When it comes to back-to-school shopping, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. The same rules apply whether you have a child going to grade school, high school or college.
Always start with an inventory. Avoid duplicating by checking what you already have – especially if there are older brothers or sisters in the family. Some items – such as rulers, protractors and compasses – never wear out.
Next, make your priority list. Do they really need it, or do they just want it? This is a good time to introduce young children to the art of making real-life choices. Buying some expensive gear might mean delaying or eliminating another coveted item purchase.
Now, here comes the awful word: Budget. If you’ve saved up for this yearly event, then you’re ahead of the game. If not, you may have to examine the household budget and make some significant changes, or even cuts.
Try your hand at comparison shopping. There won’t be any lack of flyers dedicated to enticing you into school supply and clothing purchases. Don’t waste gas or valuable time driving long distances for bargains unless you’ve run the numbers and the deals are good enough to justify it. Many schools offer exchanges where school necessities and sports equipment can be swapped, bought inexpensively or even acquired free of charge.
Buy good quality clothing that will hold up. Buying items a little larger than necessary for young ones allows them to grow into some items, such as jackets and winter wear. Some bulk items will fit different ages, such as packages of socks and T-shirts.
Try buying clothes your children like. They’ll usually take better care of them. Easy on, easy off clothes for little ones are especially good in winter to squelch reluctance to wearing suitable warm sweaters and jackets. Kids today seem to think the school bus will never break down and resist wearing appropriate heavy-duty apparel, such as parkas and boots. I’m told, on good authority, that newly built school lockers are so small today that outerwear may actually have to be toted all day in backpacks.
Shop creatively and pick things that can be reused. Buy loose-leaf binders instead of spiral-bound ones. Instead of those fancy covers going into the recycling when the paper is used up, try buying a notebook with a plastic slipcover. Insert favorite pictures into the sleeve and make the notebook personalized. Turn it into a scrapbook when the school year ends.
See if your church or community agencies offer school supplies or backpacks for free or at reduced cost. Gently used clothes and supplies your children no longer need can be donated to these places or to the local food pantry.
For the college crowd, check and find out what items are required – especially if a dorm room is in the picture. Many dorm beds need extra-long sheets and bedding. Some colleges furnish desks, bookcases and other items. Some chain stores will ship items directly to the dorm for out-of-towners, or you can window shop and order at home to pick up the items at a location near campus.
The bottom line is always stick to the budget. Try not to buy with credit cards. Instead, use cash, debit cards or checks to keep yourself on track. Plan ahead and make the right choices to help ease the back-to-school money shock.
After you’ve breathed a sigh of relief and patted yourself on the back, start saving for next year now that you’re an experienced back-to-school shopper. Next fall will be here sooner than you think.
• Virginia Peschke is executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County. Reach her at 815-338-5757.