Five strategies to stretch your back-to-school buying power
Check out these ideas for reigning in spending as students head back to the classroom
It seems like classes just ended for the K-12 crowd, but in some parts of the United States, students are heading back to campus in early August, as parents and caregivers prepare to shell out more than ever for needed supplies, clothes, and educational essentials.
A new survey from U.S. News & World Report shows that a little more than three-quarters of Americans – some 77% – are moderately or very worried about being able to pay for back-to-school expenses. Blaming inflation, the report found nearly two-thirds of respondents (66%) plan to spend less this year on supplies. At the same time, more than one in five – 21% – say they’ll spend more than $400 per child.
On average, families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade in the U.S. plan to spend about $864 on back-to-school supplies this year including electronics, clothing, and shoes, according to research from the National Retail Federation which tracks such data annually. Families with students heading back to college expect to spend $1,199 on average on similar items, the NRF reported in July.
Here are some suggestions to make your money go further on back-to-school spending:
Take a closet inventory
If your child isn’t changing schools this year or hasn’t grown much, they may be able to still wear some of the same clothes or uniforms they ended the 2021-2022 year in. Go through their closets to see what still fits, what can be donated, and what needs to get tossed. After all, a tidy wardrobe will help to make the process go more smoothly. Before you buy, make a list of what can be worn again.
Sell your gently-used items
If your child hit a growth spurt at some point in the school year that necessitated buying new clothes or shoes, you may have nearly-new items another parent would love to pay you for, if the price is right. Head over to the Facebook marketplace or other social media pages set up by your school to see what’s for sale then price your things accordingly. Some schools also set up uniform swaps before classes start. Another option is to check with local consignment shops to sell nicer shoes and upscale clothing. The same goes for musical instruments and sporting equipment no longer being used. Depending on the condition, you may be able to get as much as half of what you originally paid back. Then, you can use your profits to offset the cost of new clothes and other supplies.
Assess the school supply situation at home
Unless your oldest or only child is starting kindergarten, there are probably at least a few pens, pencils, and random markers hiding out in your student’s room or your home office that can work in a pinch for first-day homework and other early assignments. Gather what you have on hand before buying more.
Garage sales have always been a great place to score deals on used clothing. But you might be amazed at how many back-to-school items – including clothes and supplies — are available at resale, consignment, and thrift shops in your area. Some national thrift stores, such as Goodwill, even offer new items with tags still attached. They accept donations from other retail chains when inventory doesn’t move, so smart shoppers can end up paying cents on the dollar for everything from last season’s shirts and khakis to jeans and hoodies. If you don’t have time to work through the racks at resale shops, some thrift stores offer online options to streamline the process. Check out sites such as shopgoodwill.com and www.thredup.com to see what’s available in the online resale market.
Wait for the sales
We know the allure of shiny (and full-priced) school supplies can be hard to resist when you visit your favorite brick-and-mortar retail mecca. Summon your inner bargain hunter and stay strong. It’s often better to wait until “meet-the-teacher” day or even the first week of school to find out what your child’s new instructors really want students to have in their classrooms. And since prices tend to drop later in the season, the more you will be able to save on notebooks, folders, paper, and more.
Author - Jean Chatzky/SavvyMoney with reporting by Casandra Andrews