By Carla Hindman
PRIDE Financial Columnist
September is just around the corner, and when it comes to back-to-school, it pays to be prepared.
In 2014, a Retailmenot.ca survey revealed that just over 50 per cent of Canadians planned to spend $200 or more on their sons and daughters’ back-to-school expenses, while 12 per cent budgeted more than $400 for not only clothes and desk supplies, but electronics as well.
With 82 per cent of Canadians saying their child’s peers influence their purchasing decisions, back-to-school shopping can have a huge impact on family finances.
Consider turning back-to school shopping into a lesson on budgeting. Most kids want to have certain kinds of clothes, shoes or supplies. Those “wants” can be turned into a discussion around spending priorities, value, choice and comparison shopping.
Give your kids hands-on experience with tools such as the Practical Money Skills Back-to-School Budget Calculator. The calculator can help you and your student consider all their expenses, make necessary adjustments, and allow you to hit the stores armed with a pre-determined budget.
Once priorities are decided, every expense should be tracked, including a child’s school transportation, meals, tutoring fees, and extra-curricular expenses. Here are some ideas for smart ways to save:
Back-to-school fashion: According to the Retailmenot.ca survey, fashion still comes first. Over half of Canadians planned to spend the biggest part of their back-to-school budget on clothes (down from 60 per cent in Sept. 2013). Before you shop, sort through your kid’s clothes and take inventory of what they already have, make decisions on what to keep, and determine what you need. Consider doing a clothing swap with siblings or friends to mix up the styles and to play on different trends. Make sure to set limits – the trendy Justin Bieber backpack or Batman pencil case may land you the ‘cool parent’ title but buying tons of up-to-the-minute items will come at a premium.
Transportation: Check with your local school board to see if school bus systems are available in your area. If not, getting to and from school can become expense. Walking, biking and carpooling are all environmentally and budget-friendly alternatives.
Back-to-School Supplies: Believe it or not, you may already have plenty of supplies around the house. Organize preowned school supplies in one place to avoid purchasing duplicates, and review school and classroom supply lists before buying essentials. Another cost-effective alternative is buying in bulk and splitting supplies among kids or peers. Scout garage sales, used book and sport equipment stores and online marketplaces for used, required-edition textbooks, instruments, electronics, sports equipment and other supplies you’d otherwise buy new.
Do your Research: The internet can be a great resource to help parents compare prices and find discounts. Many companies will send coupons and advance notice of sales so ensure you sign up for email lists. Don’t want the junk mail? Consider following stores on Twitter or Facebook to help find deals. Research stores that offer special student exclusive discounts or who accept Student Price Cards (SPC).
One final secret budget item – rewards. Saving money on back-to-school expenses can help parents meet a number of financial goals, but kids’ academic or activity success deserves recognition. Consider setting aside a little of those savings for a reward they can enjoy.
Carla Hindman is Director of Financial Education at Visa Canada and directs the company’s Practical Money Skills program.