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Save Money on Back-to-School Supplies With Shopping Tips From Teachers

Fall is fast approaching, and parents are expecting to spend more on school supplies this year than last year — $268 average spend per child versus $247 in 2020 — according to the Consumer Pulse Survey Report: Back to School 2021 from KPMG. The increased spending could be due to having to buy extra or additional supplies because of the pandemic. For instance, face masks, hand sanitizers, personal packs of tissues and disinfecting wipes could be considered essentials for students who are opting for in-person learning this school year. The higher expected spend could also be due to an overall increase in the cost of school supplies. According to the KPMG survey, 39% of parents expect school supply items to be more expensive this year.

Whatever the reason for the increase, the goal is to find a way to save on school supplies whether you have a preschooler, high schooler or college student. After all, why spend more money than you have to? Since teachers go through back-to-school shopping every year for all their students and classrooms, here are multiple tips to help you save money, straight from the experts.

Kyle Boze, who teaches personal finance at Kettering Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio, has plenty of tips for those who are looking to save on back-to-school supplies.

First, Boze suggests looking outside of your normal shopping loop to find deals on school supplies. “Even nontraditional back-to-school places like Walgreens, CVS, etc. offer incredible deals and sometimes are not taken advantage of because most people watch the major retailers instead,” he said.

Boze also recommends opting for generic or private-label brands over name brands to save. “Don’t fall victim to name brands — especially with basic school supplies,” he said. “You hear it a ton, but I can attest to the fact that most private label supplies are made in the same factory, to the same or better quality or standards as the name brand products.”

For college students, Boze had even more advice, “Take advantage of student discounts,” he said. “Once you receive your student ID from college, you can utilize that student ID with hundreds and hundreds of stores to take off discounts of 10%-20%.”

Boze also recommends seeing what you can get from your network for college first before spending money on things like furniture. “Most dorms don’t need a ton of furniture to make the space livable,” he said. “You’d be surprised what people will give up when they’re helping others. Find parents whose kids may be graduating, or friends moving out of dorms, and see if they might have furniture they don’t want/need. It saves you from buying new furniture, and also helps you avoid furniture that you may not know the quality of.”

Matt Matheson, teacher, principal and owner of Family Money School, seconds Boze’s opinion that generic brands are the way to go. 

“When it comes to back-to-school shopping, it can be easy to get sucked into keeping up with the Joneses by buying name brands,” Matheson said. “Whether it’s the newest $300 jeans or $50 pencil crayons, don’t get sucked into the brand-name madness. Doing so will put a HUGE dent in your wallet.

“Instead, opt for generic or store brands — especially when it comes to new clothes. Unless you’re fresh off the runway, generic alternatives will do fine. And no one will know the difference. If your kiddo insists on name brands, after setting them straight, head to the secondhand store to look for deals. There are certain stores that specialize in high-end brands, and you’ll be sure to find some killer deals!!”

Amanda Ramkissoon, a high school math teacher and owner of The Frugal Mom Guide, recommends doing something different to save on school supplies — shop your home. 

“I am a huge advocate for reusing what you already have,” she said. “There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on things you already have at home. If you look around your home, I’m absolutely certain you will find pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks with just one or two used pages, sticky notes and more! Why not use these instead of going out to purchase more? You’d be surprised by how much you can save when you shop your home!”

Natalie Grant, mother, veteran teacher and cofounder of We the Parents, said she knows only too well the unexpected burden of buying back-to-school supplies.

“It is possible to save big on back-to-school supplies while also keeping your kids quietly engaged during the holidays,” Grant said. “How? One word: Upcycling. There are tons of incredible online upcycling tutorials that you and your kids can follow at home. Get creative by transforming old or second-hand backpacks, pencil cases, lunch boxes, and many other ‘have to have’ items. And before you roll your eyes, first search Pinterest. You’ll soon have your college kid onboard with modern, trending looks for just about any style.

“This year, we bought a second-hand version of a legendary, supercool, and normally very expensive backpack for my daughter. Due to having a small hole, it was priced crazy-low. She picked the upcycle style, we bought a few bits, and then shared a glorious afternoon creating something gorgeous that she now loves. And all for a fraction of the usual price. Double win.”

By Cynthia Measom

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