With a new school year almost upon you, hopefully you’ve already given some thought to what your kid might need for his next round of academics. If you’ve really been on top of it, you’ve already talked to your child about the must-haves versus the wants and scoured the latest back-to-school ads (good for you!). Come shopping time, though, you might notice something different in the store aisles.
In most stores, you’ll now see simple kiosks set up, boldly displayed with signs such as “Back-to-School Supplies Lists.” These are not simple “what you probably should buy” lists. These are detailed, “you must buy it because your kid’s school now requires it” lists. Once almost a novelty seen as a courtesy, these lists are growing longer every year, and parents are finding the increasing financial burden the lists represent an tough annual pill to swallow.
One of the reasons why these supply lists are getting bigger is that schools are coming under bigger and bigger financial crunches. Many schools have already cut back on the programs they offer (especially the arts and physical education), but it’s still not enough. To keep operating, these schools are simply saying “no” to providing many of the supplies students need, turning their available funds to other basics like teacher salaries and building operation and maintenance costs.
What does all this mean for your child’s back-to-school spending? Well, for starters, it means that, because you are required to purchase additional supplies, you might have to cut corners somewhere else. Your child might not be able to afford the more expensive school items he wants.
Don’t worry, though. This is just opportunity knocking.
Instead of lamenting about the rising costs of education, use the ballooning expense of supplies to teach your kids how to budget, set goals, and prioritize. For instance, if your school requires a set of earphones to be used in the school computer lab and your child only has $50 to spend, then a $45 pair of super high-quality earbuds probably won’t work. You can also take last year’s spending figure and set a goal for your child to save at least half of that (you can match what he saves) so your child knows he can contribute a good amount to his bill. Each item on the school supplies list provides the chance for some comparison shopping. You even can have your child track his expenditures as he purchases what he needs and have him use a prepaid debit card to buy the school items to get used to paying for things on his own.
Here are some additional quick tips for how your child can save some money on school items:
- Buy bigger packs. Typically, this results in a lower per unit cost. If your child doesn’t use everything in the pack, he’ll have some on hand for the following school year.
- Buy a few more than you think you’ll need of certain items. You probably don’t need four graphing calculators, but the odds are pretty good that, midway through the year, your child will need, say, another notebook or pack of pencils. Stock up on those kinds items so you don’t have to pay the high price they usually carry outside of the school sales.
- Make a list. From fuzzy animal pencil cases to bright neon locker shelving, stores carry a huge array of back-to-school items. Making a list will keep your child from getting distracted by all the “pretties” or “nifty-to-haves.”
- Examine quality. A $5 backpack might seem like a great deal…until it rips to shreds in a month after carrying your child’s insane load of textbooks every day. Spending a little more to buy something that will last a while actually can end up being the cheapest option over time.
Check out what you already have. Will using last year’s supplies or the odds and ends items from your home office win many “cool” points? Probably not. Will it save you money? Yes. Don’t head to the store until you know what is still serviceable at your