Back to School on a Budget

Didn’t school just let out? Like it or not, retailers get ready for back to school starting in early July, and they don’t save the deals for later. The early back to school shopper gets the worm.

Get your supplies before the end of the month and you won’t just save a bundle, you’ll save your sanity by avoiding the last minute crush. Be sure to check out office superstores, like Office Depot, as they have great things for getting your kids and yourself buttoned up for the new school year. Here are some thoughts to get you started.

1: Set a Back to School Budget

Don’t even think of setting foot in a store to do your back to school shopping without a budget. It’s too easy to deviate from your list of musts and overspend without it. Once you have decided on the dollar amount you have to spend, allocate the dollars appropriately by category: paper supplies, electronic supplies like calculators and computers, clothing, and sports equipment.

2: A Good Investment: Organizational Tools

The major difference between students with good grades and poor grades comes down to organization. Get your students on the right track early. Look for items that will help them learn how to track homework assignments, manage larger projects, and keep subject material neat and together. This summer Office Depot will have a large selection of organizational products for students made by brands like Buttoned Up and FranklinCovey.

3: Break It Down

Attempting to cram all of your back to school shopping into one day is likely to leave you, and your kids, frazzled and testy. The rush could also make you less likely to get the best deals. Grab your calendar and map out four different shopping trips over the course of July and August, with one focus area per trip, such as school supplies. Set a thirty minute appointment with yourself before you walk out the door to go shopping, and go online and search for appropriate coupons and deals.

4: Set up a Homework Station

Kids often need tools like glue, staples, markers and crayons to complete homework assignments. But buying a separate set of supplies for each child can get expensive, especially considering they’ll probably never use them all up. Rather, set up one central homework station, and keep basic supplies there so that your children can easily access the materials they need, when they need them. While they’re at their cheapest, load up on the basics, like notebooks, that will need to be replenished throughout the year.

5: Take an Inventory First

It may seem obvious, but this simple task frequently is forgotten in the back to school rush. Take a home inventory before you go shopping. You may find those “lost” rulers, protractors, an extra box of pens, etc. There’s no need to buy new versions of items you have in perfectly good shape already.

6: Get Creative

Buddy Up with a friend for bulk goods. Split the cost of a membership at a club store like Costco or Sam’s. Hit the stores together and items like notebooks and crayons in bulk, which you can divide up between you. Even if you have three kids, you probably won’t need a whole bulk pack of 20 notebooks. Going basic with supplies can be fun for kids too – they can personalize the cheap plain notebooks you buy in bulk over their summer breaks with fun magazine clippings, photos, stickers so they’re unique and creative.

7: Be Discount Store Savvy

For essentials like socks, underwear, and P.E. gear, it’s generally much cheaper to shop only at discount retail stores like Target, Marshalls, TJMAXX, and outlet stores. But be wary. Be sure to browse prices at full price retail stores to be sure you’re actually getting a deal. Outlets and “discount” stores will sometimes throw in full priced retail merchandise into the mix.

8: Reuse

New isn’t necessarily better. You can often find items, particularly electronics like graphing calculators, in good shape on Craigslist & Ebay. Simply looking for gently used items can save you anywhere from $20-60. In addition to Craigslist and Ebay, look at the following sites for additional second hand deals.

9: Look for Inexpensive Physicals

Find out if any local urgent care centers are offering free “physical” days this summer or fall. If they are, you can get your kids are prepared for their sports teams without any money coming out of pocket.

10: Rethink School Lunches

Re-think lunches before you start packing them. Pay attention at the grocery store on how much it costs you exactly to pack your usual lunches for your kids. You may find it’s cheaper for them to buy hot lunch at school or that packing carrots is much cheaper than packing Cheez-its. If they want something “junkie” set up a rule that they are more than welcome to use their own allowance money for treats at school.