In the month of August, parents begin to shop for their children’s return to school. While going back to school is an exciting time for both kids and parents, it can also be an anxious time because of the added expense. Here are a variety of solutions to keep back to school costs low if you’re worrying about your finances.

COVID-19 and the 2020 school year

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives as we know it, including the education system. The main concern for the 2020 school year is the uncertainty of schools opening and remaining open. Another matter is the expense of school since COVID-19 has put a strain on many Canadian’s finances.

What this means for back to school shopping is your needs may differ from past school years. Perhaps you’ll need to upgrade your computer for virtual classes. Or, maybe you’ll need to purchase masks and hand sanitizer in addition to other school supplies. These aren’t normal back to school shopping items; be sure to consider additional needs resulting from the pandemic.

In previous years, you may have done all your back to school shopping in one trip. It made sense to do so in the past because the school year was somewhat predictable. Schools may open in September this year, but there isn’t a guarantee that they’ll remain open. For the 2020 year, consider buying school supplies as you need them to ensure you’re not purchasing items you may not require because of the ever-changing circumstances.

Make a shopping list

The back to school shopping expenses you’ll incur depend on your child’s current grade and school. You wouldn’t purchase the same items for a child going into the first grade compared to a child going into the first year of university.

When it comes to saving, it’s best to have a plan and stick to it. The first step is to create a shopping list. To help determine what to include on your list, consider the school supplies below.

School supplies for all education levels

  • Clothing or uniforms
  • Backpack, pencil pouch and lunch bag
  • Pencils, pens, highlighters and markers
  • Erasers and whiteout
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Glue sticks
  • Notebooks, folders, duotangs and binders
  • Calculator
  • Calendar or agenda
  • Note and graph paper
  • Hole punch
  • Protractors and rulers
  • Gym supplies (bag, clothes and shoes)

Additional needs for post-secondary education

  • Laptop and laptop bag
  • Printer, paper and ink cartridges
  • Dorm room items, such as decor, bedding, kitchen supplies and a desk
  • Specific items for the program, such as textbooks or lab supplies

Create a budget

Once you have your shopping list, you can create a budget. A budget will prevent you from overspending and ensure that there is a purpose for each item you purchase. Those back to school impulse buys can be deceiving. Lots of school supplies are under $5; however, many small items can add up.

According to the National Retail Federation, families spend about $800 on back to school shopping every year per household. If the household has university students, that number goes up to approximately $1,100.

Related read: Beyond RESPs: How to Save for Your Child’s Education

These numbers give you a good starting point for your budget, but try to trim it where you can. An excellent way to cut your budget is to price out each item on your shopping list. By doing this, you’ll be researching the cost of each item and find opportunities to save. Thankfully, the Internet makes cost comparison easy.

Back to school saving tips

Now that you know what your kids need for school, you can begin shopping. Or, you can use these additional saving tips and tricks below.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

School supplies don’t have to be brand new. Look around your home for old school supplies that could be reused. If you need to purchase new items, try to look for supplies that can last for a couple of years. This investment will ensure that you save in the years to come.

You can also shop at second-hand stores for school clothes and supplies. Many children outgrow their belongings quickly, which means that buying brand new isn’t always economical. In addition, it has become trendy to shop at second-hand stores, especially for university students. Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll also be hip and stylish!

Shop as you go

A good shopping strategy is to purchase just the essentials before the school year starts. As the school year continues, you can buy additional supplies as you need them.

Sell old stuff online

Kids grow up quickly; they outgrow clothes, toys and pretty much everything else at a rapid pace. If you’ve got a lot of old children’s stuff lying around, try to sell salvageable items online. You may even be able to trade or sell school uniforms with other parents.

The extra money you earn can go toward this year’s back to school expenses.

Student deals

In the late summer, many student deals begin to pop up. The deals are usually targeted at university students; however, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to take advantage of them if your children aren’t at that stage yet. Summer clothing tends to go on sale in late summer too. Remain vigilant of deals at your favourite back to school stores.

Keep the receipts

In general, it’s good practice to keep all of your receipts. The first purpose of this habit is to determine if you went over budget or not. The second purpose is that you can return items if you need to.

Back to school spending and saving

The back to school season can be expensive, but planning before shopping can help you cut costs and stay within budget. Using the right credit card can also help you save money and may even be rewarding. Rewards credit cards offer loyalty points, rewards, or cash back for your spending. Other cards offer low-interest rates, which can help you pay down the balance you may have accumulated over the summer. If you use the card responsibly, you can save money and earn rewards as you send your children back to class prepared for the new academic year.

Veronica Ott
Veronica Ott specializes in personal finance, accounting and business-related writing. Veronica obtained her undergraduate degree in accounting from Western University. She completed her CPA designation shortly after, which was where she discovered her passion for writing in the world of business. Veronica has been working with various blogs and websites over the past three years. In addition to writing, Veronica works as an accountant. In both of her careers, Veronica’s goal is to help others become financially literate and achieve their monetary goals.
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