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Financial Education

Erase the High Cost of School Supplies
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The cost of those pencils, erasers and notebooks sure add up.

In fact, a 2018 report from the National Retail Federation said parents spend an average of $122 a year on school supplies—part of the $685 total cost of sending one child back to school when you add in clothing, shoes and electronics.

Fortunately, with some planning and skillful shopping, you can erase part of that cost.

1. Get your school’s list as early as possible.

Many schools now provide lists of the grade-specific supplies the children will need when they return to class. Sometimes, they are distributed on the last day of the previous school year. Some school districts post them on their website. Often, they are available in displays at the front of stores.

By acquiring the list well before the school year starts, you can pick up items as you see them on sale.

Tip: Don’t forget to look for coupons, too. You’re likely to find them for some items, such as tissues and wipes, that often show up on the list for use in the classroom.

2. Shop at home.

Before heading to the store, check your cupboards, closets and tubs in the basement. You might have some leftovers from your school supply shopping from last year, and the scissors your child used last year just might have wound up in the kitchen junk drawer. The old backpack could have a perfectly good ruler, compass or protractor waiting to be used again. Why buy what you already have?

Tip: You might come across the spiral notebook your child used last year with just a few pages used. As long as it’s in good shape, rip out those pages and use it again.

3. Watch the ads.

The summer Sunday newspapers make for great reading by the pool. Weekly circulars from office supply retailers, big box companies and the supermarket are full of discounts on the must-have school supplies. And the savings can be substantial: It’s not unusual to find some smaller items for a penny, a dime or a quarter—or even buy one, get one of the more expensive items, such as notebooks. (Some offers might come with a minimum purchase amount, so read the fine print.)

Stores sell out of the best deals quickly, so it’s best to act fast to snap up the bargains.

Tip: Read the ads every weekend, either from the newspaper or online. Retailers offer deep discounts every week to entice you to come into the store, so there’s a new bargain each week.

4. Shop the wholesale clubs.

Wholesale clubs, such as Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s, can offer substantial savings on necessary supplies in bulk. But you don’t need four notebooks or 100 pencils? Parents of your kids’ classmates or your neighbors might want to share in the savings. They probably would welcome the idea.

Tip: Older children often need a scientific calculator or electronics. The wholesale clubs might have the best prices.

5. Think long term about backpacks.

Once your child is older and out of the stage of wanting a Hello Kitty or Batman backpack, consider investing in a high-quality backpack that comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even if it seems a bit big on the back of a sixth-grader, your child will grow into it and can keep it throughout middle school, high school and college. It’s the last backpack you’ll ever buy because if the zipper breaks, the company will repair it at no cost.

Tip: While the price on the tag might be out of your price range, even the best backpacks go on sale in the summer. Comparison shop online, too. You could find even better prices than at the local store.

6. Plan for winter.

Sometimes the supplies you buy only last the first half of the school year, and by the time school resumes after winter recess, the pencils have been lost, the crayons are broken and the glue stick has run dry. It doesn’t hurt to buy an extra or two of each when prices are low instead of paying full price in January.

Tip: If your child makes it through the first half of the school year without needing a replenishment, start your school supplies box for next year.

7. Shop alone.

The best way to save money on school supplies is to stick to the list and buy nothing else. That’s easy for parents to do if they shop alone. Some kids are excited about going back to school and want to take part in picking their supplies, though.

That’s where conflict can arise. Kids might want gel pens or a fancy notebook that they really don’t need, and you’re the bad guy for saying no. Some parents budget in the cost for an extra item the child can select, such as $5 for the youngster to spend as desired.

Tip: If you take the kids, involve them in locating the items on the list. The little ones will love the scavenger hunt aspect. For the older ones, who are starting to learn the value of money, use the outing as a chance to show them how much money they can save by comparison shopping and looking for discounts. It’s a great learning opportunity.

The cost of school supplies can be overwhelming, especially if you have more than one child. But by planning and taking fast action to capitalize on sales, it doesn’t have to be.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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