According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) back-to-school spending will total $47.5 billion, but four in five consumers say the recession will cause them to spend less, and spend differently, than in years past. Specifically, consumers are:
- Shopping sales more frequently (56.2%)
- Buying less (49.6%)
- Buying generic or store-brand items (41.7%)
- Using coupons (40%)
While discount stores still top shoppers' destination for school supplies (74.5%), consumers are also starting to stock up at their local drug stores (21.5%, up 18% from '08).
How to Cut Back on Back-to-School Spending
Building on the list of tips from the NRF survey, here are a few suggestions on how you can trim your school supply bill this year:
- Talk with your kids. Set expectations for what you will let your kids weigh in on and what you won't, before you head out for the store. Give them a budget for the items you will let them select, such as clothes, backpacks and shoes. (Learn how to talk about finances with your kids; read 5 Money Skills To Teach Your Kids.)
- Look around the house. Before you rush out to buy all new items, take a good look around your house to see what you already have on hand. You may find that you have at least a handful of the items you were planning on paying for.
- Use a list. Most schools provide a list of required supplies well in advance of the school year and most stores now carry their local schools' lists to help parents out. If you can't locate a list, call the school – it could be worth the savings you gain by avoiding unnecessary expenses. (Learn more in The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
- Price match. If your favorite store has a policy of matching prices on merchandise and you find a great deal on supplies that you need, bring the newspaper circular or ad in and claim the savings.
- Know the store schedule. Most stores change their sales every Sunday, but some wait until mid-week. Know your stores' sales schedules and get there early on sale day to stock up.
- Ask friends. If your friends have children the same age as yours or in the same class, ask if they'd like to team up, buy your students' supplies in bulk and split the savings. If your friends have older students that have had the teachers/classes your kids are signed up for, ask them if they really needed all of the supplies listed. Check to see if there were items they used infrequently and when they began using items in the school year. You may be able to put off some purchases and better manage your cash flow.
- Drop by your dollar store. For some basic school staples like paper, pencils, rulers, etc. your child won't notice the difference in quality but you will notice a big difference in savings!
- Don't skimp where it's important. While you want to stretch your dollar, you don't want to go ultra-cheap on the items that really count, like a backpack or electronic equipment. Buy quality, durable items so that you don't have to pay twice.
- Wait a week. Often stores will put their school supplies on deep discount almost immediately after the school year starts. If there are items your student does not need right away, wait a week or two and then scoop up the supplies on sale.
- Call the grandparents. If your students require more expensive items for schoolwork (i.e. scientific calculator, laptop computer, etc.) consider asking their grandparent(s) if they would chip in, perhaps as an early holiday gift.
- Check your local Craigslist.com or Freecycle.com site. If you're looking for bigger-ticket items, post your need on these websites and you may be able to get a great deal…or get items for free!
For college students:
- Rent your textbooks. According to consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG, the average college student spends $900 on textbooks every year – that can represent 20% of tuition at an average public university and half the tuition at a community college. That's a steep price for books most students only use for 12 weeks! While you may be able to resell them at the end of the semester and recapture some of the money you shelled out, it won't be nearly what you paid retail. Chegg.com allows you to rent your textbooks, get quick shipping, return them with free shipping and save a ton of money in the process. (Learn more about funding a college education, read Pay For College Without Selling A Kidney.)
- Use ship-to-store. Wal-Mart and some other stores allow you to order online and have items shipped to the store for you to pick-up, eliminating any shipping fees.
- Talk with your room/housemates. While most college room/housemates coordinate spending on larger items like refrigerators, TVs, microwaves, etc. why stop there? See if there are supplies you will all likely use that you could buy together like printer ink, paper, highlighters, etc. (Learn more about college budgeting in Paying For College In An Economic Downturn.)
- Shop off-campus. Most on-campus bookstores are going to charge more for basic supplies than nearby discount, drug, grocery or department stores for the same items.
Your first assignment for this back-to-school shopping season is to do a little leg work to save yourself some money.
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