Back-to-School Basics

by Nancy Twigg

How many more days until school starts? If you are a parent, most likely you can answer that question without even looking at a calendar. Summer has been fun, but by now, most kids and their parents are ready to settle back into the school routine.

Back-to-school time can be exciting as both parents and children look forward to the upcoming academic year. However, it can also be a very expensive time of the year, as Mom and Dad buy new clothes, supplies and accessories for each of their school-aged children. Here are ten tips for keeping down the cost of starting another school year.

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new school year and overspend on school supplies. Before you buy anything, evaluate all of last year's supplies to see what your child can reuse. Things like backpacks, rulers, scissors, and three-ring binders may not need to be replaced.

While you check out last year's supplies, also take a quick inventory of what you have around the house. Many businesses give away promotional items such as pens, pencils, highlighters and other freebies that your child can put to good use at school.

Yard sales are a great source for low-cost school supplies. In the weeks before school starts, watch for gently-used backpacks, lunchboxes, and binders. You may also find folders, markers, and other common supplies your child will need.

Don't forget about the possibility of shopping secondhand for school clothes. It's not uncommon to find brand new garments with their original price tags still attached at yard sales and thrift stores. Even shopping at consignment stores is less expensive than buying everything at full-price from retail stores.

Although you may be tempted to get a jumpstart on shopping for school supplies, keep in mind that you won't know exactly what your children need until they get supply lists from their teachers. Unless you find bargains too incredible to pass up, save yourself some frustration by waiting to do all your shopping until you have those lists in hand.

Dollar stores are also a good source for school supplies. However, be careful to compare prices. Make sure you don't pay more at a dollar store than you would by shopping at the major chains' back-to-school sales.

Speaking of sales, the super-low prices you will find now on school supplies are usually the best you will see all year. Take full advantage of these prices by stocking up. You know your kids will need paper, erasers, crayons, and glue throughout the year. Save yourself some money later by buying and stashing away a year's supply now.

If you want to get the best deals but don't want to drive all over to get them, do your back-to-school shopping at a store that offers price matching. Many major chains will match any advertised sale price on items they have in stock. Just look through all the store circulars to find the best prices on the supplies your child needs. Then bring the competitors' sale flyers to a store that matches prices so you can get the best sale prices without the extra driving.

Backpacks can be expensive, but look at it as an investment. A good quality pack will cost more initially than a cheap one, but will save you money in the long run by lasting through several school years.

Set a budget for back-to-school spending. What your children want and what they actually need may not be the same thing. Make a rule that you will pay for the clothes and supplies that they truly need, but they must use their allowances for the extras.

Nancy Twigg is a Christian speaker and the author of Celebrate Simply: Your Guide to Simpler, More Meaningful Holidays and Special Occasions

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  • Take an inventory of the school supplies you already have on hand.
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