Every year around this time your kids hand you a list of school supplies they need for the upcoming school year, and every year you’re surprised by what you need to buy. As public school funding goes down, your personal investment in their education goes up. From basic supplies like pens and paper to high-tech gadgets like tablets and calculators, you can be in for a huge bill just to get your kids ready for the school year.
According to the NRF (National Retail Federation), families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $969.88 this fall. A bill of $1,000 can be a challenge to pay for families on tight budgets. With so much to buy, you’ll need to make sure you follow these simple dos and don’ts of back to school shopping to make sure you don’t break your budget.
DO: Set a budget
A budget isn’t a magical get out of jail free card when it comes to your finances, but it comes close to it. This essential financial tool helps you determine the boundaries of your financial reach, so you know how much you can afford to spend on back to school shopping.
You can do it the old-fashioned way by tallying your income and expenses by hand, or you can use a money management app like Mint to help you track your spending this fall. Whatever you use to create yours, make sure you use accurate figures for both your income and your purchases.
DON’T: Buy name brand items every time
One of the most common mistakes made by shoppers is they reach for the familiar brand rather than the generic knock-off, despite the price. In many cases, the only reasons why brand names have these prices is because they can get away with it; their cheaper counterparts work exactly the same and look the same except for the logo.
Figure out what you can afford to buy off-brand. Supplies like workbooks, pens, and binders don’t need the status symbol of a brand name. You may want to splurge on tech if you expect they’ll use them for years to come. Though branded tech may be more expensive upfront, they’re less likely to break down as often as discounted, off-brand laptops, tablets, and calculators. Consider these back to school purchases an investment that saves you from buying new gadgets every year.
DO: Use your phone
Your phone is a gateway to savings when you download the right apps. Check out the Play and App Stores for apps like Ibotta, RedLaser, and Walmart Savings Catcher. These help you find the cheapest prices for the items on your list while offering significant discounts and/or rebates.You can use these apps all-year round to help you save on everyday items, too.
DON’T: Forget about student discounts
You might be footing the bill for most things on their lists, but your kids can help out in their own way. Bring them along with you to see if they can access deals or other savings by using their student ID cards.
DO: Shop with a list
A list, like a budget, is an organizational tool that sets boundaries. If you follow the limits it sets, you can stop yourself from overspending. Without a list, you risk forgetting to pick something up before their first day of school. At worst, you could put too many items in your cart and go over your limit.
Sit down with your children and go over their supply list. Compare the prices of these items to your budget to see if you have any leftover money to spend on fun items they want for the new school year.
DON’T: Do it alone
When you overspend in one area of your budget, other parts of it suffer. It means you have to pull cash from other bills or savings accounts you didn’t mean to use during the fall. Depending on how much you overspend, you may not be able to cover these bills at all. You could be totally unprepared for unexpected purchases or repairs, too.
If you ever find your finances stretched too thin to cover an essential bill or repair, you don’t have to do it alone. Online lenders like MoneyKey offer a fast and convenient way to pay for these responsibilities with online installment loans. One of the benefits of getting an installment loan over a traditional short-term payday loan is its forgiving repayment terms. Online lenders let you repay what you owe over several installments — just like its name implies—to mitigate the impact borrowing has on your immediate budget.
Next to the holidays (which are just around the corner!), the back-to-school season is the most challenging financial time for families. Don’t let your kids’ supply list break your budget. Follow these dos and don’ts to protect your finances from back to school shopping.