Although back-to-school shopping is always expensive, parents this year must cope with the highest inflation in four decades. That’s in addition to real wages falling and expected higher taxes. As the cost of all school supply items rises, spending per child is expected to be a whopping $661 per student.
Here are some tips to help your family meet the skyrocketing prices.
Clothing and gear. Lauren Greutman, an Oswego, N.Y.-based frugal living expert and mom of four, believes that warehouse clubs can save families up to $500 a year. For a small annual fee, chains such as Costco and Sam’s Club offer food, supplies and most other household items such as toiletries (and in some cases, even other items such as electronics, clothes and shoes) at a discount.
When it comes to clothing kids for the upcoming school year, Greutman suggests shopping online through cash-back sites such as Swagbucks or Ebates. She also recommends looking for coupons on sites such as Retailmenot, plus online clothing swap groups.
“My kids’ school has a Facebook group where parents swap gently used clothing that their kids have grown out of” she said. If your school doesn’t have something similar, this would be a great time to start one.”
Check out online thrift shops such as Swap.com, ThredUp.com and Schoola.com, all of which offer clothing at a deep discount off retail prices. Nina Tooley, an Idaho-based mom and head of marketing and commerce at The Cool Down, swears by online thrifting.
“The key is to make sure the quality is the same, as sometimes brands will manufacture a separate line for the outlet stores where the quality just isn’t as good,” she said.
Supplies. Joe Lemay is founder and CEO of Rocketbook, a school-supply company based in Boston. He said “companies will often discount their tools ahead of the school year — so parents should be proactive and sign up for newsletters or email alerts from their favorite brands to stay on top of any upcoming sale periods.”
For around $44, parents can buy Rocketbook’s reusable multi-subject notebook, which allows students to write on its 70 pages with a special pen and then simply wipe it clean when done. This not only allows it to be reusable; it cuts down on purchasing multiple notebooks for different subjects.
Purchasing key items in bulk can also be helpful, such as pencils, index cards and folders, especially if families have more than one child. Parents also can split bulk deals with other parents who are shopping for the same items.
Lunches. “Avoid items that conveniently come in single or individual servings,” Tooley said. Instead, buy the bulk items (such as the big container of Goldfish crackers or the big bunch of carrots) and zip lock bags in bulk (or even at the dollar store). This will last for weeks and save money. Planning will also help when it comes to bulk shopping.
“Pick a few lunch combos that you put on repeat, such as sandwiches with carrots, crackers and apple slices,” Tooley said, “as this will make it easier on you and cheaper, too.”
Tooley also recommends investing in a durable and washable stainless steel lunch box (one with separate compartments can even cut down on those plastic bags).
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice