For those of you who don’t know, Ohio had a sales tax holiday over the weekend. This is typically a time that I (and every other parent in the state) rush to the malls to buy back-to-school supplies and new clothes for the kids. Unfortunately, I missed it this year since we had a pretty hectic weekend. It was a bummer since sales tax can really add up! But it reminded me that I wrote a blog a few years ago where I shared some tips on how to not break the bank when shopping for back to school. The article is still relevant, although I did have to make some changes since my girls are older now, but I wanted to post it again just in case you also missed the sales tax holiday and you’re doing your best to not spend a mortgage payment on pens and paper. Inflation is fun!
Originally, the blog began with me complaining about how I hate the school year and how I love the summer, but things have changed drastically over the last four years. My kids are now teens. This means they sleep all day and stay up all night. They come and go at weird hours, leaving a trail of mess in their wake, they blast music from their bedrooms, and they never stop eating. Plus, they argue with each other non-stop and leave the house in a cloud of perfume that smells so strongly that I’m convinced I’m going to end up with lung cancer from the stench. They have also been super busy with cheer and jobs and things to do with friends, but they still can’t drive which means I often get calls asking to be dropped off or picked up from somewhere. I cannot WAIT for school to start. The routine, the quiet…I am ready!
Aside from having an audience to complain to, I do have a point to make that is tied to finance. Back to school time is stressful enough without having to worry about the financial impact of it all. According to a press release from the National Retail Federation in July 2023, back to school shopping is expected to hit an all-time high this year at $41.5 billion. Families with children in elementary through high school are planning to spend $890 on average for supplies, clothes, and tech. The cost is even higher if your child is in college. (You can read the full press release here.) Do you have any idea how many shoes I could buy for $890? The answer is probably not as many as I’d like, but still. So, I thought I would give a few quick tips to help ease the financial burden of back-to-school shopping.
Do a little research before you shop. Check school supplies from the year before to see if there’s anything that can be re-used. If the box of crayons is in good shape or you have binders that haven’t been damaged from the year before, use them again. The same goes for clothes. Look through their wardrobes. What have your kids outgrown or worn thin that you need to replace and what can they still wear that will make do for another year? Make a list of things you need and stick to it. I know, I know…sticking to it is the hardest part, but if I can do it, so can you!
Involve your kiddos in the process. It helps if you talk to your kids about the budget and negotiate/set boundaries ahead of time. Normally, along with supplies, my girls would get a whole new fall wardrobe. Now that they’re older and haven’t grown much, I told them I would buy a few items this year, but we weren’t going to go crazy. The reaction was as expected. There was a general look of disappointment and some light grumbling, but they took it in stride. At this point, I’ve explained to them enough times about how much things cost and how much money I spend on other supplies, sports, and hobbies that they don’t fight it. Setting expectations ahead of time can really help make things go smoothly and keep everyone on track once you’re in the store.
Know yourself. If you’re like me, my time is worth more than pinching pennies. I’m not the type to drive to one store to buy the cheapest pencils, then go to another store across town for the best priced pens, and then head to another store for the cheapest notebooks. No thank you. I’m a millennial. I’m all about convenience. For me, spending a little bit extra is worth it if I don’t have to spend my entire day chasing down sales. I know that if I even attempt to go to multiple stores for different discounts, it will last about two stores and I’ll end up overpaying out of pure frustration and impatience. It makes more sense for me to research which store will provide all the supplies we need for the best average price. For anyone that has more patience than me, it probably makes more fiscal sense to find the best deals and pop over from one store to another accordingly.
Be strong! Yes, your kids will try to convince you they desperately need something that they 100% don’t. It is so easy to tell yourself that the cool notebook is only a couple of dollars more than the plain notebook and that your child will be so happy and love you so much if you buy it for her! (I may be projecting here.) If you only give in once, that’s okay. But if you give in for every item, those dollars add up quickly and the joy for the fun notebook only lasts about an hour.
My last piece of advice…Celebrate the little victories. In my situation, it’s not even my girls that will beg for the cuter, more expensive supplies. I’m the problem. Years ago, I went to Target by myself (after I had already bought all back-to-school supplies) and saw the cutest unicorn pencil case. Not only was it cute, but it was also completely impractical. It was like a stuffed animal, soft and furry, and white…exactly what you don’t want from a pencil case. But it was only $5.99 and it was so soft! I was very close to bringing it home even though I already bought Seren a much more practical pencil case. I mentally struggled for a solid 90 seconds staring at its cute little unicorn face before convincing myself that she did NOT need it. And we all know how hard it is to leave Target without buying something you don’t need! I am so proud of myself for leaving it there, I’ve included this in my blog. Ha!
Back-to-school shopping doesn't have to be a financial burden. By following these smart strategies, you can effectively manage expenses while ensuring your kids have what they need for the new academic year. Let's make this back-to-school season a success for both our children and our wallets!