Splurge vs. Save: Back-to-School Shopping
A free education sure is pricey these days.
The average American parent spent more than $1,200 on back-to-school shopping last year, according to the American Express Spending and Savings Tracker.
This number continues to grow — up 8 percent from the year before and a whopping 24 percent since 2011.
While parents are obviously not dropping a grand on No. 2 pencils, the reality is, today’s kids need more than just Crayons and glue to keep up. The growing use of technology (tablets, smartboards, eReaders) is a huge contributor to these expenses — and it’s hard to argue that they’re optional. The American Express report found than 82 percent of parents said their kids used technology for learning.
So how can you survive this huge and growing surge in expenses? The trick is being a savvy shopper, and knowing when to save so you can splurge when that’s your best bet.
Here’s our guide for when to save and when to splurge on your kids’ back-to-school supplies.
Pencil bags and other storage containers:
Your kid might think she needs the latest flashing, singing, glow-in-the-dark, rhinestone-encrusted Elsa pencil case, but a simple Elsa case without the (inevitable-to-break) extra add-ons does the same trick. So does a gallon-sized zip baggie.
Unless your child has finished growing (and has a style that definitely won’t change), then trendy fall clothes are not the area for splurging. Your child is likely to outgrow the clothing by years’ end, so most items will only get one season of wear. Luckily, there are plenty of great deals to be had this time of year.
Check out back-to-school sales at stores like Old Navy, Target, JCPenney and Walmart where you’ll find great deals on trending styles. Your kids will love the clothes and your wallet will still love you, too.
Folders, pencils and the basics:
Don’t shop the fancy folders and notebooks. Although these aren’t big-ticket items, they can start to add up. Have your kid pick his or her favorite color. If they still crave personal expression, make it truly personalized and spend an afternoon decorating their folders with stickers, puffy paint, markers and other colorful accents.
Note: You do want to make sure you pick folders and notebooks that are tough enough to handle the wear-and-tear of regular use. But don’t pay extra for the picture printed on the front.
Buy a bundle of folders in bulk for a better deal, like this six-pack of presentation-style folders at Walmart.com for $16.49. Always buy in bulk items that your kid will need a lot of.
Generally speaking, when you buy something that will get a lot of use, you want to look for a higher-quality product, so you won’t be replacing it over and over, all year long. However, high quality doesn’t necessarily have to mean high price.
Check the sales page at eBags.com for marked down backpacks, many of which are top-brand names. So you don’t need to sacrifice quality and comfort for cost. As a bonus, quality backpacks marked down will last longer, meaning you might be able to ride this purchase out for a few years. So in that, even a slightly higher initial price point is ultimately a way to save.
Also check the “final markdowns” page for the cheapest price tags possible. Make sure you pair the discounts with other coupons and an additional 6 percent Cash Back from ShopAtHome.com.
A durable tablet:
For things that cost the most to replace, make sure you pick an age-appropriate and highly durable product. The Kindle Fire is a popular eReader/tablet with a touchscreen that’s easy for kids of all ages to use.
Save money by not subscribing to Netflix or Amazon Prime and only using this for educational purposes. That will make it last longer, too, as well as instill in your child healthy habits and an understanding of the potential of technology — beyond just being another loud form of entertainment.
Instead, spend money and let your kids download plenty of exciting new books, as well as audiobooks.
Tip: If you don’t mind a refurbished laptop or tablet, look for used products on Newegg. This way, if your kid spills her chocolate milk all over it, it won’t be as big of a loss.
A protective case:
Never buy technology for a kid without presenting it with the highest-quality case you can find. We love LifeProof’s cases for iPads and apple gear, because they withstand nearly any kid-induced trauma thrown at them (sometimes, quite literally). Bonus: Get 6 percent Cash Back on your LifeProof case from ShopAtHome.com. Worth. Every. Penny.
A case is also a fun way for your kid to personalize his or her gadget. Let them pick out their color or a fun design, or adorn it with a special sticker on the back — with parental permission, of course. These cases aren’t cheap!