I don't know about you folks in the rest of the country, but here in the Florida panhandle, summer is already winding down and the kids are getting ready to head back to school. While this is cause for celebration for many MANY reasons, it can put a huge strain on the pocketbook for parents, especially if you have more than one child. So what do we do to ease the financial burden of the second busiest shopping season of the year??
First and foremost, sort through those clothes and supplies from last year and see what can be reused, re-purposed, or passed down to the younger ones. Most areas have Facebook "yard sale" pages on which you can post those gently used items, especially school uniforms, and get a few bucks back to spend for the upcoming year. This is also a great place to find clothes and uniforms for your own kids, and many parents are even willing to work out trades if you have some items they need as well! Hit up Craigslist, or any of your friends with children - use your resources!! There's no need for you to shove boxes of things up into the attic or storage shed when you can turn them into money or trade them for what you need.
I've found in past years that it's best to start at the bottom, price wise, and work your way up when shopping for supplies. Head by the local everything's a dollar store and see what you can find for a buck. If you don't already subscribe to the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app, get it NOW! You can go to any of the local Wal-Marts (cuz c'mon, you know there's more than one nearby pretty much everywhere) and purchase all your supplies, then scan your receipts into the app and the store will compare the price you paid to the prices of dozens of competing companies. If they find a lower price, you get the difference back in the form of an electronic coupon! I can't tell you how much money this has saved me, not to mention the time spent comparison shopping and kicking myself when I find out that the box of crayons I just spent a dollar on only cost 25 cents at another store. Keep in mind that the only real catch here is that the items have to match EXACTLY to qualify for the rebate, so think about it before you buy an off-brand item.
I can't stress how important it is to STICK TO THE LIST!! I know it's tempting to buy all the cute fluffy pencil pouches and locker mirrors and fancy pencils and folders, but this can put a serious dent in the budget, as most of these items are priced way higher than their more plain counterparts. Additionally, many teachers, especially in the lower grade levels, pool the supplies together for the entire classroom to use, so they may prefer the plain pack of pencils over the fancy racecar ones that all the kids will fight over! Buy exactly what's on the school issued supply lists, and nothing more! Remember that all that nifty stuff will go on sale in just a couple of weeks, so if there's something that the kids just desperately want but don't really need, you can always go pick it up at a later date for a lower price. Let your kids pick out just one or two "special" things, like their lunchbox or pencil case, and stick with the basics for the rest.
For the higher ticket items like clothes and shoes, keep an eye on the local paper and TV ads to find out where to get the best sales. Here in Bay County, we have a "tax free" weekend right before the beginning of the new school year for all supplies, clothing, and shoes. Take advantage of these special shopping incentives! Check the Sunday paper flyer and find out which shoe store is hosting a buy one get one half off sale, and make sure to shop on those specific dates. Old Navy always has great sales on school uniforms, so make sure to check out their online store...if you catch them on one of the awesome "free shipping" promotions, you may even be able to get the entire wardrobe without having to brave the insane crowds at the local store.
Finally, take advantage of the discounted prices on supplies after the school year starts. You know your kids are going to need more paper, pencils, and erasers throughout the year, so stock up on these items while they're on the cheap. In my house, we never seem to be able to hold on to pencil sharpeners, so I always grab a few packs when I see the price drop and then hide them until the kids are frantic and desperate.
Above all, enjoy the start of a new school year! I know it's stressful for parents and kids alike, but before you know it everyone will be back in the old routine again. And then we can start saving for Christmas!!