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· budget, credit, education, savings

Learning a Lesson in Back to School Savings

So…it’s getting well into the summer, fall is coming, and that can only mean it’s time for one of the many annual rites that parents indulge in—the official buying of back-to-school supplies. Whether it’s uniforms, rulers, pens, notebooks, backpacks, erasers, binders, folders, pencils, calculators or laptop computers—or hundreds of other types of required materials or equipment—back-to-school shopping is a big event for parents, students and retailers, as well as the states that tax some of these purchases.

Whether you consider buying school supplies to be an unavoidable chore or an exciting seasonal adventure, these annual shopping sprees are a growing expense for families, and should be an important target for cost savings. The National Retail Federation (NRF) has conducted its annual Back-to-School survey since 2003 to provide detailed information on how American families will shop for clothing, supplies and other items for the upcoming school year. In 2020, the NRF survey found that parents with children in elementary school through high school planned to spend an average $789.49 per family, which surpassed the previous record of $696.70 they said they would spend in 2019. Part of the increase in spending in 2020 was based on more purchases of equipment helpful to taking classes at home, such as laptops, monitors, and networking Wi-Fi routers.

Here's how you may be able to save some money this year when shopping for school

  1. Do without. Is it likely that some potential spending on school items is based on what someone wants instead of that is needed? Maybe a little? If you’re being careful with money, it’s important to be practical and sometimes make tough decisions on what is affordable and necessary, which means also deciding on what potential school materials are not essential. Last year's backpack may be scuffed and banged up, but if it's completely functional then don't spend money to replace it. With children always growing, school clothing and sports uniforms may not fit well after just a few months, but be certain to get all the use of them that you can.
  2. Inventory your stuff. Research and find out what you already have that can still be used. The very first thing to do to save money on school supplies is to…check your stuff. What do you have now that you can continue using? Inventory all your school stuff. If you have pens, paper, binders, staplers, uniforms, or other equipment that are available and able to be used for the new school year, use them. Using what you have is an easy way to save a bit of cash and shopping time.
  3. Consider the art of barter. Now that you’ve inventoried your stock of supplies, consider checking with your friends and family who also have school-aged children and see what they have that you can use. Compare your inventories and figure out if each you have extra school supplies that you'd like to trade.
  4. Don’t forget a shopping budget. Any sort of open-ended expense can just keep growing until it becomes difficult to manage and afford, so set a limit on what you intend to spend this year. Give yourself some flexibility (a little “wiggle room”) on the amount of the budget, but make a commitment to not stray too far from your spending limit.
  5. Make a strategic shopping plan. Don’t buy supplies randomly when you’re already at a store. Organize and plan your shopping to save time and money. A shopping plan could include:
  • Pulling together school supply lists.
  • Grouping items into related categories.
  • Deciding which items are required before school starts.
  • Creating a schedule of when to buy each group of items.
  • Determining which physical stores or online retailers are preferred for their inventory, location, prices, and sales. 
  1. Monitor retailers for sales and special discounts, including coupons, clearance and back-to-school sales. Go online to check upcoming sales and specials and add them to your calendar so you're prepared when they become active. Sign up for retailer emails for early notice of future sales. Don’t forget to look for digital coupons online and for “BOGO”—buy one, get one free—deals in physical stores.
  2. Get thrifty at thrift stores. Church sales and stores, consignment shops, or stores run by other local, regional, or national non-profits, are great for gently used or unused items at solid discounts.
  3. Spend more time to save on expensive items. Put more time into shopping for your more expensive items, such as laptop computers and monitors. One buying strategy is to wait for new models that can result in lower prices for older models. The global computer chip maker Intel® is releasing new families of central processing units (CPUs) this year, and CPUs are the “brains” of laptop and desktop computers. That means that computers with older version CPUs may get price discounts to get cleared out of retailer inventory to make room for the newer laptop models.
  4. Buy used or refurbished gear, such as electronics or sports equipment. Buying used or refurbished items is a great money saver, and a great category for this is electronics. Used and refurbished calculators, laptops, cell phones, and headphones that are recent models can perform just as well new, current versions. Refurbished electronic gear may be indistinguishable from new products and come with warranties of several months to a year. Sports equipment can be expensive, but there are online and local stores dedicated just to used children’s sports equipment, such as baseball bats, tennis rackets, hockey sticks, etc., that are worth researching.
  5. Hit the sales—including back-to-school sales—early! Because you've been monitoring retailers, you know when the discounts and sales begin. Use your shopping plan! For the best selection of merchandise and shorter check-out lines for physical stores, see if you can start shopping when the stores first open. If possible, it might be more efficient and less stress-inducing if the children can be at home with a spouse or sitter.
  6. Shop during a state tax-free holiday, if your state offers one. The state of Georgia has had an annual "Back to School" sales tax holiday for almost 10 years; it usually occurs at the end of July and beginning of August. This tax holiday allows shoppers in Georgia to purchase many work and school related goods, tax free. The non-taxable items can vary, but usually they include:
  • Clothing (including footwear) with a sales price of $100.00 or less per item. The tax exemption excludes clothing accessories such as jewelry, handbags, umbrellas, eyewear, watches, and watchbands
  • Computers, computer components, and prewritten software purchased for noncommercial home or personal use with a sales price of $1000 or less per item.
  • School supplies purchased for noncommercial use with a sales price of $20.00 or less per item. 

You can learn more about children and money from previous Delta Community blogs below