Sending the kids back to school is something most parents look forward to. But shelling out money for school supplies? Not so much. At the time of this writing, educators across the country are still struggling with what the 2020-2021 school year will look like in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But however it looks, parents will still be shelling out big for school supplies.
How Much Are We Talking Here?
Let’s crunch the numbers. For the 2019-2020 school year, Huntington Bank’s Backpack Index estimated that parents would expect to pay per child:
- $1,017 for elementary school supplies, extracurricular fees, and technology
- $1,277 for middle school supplies, extracurricular fees, and technology
- $1,668 for high school supplies, extracurricular fees, and technology
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 Supply List from Your Child’s School ASAP.
Check your school district’s website or reach out to your child’s teacher to get the school supplies list for the 2020-2021 school year. Most schools have a list of required supplies for each grade level (some are 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. When you do shop, remember to carry a copy of your child’s required supply list with you in paper form, or take a picture of it on your smartphone. That way you can pounce on bargains as you find them.
- Take an Inventory of What You Already Have.
You may be surprised by how many supplies you’ll find in closets, drawers, your child’s room, and last year’s backpack! (If you have several kids headed back to school, you may save a lot with hand-me-downs.) When it comes to your supply inventory, the experts at greatschools.org recommend setting up a centralized spot at home for all school supplies. You (and the kids) can find things more easily that way. Plus, it will be easier to keep track of what you have on hand as the school year progresses.
- Keep an Eye on the Ads.
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. Here’s a past 2019 price comparison among Walmart, Target, and Staples.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. In 2018, for example, Dollar General had backpacks on sale for as little as $3 apiece!
- Take Advantage of Tax-Free Days.
Every year before school rolls around, some states actually have “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.
- Go the DIY School Supplies Route.
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. For crafty parents and kids who have the right tools and materials, DIY may be much cheaper (and better) than store-bought.
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 your approach, a little planning and creativity can go a long way.
Here’s to a great 2020-2021 school year!