Feeling the back-to-school pinch? Here’s how to spend smart on school supplies


(Photo: Pixabay)

Notebooks, pencils, and Ziploc bags are filling up shopping carts around the country as back-to-school shopping is in full-swing. Walmart and Target are full of crayons and folders and backpacks. Even Amazon wants to help me shop for school supplies.

With these extensive back-to-school list, comes a varying amount of anxiety. How much is too much? At what point does this become a financial hurdle facing our families? Let me first stress how much I understand that teachers need parents to help out with school supplies. Second, let me equally stress that if you cannot afford the entire list, don’t go into debt for it. Buy what you can, when you can.

Back-to-school spending is up 55% from just 10 years ago, and the average family is spending more than they did last year. We all want to provide the best for our kids and buy them the cool gadgets they want, but sometimes, it’s just not enough. Here are some of the issues around our community:

  •         We feel pressured to keep up with everyone else and buy everything
  •         We have more than one child attending more than one school and it gets overwhelming
  •         We just can’t afford to spend extra this month
  •         We’re only going to be here for a few months

If the average American family spends over $900 on back to school–I didn’t make this up, read about it here–how can anyone really be expected to keep up with that? .

Utilize any and all free programs you may qualify for

Organizations like Operation Homefront and the USO have some great programs where they provide military families with school supplies. Some of these programs have rank, age, or income restrictions so the supplies go to those families with the greatest need. You may need to register in advance because spaces and supplies are always limited. If you’ve missed your local event for the year, make sure to try for next year.

Shop the sales

I love a good bargain, but I hate shopping at more than one place. When you’re shopping for two kids requiring a variety of items, it is worth it. I compared Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Of course, when every fourth grader in the county needs two orange folders with pockets and prongs, you can’t really afford to be picky. You buy them right away!

Tax-free weekends

Whoa. Did you know some states do this? Will it be worth it to save that 6 percent and fight the crowds for school supplies? Well, if you spend two-thirds what the average family spends at $600, you would save $36. (For the record, you couldn’t pay me to shop in a store during tax-free weekend, but I still wanted to share this resource. Good luck!)

Offer to supply things later

Buying everything on the list before the first day of school means that teacher is going to have piles and piles of supplies. Hopefully there is both adequate storage and enough to last all year. But it’s probably not going to be enough. Consider jotting a note to the teacher, explaining that you’d be happy to purchase things for them as the school year continues. Maybe you can budget $5 a month for each of your children and buy a ream of copy paper, some glue sticks, or extra pencils.

Talk to the teacher

When you’ve exhausted all of the free resources and your budget for school supplies, talk to your child and the teacher. We all know these lists have more on them than one child can use. We know that is intended to make sure there is enough for everyone. Teachers understand that not everyone can afford the entire list, and they will not treat your child any differently because of it. Keeping school shopping within your budget is the best lesson your child can learn from you.

Remember, all school-aged parents are feeling the pressure right now: The emotional tug from sending kids to school combined with the excitement of structure and activities. Knowing this means your children are getting older and figuring out how to keep up. It’s a hard enough time without worrying about papers and pencils. Hang in there, we’ve got your back.

By Rebecca Alwine

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