As summer winds to a close, parents start the process of shopping for supplies for their school-age kids. In 2010, the National Retail Federation estimated that the average American family would spend more than $600 on back to school supplies, an 11% jump from the year before. If your child or children are heading off to college for the first time, the price tag on the supplies leaps up considerably. With the integration of computers into education, even elementary students at this point have some kind of electronic equipment on their shopping list (usually headphones). Here are a few tips to not break the bank and still get your children the supplies they need.
Start at home
Begin by rounding up all the office/school supplies you have around the house and comparing it with the list you have from the school of what is needed. You may find that you already have a number of the items on the list. Do the same with your child’s clothing; go through and create a donate pile of all the old, worn-out, and outgrown items. Once you are clear about what you have and what you still need to get, you’ll have an action plan that will eliminate spending money on unnecessary items. And, of course, don’t head out shopping until you get that list from the school!
Look for savings everywhere
Garage sales, thrift stores, the Dollar Store: all will have low-priced items and often you can find gently-used bargains among the clutter. You have to start early, though, to make the searching pay off. In addition, there are a myriad of websites that cater to students like Academicsuperstore.com (you have to fax them proof of your student status but in return you can get huge discounts). Follow all the major retailers of interest (like Staples, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Office Max, and Best Buy) on Twitter and Facebook and get on their email lists; they will often send out emails and social media blasts announcing sales and handing out discount coupons. Scour eBay, Craigslist, and your local grocery store circulars. Ask friends and family if they have any hand-me-down or gently-used items on your list that they might be willing to donate or sell cheaply. You might even be able to organize a group swap with other parents in your neighborhood or local vicinity. The earlier you start, the more you’ll be able to save — though it may require significant time and effort.
Don’t scrimp on certain items
Like the oft-repeated modern proverb says, “Buy the best and you will only cry once.” Items like backpacks and sneakers take a heavy beating throughout the school year, so you will save yourself money by buying items of higher quality that you won’t have to replace soon once the school year gets underway. Buying a backpack from a major manufacturer with a lifetime guarantee is a great strategy to make sure your child’s backpack doesn’t wear out mid year. For college-bound students, the choice of a laptop computer is often very stressful for both student and parent, as what the student desires the parent can’t afford or doesn’t want to buy. Refurbished laptops offer a middle ground of a dependable machine vs. an affordable cost. They also come with a warranty equal to that of a brand-new model, which is crucial with a high-use, high-end item in a busy, accident-prone environment like a college dorm room. With computers, it is also generally better to buy “more computer” (i.e. more processing power, higher RAM, more hard drive space) than you need because the shelf-life of a standard laptop is very short with today’s accelerating computing power and rapidly progressing internet. With the above-mentioned items, you will save money in the long run by spending more up front.
The Alliance For Affordable Services is committed to helping students and families save money throughout the educational process. Members can apply for the Alliance Scholarship Program which can provide up to $4000 total over 3 years for full-time 4-year college students. The Career Education Grant Program offers a $1000 one-time grant for members who are applying to trade or technical school. Additionally, Alliance members save up to 60% on shopping at hundreds of online retail partners through Working Advantage. For more information, and to become an Alliance member, visit the Alliance Direct Benefits website today or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (M-F, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).