The average family spends $700 ... OMG!
That's the second largest amount of money couples spend on their kids (after Christmas spending, and without any of the fun of Christmas).
And that’s an average, which means some families spend considerably more.
It seems like stores start stocking the shelves and hanging the giant school bus art earlier and earlier each summer. Our kids hate to see binders and pencils creep into the front of the stores while they’re still enjoying the freedom of summer. But when you start to read about the piles of cash retailers make on back-to-school purchases, you see why they try and rush junior back into the classroom.
Is the $700 check a requirement along the lines of middle school gym class — or is there a way you can avoid the huge outlay of cash and teach your kids a little money-math along the way?
We suggest you try these three tips to save money and make your back-to-school shopping less painful:
1. Don’t buy it all now.
The number one tip most people don’t realize is the value of waiting to buy all the items on their child’s list.
During “back-to-school season” everything usually costs full price. If you wait to buy some of the duplicate or larger ticket items, those items will more than likely go on sale after the tsunami of parents and kids are done storming those aisles.
You obviously can’t wait for everything — they need some paper and pencils — but if they can use last year’s backpack or lunchbox until this year’s go on sale, why pay full price?
Wait for the deal. And if the deals are really good — stock up for next year!
2. Make a plan.
Before you drag your brood to the store, have a plan in place. Know what you need, which items can wait, an estimate of your expenses, and how the supply lists for each grade differ.
We guarantee a set plan will save you money. Tossing an extra “this” and cooler “that” into the basket can result in a significant difference at checkout.
It’s like the difference in the final bill when you go to the grocery store without a list, tossing full price items that look yummy into the cart and buying the fancy new products at the end of the aisle versus taking along (and sticking with) a list.
You always spend less with a list.
Plus, that list can be the bad guy when junior insists he needs a new backpack. If it’s not on the list, when he sees the new Star Wars one that glows in the dark, you can tell him how cool it looks, but ... it’s not the list.
3. Involve your kids.
We realize your kids may not exactly beg to go back-to-school shopping, but take them along anyway. Shopping for items they will use every day and comparing prices and brands is fantastic budgeting and financial planning education for kids.
Talk through questions like:
- What makes this item better than that one?
- Will this one last longer so it is worth the extra money?
- Will you need it next year?
- Is this one more expensive because of the fancy packaging?
- These come in a pack of 6. Do you need all 6?
Walk them through the questions to consider and verbalize for them the decision-making you probably do in your head without even realizing it.
Some day — sooner than you think — they’ll be shopping on their own.
Another great budgeting lesson for your kids is to share in the expense of a brand name item. If your plan involved buying a three-subject, soft-sided, spiral bound notebook, but she insists she needs the hard-sided character-emblazoned three-ring binder with pockets, calendar, and matching pencil pouch, explain the difference in price.
If she sees value in the item with her favorite character on it, but you know she just needs the paper and pockets, let her decide if she’d like to do some extra chores or kick in some of her allowance to make up the difference of what you planned to pay and the extra special item she’d like.
If your child does pitch in, an extra benefit is their “skin in the game." Now they have some ownership in that item.
We’ve split the difference on special backpacks with our boys in the past and those were the years those backpacks seemed to not wind up in the Lost and Found or get all ripped up.
So brave the back-to-school madness armed with a plan, young minds to shape, and a strategic trip after the rush to save on money and stress this year.
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We hope your family has a great school year!
Scott & Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple