season comes with a hefty price tag. New clothes for your growing kid, paired with a laundry list of school supplies and extra-curricular fees, can add up. In fact, the average Canadian will spend between $100 and $200 per child while nearly one in four spend more than that. That’s a lot of HB pencils.
But fear not. By planning ahead, you can ensure your child is fully prepared for their first day back without blowing through your budget – or your sanity. Here are some helpful tips for budget-friendly back-to-school prep.
Before you start…
Make a list and set a budget. Most schools nowadays will provide you with a list of what your child will need for the upcoming school year. Remember to compare your inventory at home to the new list because there’s likely to be a lot of overlap. Does little Jimmy need 5 brand new binders? Probably not.
Prioritize necessities first. If you live in an area where warm weather pushes into the early fall, you can save a bit of dough on pants and jackets – especially if your child is in a growth spurt.
Coupons will be your BFF
Pre-shopping trip, check for coupons and discount codes from your favourite stores both in-store and online. You can instantly take advantage of coupons and discount codes on your phone using coupon apps that compile all current offers and discounts for you in one spot.
You can also sign up for emails that will notify you when there’s a sale. A lot of the time retailers will throw back-to-school sales, so chances are you’ll get to BOGO it up and save some major cash.
…and so will online forums and trading boards
Instead of heading to local big-box retailers for electronics, check out Craigslist or other online classifieds for things that would typically be pricey (we’re looking at you, algebra calculator). If you’re quick, you can even get some great stuff for free. Another lesser-known secret? You can purchase gift cards at a discount from people trying to get rid of a gift card or store credit quickly.
Make smart choices
School supplies can be made more affordable when purchased strategically. And yes, while 50 packs of lined paper is cheaper when bought at that quantity, do you really need 50? If you and a few other parents in the neighbourhood buy in bulk together, you can all split the cost and benefit.
Supplies can also be used strategically. Think about rationing your son’s pencil collection so that half don’t end up buried in the sandbox after a creative castle build at recess.
Pack their lunches in reusable, washable containers and use real cutlery from your drawer. While the initial cost may be more than a pack of plastic baggies, the long-term savings will be worth it. Plus you’ll keep a ton of plastic out of the landfill.
Get the kids involved
Whether they’re six or sixteen, use this time to also teach your child about basic money management. Things like smart spending, budgeting, and saving.
If they’re old enough, give them a budget for clothes and supplies. They can research and calculate their expenses and check back with you before you head to the stores to see if their dollars and cents add up.
For the young ones, make a fun game out of the shopping experience. Build a list of what they need together, and then set their budget and guidelines. Search their favourite stores in teams with adults as captains and jot down the prices or add to the cart. Make sure they stick to their budget by price-comparing and deciding which items they need vs. which items they want. Before you check out or save the items for a later purchase, debrief with the kids. This ‘game’ will teach them how to stretch their dollar and stay on budget.
Balance name brands with basic items
If your kids want to buy expensive name brand shoes or clothes, offer to pay for the first $20 (or whatever your budget allows). Then let your child pay for the rest using any money they may have saved up, like allowance or birthday money.
Alternatively, if the $40 Hello Kitty backpack is something they really want, try compromising. A basic backpack at $20, plus a sew-on kitty patch to personalize the bag at $4 and some ribbon to make fun zipper tassels at $1 equals $15 in savings – and a super unique bag for your youngster.
Saving doesn’t stop there
Whether your son or daughter wants to be a surgeon, lawyer, or rodeo clown, the next steps in their lives will start sooner than you think. As the smart saver you are, this is a good time to consider how you’d like to help them save for their future. One way to do this is through A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), a registered government program that allows you to save for their post-secondary education. Plus the earlier you start contributing, the more you’ll benefit from free government grants and compound interest. Yes, free.