Although you have hopefully gotten most of your initial back-to-school loot purchased, we understand that school shopping goes on throughout the year as items wear out and kids grow. Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation’s Annual Survey parents spend an average of $670 just to get one child ready for a school year? We think that is way too much and have some strategies to help you keep that cost in check.
The best place to start is by figuring out what you really need to purchase. For instance, go through your child’s clothes and find out what you can re-use from last year. Or perhaps you have apparel and shoes left over from an older child or donated from an older cousin to consider. Concentrate on having five to seven quality pieces that can be intermixed; this is especially true for those kids who wear school uniforms. Don’t forget to search through the home stock for accessories to re-use such as backpacks, lunch bags, notebooks, pencils, headphones, and more.
Money experts stress the need to create a budget—both for your own as well as your child’s benefit. The goal is to keep the “wants” in check, and explain to kids why they don’t need the most expensive and name-brand items. Many trendy products will eat away at your budget and may not be as well made as more economical choices. Use this opportunity to teach your kids about money management, and the importance of stretching your dollar. Perhaps you can set a challenge, if your child can keep under the budget by a certain amount; you will allow them to splurge on one special item.
Shop Consignment, Thrift, and Yard Sales
There are many ways to scoop up kids’ clothes and items at deep discounts—such as at thrift and consignment shops. In Santa Fe, some good ones include Double Take, Good Will, and Savers. In Albuquerque check out Other Mothers, Savers, Buffalo Exchange, and Family Thrift Store. This is also true for dorm items for kids heading off to college and those needing to furnish an apartment. And don’t forget to check out online sites such as Craigslist. While you are finding amazingly inexpensive pieces, try to think ahead (if your budget allows) and purchase a few items for next spring in a size up!
Organize a Swap
Give your besties a call and start working your social connections to organize a school clothes and accessories swap meet. This is an excellent way to get new gear and apparel without even opening your wallet. Remind your invitees that the items need to be in good to lightly used condition—no one wants ripped clothes with stains. Another good idea is to ask invitees to bring at least 10 items and allow them to do an even trade. Any leftover items can be donated to your favorite charitable organization such as the Salvation Army or Big Brother Big Sisters. Another good one in Santa Fe is SFPS Adelante Program, which serves more than 1,700 students and siblings experiencing homelessness.
Keep an eye out for coupons from your favorite retailers to score dollars off full-priced items. Or visit retail websites to look for special sale opportunities and coupons. And loyal shoppers often reap rewards—so sign up for newsletters and texts and follow social media from the spots where you like to shop. You may have to delete some communications along the way but you also might score some great discounts.
Buy in Bulk
There may be an opportunity to cut costs at bulk retailers like Costco and Sam’s, especially when it comes to things for school lunches like juice packs and squeeze fruit packs. Why not team up with a couple of your parent friends and decide to split the cost of bulk food items that get a lot of play during the school year? It will also save you time at the end of a busy day to know that there is something waiting in the freezer or pantry.
Free School Meals
Quite a few schools in New Mexico offer free breakfast and lunch for all students, so be sure to inquire at your school. If your school isn’t on that particular list, your child may still qualify for free or reduced price meals—eligibility is based on the USDA Income Eligibility Guidelines for household size and income. For example, in Albuquerque almost 73 percent of students qualified in 2017 for free or reduced-price lunches. Check with your school district for details.
For those of you with college-aged students the costs are considerably higher. Aside from the sticker shock of tuition, there are college textbooks, a new computer, and even perhaps a dorm room to decorate. This is where some creativity becomes a necessity and a number of the tips above will help. For textbooks there are some alternatives. First, see if the school sells used books. You also can find used textbooks on sites like Amazon, eBay and Half.com. Compare prices carefully and make sure you are getting a deal. Also, you may be able to save quite a bundle by purchasing a digital copy and downloading to a Kindle or other e-reader. Find out from the instructor if older versions of the textbook are acceptable—they usually can be found at a deep discount. Another option is renting a textbook for the semester, check out retailers like Chegg.com. Another unconventional idea is to team up with someone in your class and split the cost of the textbook—but make certain this is someone you know well and who has a good sense of responsibility. And make sure to sell the textbook back at the end of the semester to recoup some of the cost.
September is also a good time to find major discounts on summer clothing (stock up for next spring and summer) as well as some of the lowest prices on laptop computers. And when the leaves start to fall, consider scooping up some of the drastically reduced fall apparel for back-to-school 2018.