Preparing for Back to School

Can you believe it’s the end of July already? And if you’ve been to Target lately then you have been reminded that school will be starting very soon. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t want summer to end but I do like to be prepared and organized for a task like this. Here are a few ideas to help you get started and hopefully keep more money in your wallet.

Reuse: Last year’s backpack or lunchbox is probably still good. There may be notebooks with only a few sheets ripped out.  The computer can probably last one more year. Yes, a lot of kids want new things every year but if money’s tight, reuse these items for another year. Save the money to replace items that have been outgrown or are truly past their usefulness.

Accept Hand-Me-Downs:  If you have friends or family that have clothing from one of their kids that they no longer need it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can have the gently worn clothing for your children.

Buy used: Look into shopping at Goodwill, eBay, or yard sales.  You can get great deals on clothing, electronics, books, and sports equipment if you’re willing to buy used.

Shop your state’s tax free holiday, if applicable. Not all states have these but if yours does, it can be a great way to save a little money. More details for Texas students from the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Texas Tax-Free Weekend dates — August 17-19, 2012.

Compare online prices: with physical store prices. Online coupons and free shipping may get you a better deal online than in a real store.

Sell last year’s stuff to raise funds for this year: Sell your unneeded supplies and outgrown clothes at a yard sale or on eBay to raise funds to cover this year’s supplies.

Stick to the list: Buy only what’s necessary and stick with the basic model. Don’t be swayed by “great deals,” the hype of back to school, or the begging of your kids. Get what they need, opt for a model with fewer frills, and get out.

Hit the loss leaders: Many office supply and discounters offer things like glue, paper, scissors, pencils, etc. for ridiculous prices (sometimes as low as a penny) to get you in the store in the hope that you’ll buy the rest of your supplies there, too. Don’t fall for it. Buy the cheap stuff and get out.

Plan your budget now: Don’t wait until three days before school starts to think about this. Go ahead and figure out how much you’ll need and start putting a little extra money away to cover it.

Try non-traditional sources for supplies: We all know about the office stores and the big-chain retailers. But places like Michael’s or AC Moore sell craft items and paper goods. And there is usually a 40% off one item coupon in each Sunday’s paper. Hit the dollar stores; they usually have pencils, paper, notebooks, glue, etc. Try outlets for clothes or stores that sell refurbished electronics. Pawn shops can even be a good source for computers or calculators. Think outside the big box stores.

Look into bulk purchases: If you’re a member of Sam’s, Costco, or the like, you might score better deals on some items by purchasing them in large quantities. Rather than buying individual pens for each kid, buy a big box and pass them out. Same with notebooks, paper, and glue.

Start early: Buy a little at a time as you find sales, coupons, and great buys. It may be easier to buy everything in one trip, but that is rarely the most cost effective method.

Wait: You don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe before school starts. Get one new outfit to “make a good impression” on the first day and let them wear other clothes the rest of the time. Buy new clothes as needed, not just because “it’s back to school.”

Buy simple and dress it up yourself: Plain binders, book covers, notebooks, folders, etc. are usually cheaper than their “Hannah Montana” or “Transformers” cousins. If your kid hates the plain model, dress it up yourself (or let the kids do it) with stickers, artwork, magazine clippings, etc. If you have to buy for the classroom, buy in bulk or stock up at a big sale: Some schools ask the parents to provide supplies like paper or pens for the whole class. For these big purchases, be sure to buy only at stock up prices and get enough to cover most, if not all, of the year. 

Give back: This isn’t a money saver, but it’s a kind thing to do. While you’re employing all of these savings tips and tricks, buy a little extra and donate it to an organization that provides supplies for truly needy kids. Most communities have an “Operation Back to School” or other charitable program that collects supplies for those who truly cannot afford them. Give a little extra to a worthy group. It’s just a nice thing to do and will probably come back to you in some way.

Being organized for a task this big is the key to not losing your mind and wallet. Speaking of being organized there is a checklist for that — and of course, I found it on Pinterest: The School Supply Checklist.

Saving Tip:  We know you’re busy this time of year and FTWCCU has online banking, Saturday hours at most of their branches, and more than 28,000 FREE ATM locations to fit your fast-paced life.