Sending the kids back to school is something most parents look forward to. But shelling out money for school supplies? Not so much. For the 2018-2019 school year, Huntington Bank’s Backpack Index estimated that the average cost of school supplies per elementary school student was $637. For middle schoolers, the average cost per student was $941. High school students topped the list at $1,355.
With that kind of money at stake, it’s smart to have a strategy in hand before you start shopping. Here are some ideas to help take the sticker shock out of your back-to-school spending:
- Get the required supply list from your child’s school ASAP. Most schools have a list of required supplies for each grade level. In some cases, lists for the upcoming school year are sent home with kids on the last day of school. If your child didn’t get one, check the school’s website or contact your child’s teacher. Some lists get super-specific – right down to the color of a notebook or the brand of pencils. Knowing what’s on the list can help you stay focused and avoid buying items your child won’t be able to use. If you aren’t able to get your hands on the list before school starts, you may want to hold off on supply-shopping until then.
- Take stock of what you already have. You may be surprised at how many supplies you’ll find If you look in closets, drawers, your child’s room and their backpack. If you have more than one child headed back to school, you may be able to hand down an older child’s supplies to a younger sibling. The experts at org recommend setting up a centralized spot at home for all school supplies. You can find things more easily that way and it will be easier to keep track of what you have on hand as the school year progresses.
- Keep an eye on the ads. Late July through the end of August is prime time for great deals on school supplies. Go online or check out sale flyers to see who has the best bargains. Walmart, Target, Staples, Office Depot and Dollar General advertised some great deals last year. This time of year, many stores also tend to offer “loss leaders” – items that are advertised for less than wholesale cost – to lure customers to the store and get them shopping for other items. Last year, for example, Dollar General had backpacks on sale for as little as $3 each. Carry a copy of your child’s required supply list with you in paper form or on your smartphone. That way you can pounce on bargains as you find them.
- Take advantage of sales tax holidays. Before school rolls around each year, some states offer sales tax holidays. When those holidays are in effect (usually for two or three days), shoppers aren’t required to pay sales tax on certain categories of items like school supplies, shoes or clothing. Sales tax holidays aren’t always widely advertised, and not every state has them. To find out if your state does and what the rules are, visit the Sales Tax Institute website.
- Try the DIY route. Making vs. buying school supplies may not be worth it for some common inexpensive items. For crafty parents and kids who have the right tools and materials, though, DIY may be much cheaper (and better) than store-bought. If some of the required items on your child’s list seem too expensive, think of ways you can make them yourself by combining cheaper materials or supplies you already have on hand. This could work especially well for things like multi-subject binders and journals – which can be expensive if you buy them ready-made.
These are just a few of the tricks that could significantly lower your total back-to-school shopping tab. Some parents even band together and order supplies in bulk at a discount. Whatever approach you decide to take, a little planning and creativity can help you (and your budget) weather one of the most expensive times of the year.