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Money SmartsAugust 2, 2022
Inflation and rising consumer prices are being felt across the U.S. economy – and Americans can expect back-to-school supplies to cost even more this year than in the past.
According to data from the National Retail Federation, back-to-school costs are expected to exceed $860 per household this year, up from $840 in 2021 and $789 in 2020. Families will likely choose to spend more on clothing, accessories and shoes this year compared to last year, with a slight decrease in spending on electronics from 2021.
But many shoppers have noticed a higher price tag on those items they are seeking more, with 80% of respondents saying they noticed higher costs on clothing and 68% saying they are seeing higher prices on all back-to-school items.
Only 36% say they can afford back-to-school shopping without a problem, with the remainder indicating it’s a significant budgeting concern or that they outright can’t afford it. Because of this, some consumers are being forced to compensate for the price increases in varying ways – 38% say they are cutting back on spending in other areas, 18% are working overtime or taking additional jobs and 12% are either borrowing money or going into debt to pay for school supplies.
Keeping your back-to-school spending under control can be difficult when inflation is soaring, but you can help minimize costs with some careful planning and shopping around.
Here are some tips to help save on back-to-school shopping:
SHOP YOUR HOME FIRST
Before you put anything on your back-to-school shopping list, check your own closets and desk drawers — you might have more on hand than you remember. Office supplies that accumulated while working virtually can be repurposed to the classroom. Also, see if you have highlighters, pens, pencils, notebooks and other school supplies saved up from past years before heading out to shop. Don’t forget those items you may have purchased on sale last year to use this year.
Then move on to clothes. See whether those jeans your child barely wore still fit. If not, you don’t want to find out you need a whole new fall wardrobe after a fantastic sale ends.
SCOUR OFTEN FOR DISCOUNTS
When you sign up for your favorite retailers’ emails, you’ll get alerts for upcoming sales so you can plan accordingly. If you’re offered a sign-up bonus, save it for a larger purchase.
Scrolling through brands’ social media accounts will also keep you updated on the latest discounts and promotions or flash sales. A browser extension or app can automatically scan for coupon codes.
If you’re about to buy at a brick-and-mortar location, take a second to compare the price to what you see online. Some things might be priced differently on the brand’s various channels.
Comparison shopping online can help you save money, and it can also save you the time and effort of driving from store to store in search of the best prices. Many sites make it easy to price items and find great deals. When comparison shopping, have your calculator handy so you can determine the best deal, which includes accounting for the cost of shipping.
In addition, various retailers offer discounts or other benefits specifically to students on items from clothing to electronics to vitamins.
You can save hundreds of dollars on a like-new computer for your kids by purchasing a refurbished model. Just make sure you buy from a certified seller.
Also consider refurbished or barely used items such as desks, table lamps and other items you need to create a study zone in your home or in your university student’s housing.
TIME YOUR PURCHASES CAREFULLY
Most retailers are pulling out all the stops to lure shoppers back, so significant savings are likely. But you need to be strategic about when you buy; sites like CamelCamelCamel track the price history of an item to identify the ideal time to buy, helping to ensure you don’t miss a big drop.
When considering what your student needs for the upcoming school year, it’s easy to think about all the things they’ll need from Labor Day through June. But not everything needs to be purchased right this second. Once school starts, there are also often drastic price reductions. By then you’ll know more clearly what you actually need, and you can verify that your kids’ “must-buy” items are on trend among their friends. If you can hold off on buying your student a new laptop, for instance, you might find better deals — and more availability — once school is in session and retailers clear out back-to-school stuff offering even deeper discounts.
Be sure to save all your receipts as some stores may make a price adjustment if the item you bought eventually goes on sale within a certain time limit. If you do need to make a return, watch the dates carefully; many retailers have tightened their policies on returns.
COMBINE YOUR EFFORTS
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save. You may find buying some school supplies in bulk results in a lower cost per item. This might be the case for pens, pencils, markers, crayons, notebooks, or facial tissues. But while you probably don’t need a huge quantity of glue sticks or notebooks, other families will also need a few, and you can all split the savings.
Another option is to swap gently used items that your kids no longer need, such as sports equipment from a long-abandoned activity, a class-specific graphing calculator, outgrown school uniforms, or other clothes and gear, with items you’ll need.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Kids are notorious for going all-in on an activity and abandoning it just as swiftly. So before investing in a musical instrument or hockey skates, ask if you can borrow from the school or sponsoring facility first, or perhaps consider renting for a trial period. This will also help your child figure out which equipment features they like or dislike before you purchase any.
If the activity comes with accompanying fees, sign up for the minimum number of hours at first. That way, you won’t have spent too much money on your would-be ballerina who’s moved on to softball before the semester of expensive dance classes is over.
DON’T FORGET ILLINOIS TAX HOLIDAY
Illinois' Sales Tax Holiday takes place August 5 -14. During the 10- day period, Illinois will reduce the state sales tax on school supplies by 5%. Shoppers will only pay 1.25% plus the local sales tax. More information here.
GET PAID TO SHOP
If you’re going to be spending money anyway, you might as well be rewarded for it. On cash-back shopping portals such as Ibotta or Rakuten, you can choose the brands you’re interested in and shop as you normally would. You’ll automatically earn rebates that you can redeem for cash or gift cards.
Many stores also offer rewards in the form of future discounts when you shop during specified time periods. Amass the dividends and set a reminder to redeem them in the future.
Whether you plan to shop online or in person, you can earn rewards that may help defray the costs of heading back to school.
Despite rising inflation, it’s possible to shave a significant amount from your back-to-school budget through methods like comparison shopping, student discounts, cash back rewards and the timing of your purchases.