I remember in fourth grade, my uncle bought me these really beautiful (actually hideous, but not to my 4th grade self!) peach corduroy overalls, a white floral puffy sleeve shirt, a striped peach wool sweater to wear over it, and some brown boots to complete the outfit. I got to my first day of school and it was 95 degrees out, but I persisted in my “hot” outfit. It turns out, our class had gym that day. The teacher made me sit out of the obstacle course because I wasn’t wearing sneakers. He made an example of me and everyone stared at me. Oh, the things you remember forever! Needless to say, I went home in tears and never wore that outfit again.

Now that you’ve heard my young-self’s back to school horror story, let’s talk about how to avoid buying your kids things they’ll never use again like my uncle did for me. Let’s also talk about how to do it on a budget. Because I’m a little out of the back to school shopping game, I asked my coworkers for some pointers on some brilliant tips and tricks for shopping. Here are the Top 10

  1. Don’t bring your kids with you! They will convince you to get all the cool, but more expensive, items on your list. In addition to this, I guarantee they will make you buy more than is on the list.
  2. Give your kids a budget and teach them how to spend it wisely on everything they need. Make them feel like part of the process. That they have something invested in their supplies as well.
  3. SALES! Purchase generic supplies for the next year after school starts when the stores have major sales trying to get rid of their excess inventory. Store these in a tote labeled “2020-2021 School Year” so you don’t lose them. Add to it throughout the year as you find additional sales.
  4. See if your PTA offers any deals for specific grades and classrooms. Some PTAs buy in bulk and you can purchase your child’s class supplies directly from them. Then it’s waiting for them in the classroom on day one.
  5. For older kids in college or high schools that require purchasing books:
    1. Look into leasing books online
    2. Buy the international students edition – it’s basically the same, but MUCH cheaper!
    3. Buy the previous edition of the book if allowed
    4. Definitely buy the books used
  6. Reuse! This is a biggie! Most kids have leftovers. Instead of buying new pencils, crayons, and folders every year, take inventory at the beginning of the summer and keep the leftovers from the previous year. Not everything has to be new!
  7. I had several colleagues recommend investing in a high-quality backpack, even if it is a bit more expensive. Otherwise, you might end up buying 2-3 more throughout the year. It’s cheaper in the long run.
  8. If your kids have an allowance, have them use some of it to purchase supplies. It might help them see that they don’t need the most expensive items out there.
  9. Look for supplies at stores that are not known for back to school shopping (e.g. AVOID those big retailers – you all know the ones I’m talking about). Stores that have the supplies but aren’t a major seller often have lower-cost products.
  10. Wait for Labor Day weekend sales. How handy that Labor Day weekend is only a couple of days away!
  11. This last one is an extra thoughtful tip from me! It might be a bit controversial. As someone whose mom, brother-in-law, and several friends are teachers, I know that they appreciate it when a parent sends their kids in with $5-$10 of supplies for the teacher and classroom. My mom used to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies for her pre-school classroom before school even started. If each parent took the time to send an extra box of markers, or crayons, or dry erase board erasers, it would save our dedicated teachers a lot of their own money at little cost to the parents.

So there you have it parents, aunts & uncles, grandparents, and guardians. Get out there and brave the stores this weekend and take these tips with you to save a little money!