With a new school season right around the corner, and no one sure what that school season is going to look like in the midst of a pandemic, millions of Canadians are gearing up for a different kind of “back to school” shopping experience. For some households, this will add up to a pretty hefty bill. One previous survey from Visa reported that the average Canadian household with school-aged children would spend over $400 on back to school shopping in a normal school year.
Well, we all know that 2020 is NOT a typical school year. That makes it difficult to assess what the coming school year is likely to cost families. We do know that there may be additional child care costs, additional transportation costs, (as some children can only attend for reduced hours or days), safety supply costs (masks, sanitizers), and a whole bunch of home learning supplies to stock up on. It’s a pretty overwhelming situation to budget for!
In spite of that, however, you can still keep the costs under control and avoid overspending or maxing out your credit cards by applying some tried and true methods of keeping costs down. Here are a few no-fail tips to keep your spending in check and avoid massive debt because of the upcoming school season.
Create—And Stick—to a Budget.
The first thing you should do is set a budget. Find out how much you can realistically afford to spend in each category of your back to school budget. This will take a little planning on your part. Decide what you will need first. Try mapping out a schedule for yourself, when shopping needs to be done. That will help you spread the expenses over a longer period of time. Some things, like fall clothes, are not urgent purchases and can wait longer than pencils and markers.
While making your budget is easy, the hard part is sticking to it. Using cash to pay for school supplies instead of a debit or credit card is one way to help ensure you don’t overspend. However, amid a pandemic, many people will be shopping online, and that means credit card purchasing. Try setting a weekly limit for yourself, so that you don’t end up binge shopping all at once, and perhaps ordering more than you actually need.
Make a List.
A list is an invaluable tool for back to school shopping and, when followed, will keep you from overspending on supplies or fall clothes. Start by figuring out which items are absolutely necessary, and which ones are on the “wish list”. If your child is going back to school, the school will provide a list of suggested items to bring to school. These lists provided by schools often include items your child won’t necessarily need, or that the classroom already provides, such as crayons or scissors. Do a careful assessment of the list and only get what you know your child will need.
A list will also help you avoid wasting money on unnecessary purchases. Things like scented markers, locker décor, and designer notebooks can add up quickly and usually aren’t needed.
Find Out What you Already Have.
Despite what many retailers would like you to believe, you don’t need brand new school supplies each year. As long as they are still intact and working, the backpacks, calculators, and pens and pencils your kids used last year can be reused.
Always Shop Sales.
With so many back to school sales, there is no reason to pay full price for anything. Keep an eye on weekly ads, and sign up for email alerts so you can know when back to school sales begin. If you have a smartphone, apps like Zoomingo and Retail Me Not will locate sales in your area.
You can also save time and gas by finding a retailer that will price match or honor competitor coupons and do your shopping there.
Child Care and Transportation
In this year of uncertainty, you can be sure of one thing. You are not the only parents trying to figure out a reasonable way to ensure your at-home school children are well supervised/taught, or how to deal with transportation to partial school days. If you have children in more than one grade, dealing with their varying school schedules while trying to get back to work yourself, promises to be a real challenge.
Look at other parents who might be able to share supervision at home. Perhaps one can “teach” math, another “teach” language arts. Try contacting other parents who live in your neighbourhood and have children in the same grade as your child. Perhaps ride-sharing will be possible, and let you work more while incurring less cost.
Normally, we would recommend planning and shopping early and spreading the costs over a longer period of time. In 2020, this might not be possible, since many locales have no idea if and when the schools may re-open, and under what kind of schedule. In spite of that, try not to wait until the week before school starts to shop. It’s much easier on your budget if you spread your shopping out over several paydays, instead of waiting until the last minute.
Back to school shopping doesn’t need to break the bank. With a budget, a list, and a little planning, you can avoid overspending on unnecessary items and save money in the process.