In terms of pressure to spend, it very well may be.
This is projected to be the most expensive back-to-school season ever . According to the National Retail Federation, the average projected spend is $696.70 for parents of K-12 kids, $976.78 for the parents of college kids.
So it’s no wonder that, as reported by a Bankrate article, 43% of parents reported feeling pressure to overspend. The number jumps to 51% for people with kids under 18.
Compare that to the 57% of parents (of kids under 18) who reported feeling pressure to overspend during the holidays.
Clearly, back-to-school season is so stressful, and with those dollar amounts I don’t blame you!
Initially, I found it hard to see how you could overspend on back-to-school stuff. Then the article reminded me that this includes clothing and technology. Yep, that would make it pretty easy to overspend. Your kid might want the latest phone or the newest styles of clothing. And it may just not be in the budget.
So how can you get around this?
Shop the sales — carefully
This may seem like a “duh” thing. Of course, you’re going to go where the pricing is lowest. But be wary of loss leaders. That’s those 2-cent pencil packs or paper that Staples offers each year.
Loss leaders get you in the door with the store hoping that you’ll get the rest of the items on your list since you’re there anyway. It’s tempting to make it easy on yourself, but if money’s tight and you’re physically able, it’s best to stick to just the loss leaders.
Instead, make a plan of attack as best you can and hit each store for its discounted items — health/time permitting, obviously. Then for the rest…
Shop online for cash back
Once you have your loss leaders (or if you simply can’t run to several stores), shop through Mr. Rebates for the rest of the items on your list. With Mr. Rebates, your purchase is the same as normal. The only difference is that you click one of the site’s store links before your purchase. Then voila! You receive cash back within a few days of the order.
Mr. Rebates has Staples and Office Depot and OfficeMax, which makes it great for back-to-school shopping. At times, the site also offers cash back for Amazon’s Office/School Supplies department. (This store has a rotating set of cash back categories, so you always have to check the Amazon store page to see what’s eligible that day.)
Of course, Mr. Rebates also has a ton of clothing stores, which means that you can get cash back on the kids’ styles you were going to buy anyway — and the site tends to have coupons too. Right now it’s also have its Back to School special where a lot of stores have higher cash back rates, plus you can win an iPad Mini.
And don’t forget to combine your cash back shopping with a cash-back credit card for an extra boost to your savings!
Incidentally, if you don’t have enough to qualify for free shipping on those school supplies, remember that Staples does in-store pickups. So does Office Depot/OfficeMax, but be aware that those types of orders aren’t eligible for cash back.
Shop consignment stores
A lot of kids aren’t going to appreciate being made to shop thrift stores, and let’s face it the pickings can be slim — especially around this time of year. So if you can afford it, consider going to consignment shops instead.
The clothes will be in good shape, sometimes barely worn, and the prices will lower than retail. (Though they may not be as low as retail sales plus coupons plus cash back, so be sure to check out all of your options!)
Set their budget and let ’em loose
If you feel your kids are old enough, take what you were going to spend on new clothes and give it to them to decide how to use.
Make sure they understand that this amount is all they get. They can blow it all on one really nice pair of shoe/jeans, or they can get several more affordable pieces and have a new wardrobe for the school year.
This ensures that you stay within budget (as long as you stay strong to any potential pleading) while still giving the kids some autonomy over their clothing choices. Plus it teaches them the valuable money lesson of allocating funds carefully.
Save on (non-phone) technology
Alas, there’s not much saving on technology if your kids want the latest and greatest products. Sometimes schools offer discounts if you buy the TI calculators through them (assuming that’s one of your technology expenses).
As for computers, your best bet is to go through Mr. Rebates to get cash back and coupons. The site has Dell (which intermittently offers 10% cash back), Lenovo, Samsung, etc. Plus plenty of technology stores. Check out the Computers & Electronics section of the site for a full list.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “technology” mainly refers to phones. To save on those… Well, that’s trickier.
Save on phones
If you’re buying anything other than an iPhone, you should be able to get cash back through Mr. Rebates. Samsung and Microsoft are both on there, along with electronics stores like Newegg and Abt Electronics. But that’s just 1-4% cash back.
For bigger savings, you can always buy used, but that does come with risks and rarely gets you the latest version that your kids (or you) are clamoring for.
So to get the newest phone, switch to Sprint — assuming you’re okay with a contract. The company is currently offering the latest phone if you switch to its $35 plan. That would get you a free phone, which you could choose to gift to your kid (if you’re feeling generous). Even if you have to pay a cancellation fee to your current provider, that’s a pretty cheap cell phone.
Sign up through Mr. Rebates and get $25 cash back on new Sprint plans.
For the long-term route, do what I’m doing and switch to Mint Mobile. Then put aside your cell service savings toward a new phone. It’s not immediate gratification, but it’s a good way to get a phone without busting the budget.
How affordable is Mint Mobile? Right now, it’s offering three months free when you buy three months at $20/month. That works out to $10/month — and you get 8 GB of data per month!
Once you run through those six month, re-up with the 12-month plan to pay $15 a month (aka a $180 payment for the year). That gets you unlimited talk/text and 3 GB of data. Need more than 3 GB? Mint has bigger data plans, also at low prices.
And of course go through Mr. Rebates and get $15 cash back. (If you’re a multi-person household, be sure to sign each person up with a separate click so you get $15 per person.)
Worried about switching? There’s a seven-day money back guarantee, one that doesn’t require you to send the SIM card back. You just cancel online with a simple form.
Worried about service? Don’t forget that these alternative carriers are using the same cell towers that your normal provider does. They’re just doing it for a fraction of the cost!
Of course, the cheapest way to survive back to school financially would be to win enough money to cover your expenses. Hopefully, that happens for one of you because Savings.com is offering one winner a $1,000 shopping spree.
To be more clear, the site is just giving away a $1,000 check, which means that even non-back-to-school shoppers should be entering!
All you have to do to enter is follow this link and enter your email address. (Which also means that everyone has an equal shot at just one entry each.) The contest ends August 16th, but you should enter now! As always, entries also help the blog.
How do you get through back to school season on a budget? How much do you think you’ll spend this season?