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Back-to-School: More than the Basics

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As many schools are once again opening their doors, the back-to-school season has officially started. However, with the rising cost of school supplies and the losses retailers suffered during the pandemic, discounts are becoming harder to find. It is expected the average family will spend approximately $270 per child returning to school. Now more than ever, parents are looking for ways to save money on back-to-school purchases.

Here are a few ideas to help save some money and make the back-to-school experience enjoyable for the whole family:

1. Give your child a back-to-school shopping budget

Allowing them to choose their supplies is a great way to teach valuable budgeting skills. 

Pro Tip: Some supervision and mandatory items such as the school’s required supply list could be used for a need vs. wants teachable moment.

2. Compare in-store sales prices to online prices.

Many brick-and-mortar stores are trying to compete with the convenience of online shopping by slashing prices on a few items each week. Comparing sales prices for in-store purchases to online prices could help you save. With a bit of research, better quality items or more supplies for the same price could result. 

Pro Tip: Invite your child to help with the product research to help them learn the importance of shopping for the best price over instant gratification.

3. Buy in bulk with friends.

Children will need many school supplies—pens, pencils, erasers, paper, folders, etc. Like most items, these standard supplies are less expensive in bulk. Pooling resources with friends will not only save money but can be a fun way to interact. 

Pro Tip: Find a park and plan a fun exchange party. This is an excellent time for the kids to play while the adults catch up or get to know each other better.

4. Rent books instead of buying.

Books are one of the most significant expenses outside of tuition, but you can rent textbooks instead of buying them. Websites like Chegg, Campus Book Rentals, and eCampus, rent textbooks by the semester at a fraction of the cost of even used textbooks. 

Pro Tip: Remember to check the due date to avoid additional fees. Ensure the book you are renting or buying is the most current edition.

Back to School Girl

5. Look for membership or community discounts.

Check with your local public resource organization to see if school supplies are available at or below cost. Many public organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Salvation Army, and some faith-based organizations partner with national retailers to provide free or reduced-cost supplies for community members. 

Pro Tip: Many local libraries act as a hub to connect community members to valuable resources, so reach out to them to see if there are upcoming back-to-school discounts or events.

6. Shop from a list to limit unnecessary expenses.

This tip could be coupled with tip #1 to ensure essential items are not missed when your child is budgeting their money. It's especially helpful with younger children. 

Pro Tip: If your budget allows for some additional spending, the parent may use a hybrid approach to buying supplies. The parent could supply all of the mandatory supplies and then let the child choose a few additional items within the budget.

7. Learn about college savings accounts.

This is a great time to start or check on college savings accounts like the tax-advantaged Coverdell ESAs and 529 Plans. It could also be a good time to start or review your child's checking and savings accounts. Making your child part of the money conversations in your household could help prepare them for the future. Recent studies have shown that children are up to seven times more likely to attend college if money is set aside for their education.

Pro Tip: If you are unsure where to start saving, check with your financial institution for guidance.

With these seven tips, back-to-school could be a reality lesson and a money saver. Considering the family must buy the needed supplies and making the process fun and educational will help bring value to a sometimes frustrating process. In addition, learning to navigate the lesson of budgeting early will pay dividends for a lifetime. 

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