I may be a little late to the party, but I refuse to start talking about the back to school season in early July. As a child, I always dreaded seeing the flyers advertising Trapper Keepers and #2 pencils in the middle of summer, and I can only assume that kids today feel the same way. However, now that we’re past the mid-point of August, back to school is fair game.
I love my children more than anything, but I’m looking forward to getting back to a somewhat more regimented routine. Let me rephrase the second part of that sentence. I’m looking forward to getting a sliver of time each weekday where I’m not refereeing screaming matches, stepping on Legos, repeating the same phrase fourteen times in a half hour, and reminding a hysterical 4 year-old that she can NOT drink an open glass of grape juice on the couch in the living room, even though the couch looks like it belongs in a fraternity house.
Even though the start of school is providing me with the luxury of some uninterrupted bathroom time (along with time for a few other things, I hope!), there is still a price to pay. The price I am speaking of is an actual monetary price, because back to school, like all other “holidays” worthy of sales flyers in our society, costs money. Hopefully, I can help ease a little of the pain with some strategies on how to get into the back to school season without going broke.
1. Take inventory of what you have. Basic needs for back to school (depending on the age of the child) are a backpack, a lunch box, school supplies (often decided by the school once school starts), clothing, and shoes.
- Backpack and lunch box: Currently in our home, we allow the kids to get a new backpack and lunch box every two years, unless one breaks in the meantime. My children are still in their early school years (two in pre-K and one in second grade) but I am totally aware that backpacks withstand more abuse as children get older. However, as children get older they don’t always want the (often poorly made) licensed character backpacks that they liked when they were younger, so hopefully you’ll be able to purchase a generically designed well made backpack which can last even longer than two years.
- School supplies: This can vary based on the age of the child and the school.
- Our school runs a fundraiser each June where you can order your child’s school supplies in a kit that you pick up in August. Each grade’s kit is slightly different, and I end up paying more than I would if I bargain shopped for each item but the extra money I end up spending is more than made up for by the convenience of having everything ready for the first day without having to go shopping for it. In addition to that, the fundraiser benefits our PTA which is always a good thing in my eyes.
- For those of you who don’t have the option of pre-ordered kits, my advice would be to wait until school starts so you can get exactly what you need rather than buying things that you may end up having no use for just because they’re on sale.
- Clothing and shoes: If your children are willing, let them help you out by going through their clothing together. Go through closets, drawers and storage bins (if you use them) and eliminate anything that doesn’t fit or is no longer wanted. Donate or give away what you no longer need. Every child/household will differ, but here’s an approximation of how many items you should have:
- Underwear – 12 pairs
- Socks – 12 pairs
- Bottoms (jeans, pants or skirts) – 8
- Long sleeved shirts (sweaters, long sleeved t-shirts, button down shirts, etc.) – 8
- Hooded sweatshirt or light fall jacket (depending on your climate) – 1
- T-shirts – 10
- Sneakers – 1-2 pairs, depending on what your child uses them for. Some kids in sports need cleats or special sneakers for a particular sport, which could be the 2nd pair listed here.
- Dress shoes – 1 pair
*If your girl is into dresses (like mine is) you can eliminate some of the socks, bottoms and tops in favor of dresses and tights (if needed). Less laundry and ironing for you!
2. After you’ve taken inventory, make a list of what you still need. Lists are one of the things that keep me from losing it completely. I was actually going to make a list of all the lists I currently have but I realized that would probably be too much to handle since this would then be a list within a list talking about lists.
3. Once you have your list, shop the way that suits you best. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” for shopping and saving money. Some people like to shop thrift and consignment stores, others like discount department stores, and many people have luck stacking coupons and promo codes online shopping while never leaving their home. I find a mixture of all these works for me. Here are some of my best bets:
- Hand me downs! I’ve mentioned it before on my Instagram…I love hand me downs! We are lucky to have a large extended family and I frequently receive beautiful secondhand clothing from them. When kids are young, clothing is often not worn many times before it’s grown out of and it’s a waste not to pass it on! Talk to family members, neighbors and friends. We did a clothing swap in our community one fall which ended up to be a great success. We’re always excited to pass along our gently used clothing to friends and family as well because it’s great to pay it forward.
- Thrift and Consignment stores – Lots of these are local so you’d be best to search online for any in your area, but some nationwide chains that I’ve used are Red White and Blue, Savers, and Unique. Facebook garage sale pages are also a great way to find clothes for sale in your area.
- Groupon – I’ve found some good deals by searching “school supplies” on Groupon. Always remember to look for promo codes beforehand, because Groupon frequently features promo codes for 20% off!
- Raise – On Raise, you can buy gift cards at a discount. Discounts on cards change frequently but you can find discounted gift cards from stores such as Macy’s, Walmart, TJ Maxx, Target, Mandee, Claire’s Boutique, Francesca’s, Groupon, PacSun, and hundreds of others. Raise also sells discounted gift cards for restaurants and movie theatres. Currently, all new accounts get $5 off their first purchase over $25 with the promo code SAVE5. You can also sell gift cards that you may have gotten but don’t plan to use to get some extra spending money! Here’s my referral code for Raise.
- Mr. Rebates – I do most of my shopping online. One of the sites I always check before shopping online is Mr. Rebates and it’s very easy to do! Simply go to the Mr. Rebates
site, search for the store where you’d like to shop, click through the Mr. Rebates link to the site of where you want to shop, and shop as you normally would. Mr. Rebates will put a rebate in your account which is a percentage of the purchase you just made. When your rebates accumulate, they’ll send you a check or deposit it in your PayPal account. I bought my son’s Batman backpack and lunch box from JC Penney with a 15% coupon code that Mr. Rebates had featured. In addition to that, we picked them up at the store since we knew we’d be in the area (so no shipping charge), and I also received a 6% rebate in my Mr. Rebates account. My total cost for the backpack & lunch box was $12.73 (including tax). Since I joined in 2009, I’ve earned $915! Here’s my referral code for Mr. Rebates.
No matter how you shop or what you do, here’s hoping your back to school transition is as painless as possible, and loads of fun for you and your children!
What are your back to school saving strategies? Let me know in the comments!