The Cost of School Supplies, Oh My!
How much is your family spending this year?
Thanks to the industrious shopping skills of a 12-year-old and supplies bought last year on sale, our family is under budget in spending for school supplies, according to averages from a 2011 Back-to-School survey by the National Retail Federation.
The survey of more than 8,600 consumers found that families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $604 on apparel, school supplies and electronics, within a few dollars of last year’s $606 average.
Of that $604, an average family will spend about $221 on clothing, $89 on school supplies and $104 on shoes, according to the survey. Average spending on computers, cell phones, mp3 players and tablet devices was estimated at $190, according to the survey.
So far, with the majority of school supplies bought, we spent just under $100 for two children this year.
We already had big-ticket items like backpacks and calculators from last year and didn’t spend any money for those. We also haven’t bought apparel or shoes yet but I’m budgeting $90 for shoes (including one extra pair for gym and one barely-worn hand-me-down from the older brother) and $350 or less for clothing since the boys have outgrown most of their clothes. We also won’t be purchasing cellphones, mp3’s or tablet devices since we bought new cellphones last year.
Disclaimer: Although I would like to be, I am not a coupon-clipping mom. I try to buy things only when they’re on sale (“Never pay retail” is my motto) but I’m not obsessive about it. It takes a lot of time and attention, both of which are in short supply in my household.
But there were a few things we did this year, and some last year, to save money on school supplies.
Planning ahead can help.
Last year, we bought bulk or clearance supplies after school started and once the items were marked down. Folders, notebooks, paper, pens and pencils are all items you know you’ll need every year. Cons: you may not be able to find exactly the right color or right item and storage space can be a problem.
Shop at home first.
The Reuse-Reduce-Recycle philosophy works well for school supplies. In our household stock of school supplies, we have a box of reused binders. New binders can cost anywhere from $3 to $7 depending on quality, durability and fashion. Check closets and drawers for things from last year that can be reused. We bought three binders this year and the rest we salvaged from our stock supplies. We also had nice-quality folders that were barely used last year and reused those for this year.
Look for smoking sales on big-ticket items like backpacks, calculators and flash drives.
This can be tricky if you have a picky child, a fashion-conscious teen or technology buff but knowing what the average cost of items are can help you spot good deals. Recently, Walmart had decent, smaller backpacks on sale for $9. That’s pretty inexpensive for a backpack. There were even some Brewers and Packers ones for under $20.
But also consider whether the name-brand item is really worth the cost. Evaluate merchandise for quality and value rather than name alone.
Throughout the year, check stores for clearance items, especially if your child prefers name brand backpacks, or maybe you can delay purchasing a new one until the current stock goes on clearance.
Shop catalog outlets for returned items. The initials just might match. A good friend of mine got a tote with her initials on it from the Land’s End outlet on Bluemound Road for a fraction of the retail price.
Don’t forget to check online prices, too. Ebay.com is where we get a lot of our tech gear. Just make sure to buy from a reputable dealer and also that the item will ship in time for school. My son found two, 8-gigabyte SanDisk Blades for $30 on ebay, after I balked at paying $15 for one 4-gig flash drive at Target. At Walmart, an 8-gig flash was about $13. It pays to shop around.
About calculators: paying a few dollars more for a better calculator, as long as your child is calculator-savvy and reasonably responsible about such items, can help you save some money in the long run. Consider what your child will need the calculator for in a couple of years: General math? Statistics? Algebra? Taking the ACT? If you buy up, you won’t have to replace it once they get to a higher math class. Right now, a good, all-purpose calculator with algebra and statistics functionality cost $15 on sale at Wal-Mart.
Delaying purchasing can help you buy less and get better deals on what you buy.
While I know teachers are judicious in how much they ask parents to buy, I also know that sometimes teachers have only a rough idea of what their students will need. I usually like to wait until after school starts so that we have a more complete view of what will be necessary. Cons: it takes an iron will to resist the back-to-school sales and your child might prefer to be prepared, instead of waiting until the last minute.
But it turns out, I’m not the only shopper economizing.
According to the survey, “Americans are compensating for the economy by purchasing more store-brand or generic items (39.9%), comparison shopping more online (29.8%), and shopping for sales (50.0%).
“Additionally, nearly half of survey respondents said the economy is forcing them to simply spend less in general (43.7%).
“Just over half (51.9%) of families with school-aged children plan to purchase electronics this year, down from last year’s historically-high 63.7 percent.
“The percent of people who plan to purchase apparel, shoes and supplies will decrease as well, demonstrating that many families are making conscious decisions to buy only what they need.”