How to save money on back-to-school supplies

Staples Canada has been promoting school supplies to the tune “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for years, and parents look forward to seeing their children back to school after a busy summer.

But school supplies can add up quickly, and parents already feeling the pinch from rising living costs may need to strategize how to approach this shopping season.

More than one in three Canadians, or 36.2 percent, expect to spend more money this year than last year when it comes to back-to-school, according to a survey released by Caddle in partnership with the Retail Council of Canada. Just over half think they will spend the same as last year and less than 14 percent said they will spend less.

And the expenses can add up quickly.

“No matter what you’re paying for, when it comes to getting back to school, with rising inflation and the instability of our current economy, even the smallest supplies can be overwhelming for some families,” said Alyssa Davies, founder of Mixed Up Money website and author of Financial First Aid.

“Also, most of us have seen a surge in our groceries and other essentials, so buying new clothes or school supplies for kids can be overwhelming for some.”

Given how many items in grocery stores have increased over the past six months, it would be hard to believe parents won’t spend more on school supplies just because of inflation, she said.

For parents with young children, the costs can add up, as parents often buy everything for the first time, especially when their children enter preschool or kindergarten.

“You need to get backpacks, indoor shoes, packed lunches, etc.” said Davis.

“Although parents with older children might be able to reuse supplies from years past, the biggest cost parents are concerned about is technology. Whether it’s school’s expectation of having a laptop or social pressure from peers, it can stress families.”

Parents can feel a lot of pressure to make sure their kids “fit in” and have the same brands, materials and styles as the other students, Davies said.

“Unfortunately, letting comparisons dictate your spending habits is never a good way to stay on budget.”

Davies recommends parents buy certain items second-hand or reuse older supplies from previous years if they have any.

“Although your child may have overcome their ‘Paw Patrol’ obsession, that doesn’t mean they can’t use this backpack for another school year. I also recommend avoiding higher priced stores as option one and instead checking out the dollar store to see if you can tick off the bulk of your list first.”

Janet Gray, Money Coach at Money Coaches Canada, said preparing parents for back-to-school spending isn’t much different than helping them save for Christmas shopping.

However, forward planning is crucial.

For example, if parents know they’re spending $500 per child every year to get them back to school, Gray recommends that they set aside $50 a month 10 months prior so they have less “pain and strain” every day or monthly expenses.

Gray also advises parents to start their shopping with a pre-determined amount they’re willing to spend on essentials, and maybe allow an extra $50 or so that can be used for wishes or an upgrade to specific items like a branded binder, backpack or a pair of jeans can be used.

“Try to limit the wishes, because the wishes could never end,” Gray added. And when your kids are old enough, discuss what matters most to them so they can balance their wants and needs. This might look like keeping an old backpack in favor of a newer, more expensive piece of clothing, she said.

You don’t have to buy everything before school starts, either, Gray said. If some items can be tiered, you may find that you need less than you thought.

The surveys were conducted in June 2022 using Caddy’s mobile platform and an online panel. According to the generally accepted standards of the polling industry, online polls cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 23, 2022.

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