Financial experts, deal-finders share tips for back-to-school savings as prices rise

The end of summer is a difficult time of year financially for Toronto mom Monica Belyea. She then faces the double whammy of back-to-school shopping for her kids, coupled with imminent school-related expenses — like choosing the pizza lunch program her son enjoys.

This year is tougher than usual. She finds that her weekly food budget “can’t make it to the end of the week,” and after months of paying higher prices for things like gas, “I just don’t have that much anymore Money,” said the single mother-of-two.

For Belyea, back-to-school shopping this time means “just looking at what’s possible in this new world of more expensive things.”

She is not alone; Many parents across Canada are concerned about how to deal with their children’s needs at school this time. Although Statistics Canada reported the country’s Inflation fell this week for the first time in a yearmany prices – also for food – still rising.

CBC News spoke to personal finance specialists and a deal-finding expert for tips on cutting costs during the back-to-school season.

set budgets; buy your home

Toronto-based money expert Melissa Leong has heard from others about higher prices and “Shrinkflation” – when companies reduce package or product size but keep the same price — and noticed it myself while shopping.

“There are fewer pencils in the box, but they cost the same money as usual,” she said.

The author of the personal finance guide Happy Go Money: Spend wisely, save properly and enjoy lifesaid that families will need to be “extra, extra organized” for back-to-school this year as several factors “take a toll on every Canadian’s wallet.”

“My friends have talked a lot about worrying about lunch — and making proper, healthy lunches for their kids as their grocery bills skyrocket.”

CLOCK | Melissa Leong’s financial tips for back-to-school savings:

Saving tips for the start of school

Money expert Melissa Leong shares a variety of strategies and tips for cutting back-to-school costs.

Some of the cost-cutting strategies you can try include “shopping at home” to see what supplies you already have, carefully comparing prices between stores, waiting to buy specific items when there are more deals, and using Coupon code apps when shopping online.

If your family is on an extremely stretched budget, Leong found that some community programs and agencies provide free backpacks and school supplies, so you could try reaching out to groups in your neighborhood for more information.

Combine sales, coupons, store offers

Pat Hollett sees many new names and faces joining the Canadian Savings Group, the volunteer-run website and social media initiative she founded, where she and other deal-seeking professionals share grocery specials and coupons. In the last two months alone, about 6,000 people have joined, taking the group’s Facebook follower count to over 100,000.

“Everything has gone up in price and Canadians are struggling to make ends meet — I hear that every day,” said Hollett, who is based in Barrie, Ontario and serves as the group’s CEO.

“There are only so many things you can control – you can’t control gas prices, you can’t control the housing market – but you can control how much you pay on grocery bills. So our mission is to help Canadians save money on their grocery bills.”

Like Leong, Hollett recommends starting simply.

“Don’t grab the first thing you see. Shop and pay the lowest price for the same item,” she said. “Make price adjustments where you can… Try other brands if they’re cheaper.”

Overhead signage with school supplies can be seen above boxes containing binders, duotangs, and other items.
When shopping for back-to-school items, comparison shop and price comparison. Coupons, point cards, and sales can help reduce costs. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

However, their next strategy is to use multiple techniques at the same time: use coupons, cash back offers and apps, and take advantage of point card offers to drive prices down as much as possible.

Here’s how it might work: Suppose a store is selling your child’s favorite cereal for $4.77 this week. There may also be a manufacturer’s coupon (which can be printed from a website or found in paper form at a physical store) that offers additional savings per box.

In addition to the sale and coupon, a particular grocer may also have an offer for point card holders who buy five boxes of cereal. For example, layering these three rebate techniques could result in paying just 77 cents per box, Hollett explained.

She outlined how this style of shopping can save families up to several hundred dollars a month and this week on items such as children’s packed lunches in Atlantic Canada, a popular brand of cheese crackers in Quebec and a six-pack facial tissue box in Ontario.

For some, it might require a change in mindset and habits, as well as an extra investment of time, but “it’s all about how much work you put in,” Hollett said. “Saving money for families is really difficult, so every dollar saved helps you buy other things.”

Search offers. Teach kids how to budget.

The questions Enoch Omololu has received from readers of his personal finance website reflect the growing economic pressures Canadians are grappling with, whether they are questions about stopping car payments, savings vehicles or questions from people who want to use RESPs to meet their children’s expenses (the answer to that last question, he pointed out, is that you can’t).

“Disposable income has reached its physical limits, and people are finding it difficult to pay for things they would normally just dismiss and pay for without thinking,” said the Winnipeg-based founder of

Shoppers strolling through a shopping center look into a shoe store with red sale signs.
It is not uncommon for children to need multiple pairs of shoes. Talking to his kids about budgeting, saving money, and choices is one of money expert Enoch Omololu’s tactics. “It gets them involved in the process and makes them realize that money isn’t an unlimited resource.” (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Among the saving tips he’s been using with his own family this season:

  • Comparison shopping for larger purchases, such as B. electronics, combined with the search for manufacturer discounts.

  • Shopping big sales (kids retailers have up to 75 percent off summer clothes, he says, that could be layered for fall or bought for next year).

  • I’m looking for used items from thrift stores.

  • Consider which items you want to spend more on and opt for generic or discounted versions for others.

Omololu also recommends involving children in some financial conversations and decisions.

CLOCK | How Enoch Omololu turns back-to-school shopping into a budget lesson:

Teaching children to budget for back to school

Enoch Omololu, founder of personal finance website Savvy New Canadians, shares a back-to-school shopping strategy he’s adopting this year: teaching his eight-year-old about choices and budgets.

For example, his eight-year-old needs three pairs of shoes this fall: one indoor pair for school, another for after-school care, and a third for general outdoor wear.

As a lesson, Omololu made a deal with his son: the youngster can choose a new pair of a brand (for which Omololu will find the lowest possible price). The remaining two pairs will be the ones his mum and dad choose – maybe new, maybe from a thrift store. If he destroys the fancy rock-chip sneakers, the replacement will also be an affordable pair of his parents’ choice.

“It engages them in the process and makes them realize that money isn’t an unlimited resource for money [their] parents,” Omololu said.

A preschool boy in a colorful shirt holds up crayons that he uses on a Spider-Man coloring page.
Lots of items are perfectly fine for another school year, noted Winnipeg dad Bamidele Sanusi, like reusable water bottles, lunch boxes, backpacks, and the crayons his preschooler Elliott likes to paint with. (Travis Goldby/CBC)

For some parents, the question of how to afford back-to-school items was a problem even before school ended. Reusing crayons, water bottles, packed lunches and other supplies for another school year, carefully evaluating new and second-hand purchases, and talking to his kids about cutting costs are the tactics Winnipeg parent Bamidele Sanusi is using this year.

With his wife currently on maternity leave with their youngest, the father-of-three says it’s important to save for back-to-school and cut discretionary spending “to be able to handle recurring expenses like rent, gas, phone bills and the rest. It’s time to spend wisely.”

CLOCK | Rising prices have made going to school a challenge for many:

The cost of back-to-school worries parents amid inflation

The rising cost of living is causing some parents to change their back-to-school spending habits ahead of the upcoming school year.

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