Don't Let Back-to-School Season Sneak Up on You
By, Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada
Ah, back-to-school season. When we were students we associated back-to-school with the opportunity for a fresh start, a new wardrobe and fancy school supplies. We had no idea how much overspending would impact our financial well-being. This September will be my first time experiencing back-to-school as a parent and my priorities are a little different. Parents, if this is also your first time at the back-to-school rodeo, or if you're simply looking for a few strategies or money-saving tricks to ease frayed nerves that come with back-to-school time, read on:
As always – start with your budget. Calculate what you can afford to spend on school-related expenses without blowing your overall household budget. Scoring bargains won't help your bottom line if you end up having to pay interest on unpaid balances. Don't know where to begin? Check out the Practical Money Skills back-to-school budget calculator.
Make a comprehensive shopping list. Gearing your kids up for a new school year involves much more than simply buying a new backpack and a few outfits. Consider the following:
- Plan to stagger new clothing purchases throughout the year so you aren't foiled by sudden growth spurts.
- Review school and classroom supply lists before buying essentials. Organize last year's leftover school supplies in one place to avoid purchasing duplicates and consider the cost-effective alternative of buying in bulk and splitting supplies among kids or peers.
- If your kids participate in athletics, band or other extracurricular activities, find out the financial commitment for uniforms, dues, field trips, etc. Look into renting or buying used sporting equipment or musical instruments until you're sure they'll stick with an activity.
- Factor in public transportation or school bus costs, if any. Walking, biking and carpooling are all environmental and budget friendly alternatives.
- Learn if your child's school offers a meal program, and weigh the cost, convenience and nutritional value against the cost of food prepared at home.
Prioritize. Once you've finalized an overall list, prioritize how to spend your budgeted amount. Get your kids involved in this process so they'll learn the difference between "must-haves" and "nice-to-haves" as well as the art of compromise: if they truly want those designer jeans, figure out a way they can earn the price difference. This could be a good opportunity to teach your children how to manage their expectations.
Bargain Hunting. After prioritizing expenses, start your research. First, look through the kids' closets to see what still fits and is suitable for school. Then:
- Compare notes with friends. They may be able to use your in-shape hand-me-downs, and vice versa.
- Check garage sales, consignment or thrift shops and online sites. While you're at it, see what items you can sell or donate to make a few bucks and free up space.
- Look for newspaper and online coupons. Some stores will match competitors' prices even if their own items aren't on sale.
- If your child's school requires a uniform, see if they hold a pre-owned uniform sale – and if they don't, suggest one!
- Consider following stores on social media to help find deals. Research stores that offer special student exclusive discounts.
Bottom Line: With a little careful planning, you can stretch your dollars and ease the financial pain of back-to-school shopping.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.