Back to School

Back to School Shopping Tips and Infographic

Back to School Shopping Tips

I can’t believe it’s back-to-school season already, but you can’t help but notice when you walk into the stores and see all the notebooks and backpacks on display. It’s a busy and expensive time of the year, so I wanted to share a few quick tips to help make back-to-school shopping a bit easier and more affordable this Fall.

Set a Back-To-School Budget

I used to go to the stores, load up my cart and cringe while the store clerk tallied up all the school supplies and new clothes I bought for Lauren and Taylor. A few years ago, I wised up and involved the girls. We inventoried both their closets and remaining school supplies, so we knew exactly what we needed. They each received a budget and we worked together to find a way to get both the things they needed and wanted while honoring our budget.

Success Tip: There is no “right” amount to budget for back-to-school. It’s based on what your family can afford. Fancy school supplies and an entirely new school wardrobe is not worth creating debt.

Empower Your Kids to Make Good Money Decisions

Don’t say “no” automatically when your kids go over budget (and they will) or increase the budget. Instead challenge them to find different solutions and prioritize the things they want. For example, instead of buying school supplies with the characters from Frozen or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on them, how much money could they save if they bought the plain, store-brand notebooks, folders and backpacks? They may seem much more attractive when kids realize they can now afford a few more wants. Encourage them to comparison shop and look for deals. They will soon become savvy shoppers who know how to get what they truly want while paying as little as possible.

Identify Their Must-Have Item

One thing I also have Lauren and Taylor do is figure out their one must-have item. If you think back to your school days, there was always something you really, really wanted. We try to figure out that first, so we can budget for it. I find if the girls take the time to figure out what is the most important item – a pair of shoes, jeans or backpack – they remain happy and satisfied, even if they can’t get everything they want. The most valued item is on the buy list and everything else falls into place much easier.

Success Tip: As your children age, the things they desire from clothes and gadgets tend to get pricer, and their must-have item may not fit your budget. Again, do not feel obligated to increase your budget to accommodate those items. Instead, help your children find a way to earn the money to buy it themselves if it means that much to them. The items that are “must-have” to me, I am willing to work hard and save for them. Let your kids get in the habit of doing the same.

Back-to-School Shopping Season Is Here

I found this great infographic from Search Engine Watch on how we’re spending our money to get ready for school this year and wanted to share it with you.

Back to School Shopping is in full swing

I love saving money too and Passion for Savings (not an affiliate link) lists many great back-to-school sales and coupons for many major retailers, including Target, Kmart, Walmart and more. My friend, Kim from Eyes on the Dollar, recently compared prices at Walmart and Amazon to see who had the best deals on school supplies and I suggest you read her findings before heading online or to the store.


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August 6, 2014  •  28 Comments  •  Back to School

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  1. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    Shannon, I really like your suggestion to empower kids to make money decisions. While listening to Dave Ramsey yesterday, I heard him say (with his daughter) that school shopping is a great way to implement money lessons in a real life activity. It gives kids the chance to learn about budgeting, how much things cost, and what it means to exchange cash for things (like a trade). He suggested using cash so that your kids can see the visual exchange of money - I thought that was a cool tip.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Back to school shopping definitely offers many teachable moments that I hope parents take advantage of instead of doing everything themselves. It may be faster but parents will miss a great opportunity to talk money with their kids. Kids are definitely visual so letting them separate the budget into different areas, such as supplies, new clothes, etc. and pay with cash can definitely be a great lesson for them.
  2. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    As an adult, I still miss being able to go back to school shopping. There was just something so exciting about new school supplies and a brand new year. Remember the Trapper Keeper? :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Back-to-school shopping was a lot of fun as a child. I enjoy seeing Lauren and Taylor excitement over their new things, but I can't say that I love dealing with all the crowds. And yes, I definitely remember Trapper Keepers. :)
  3. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    It's really different when you are a parent. Back in the days when we were still students, we wanted every school supplies we're bringing to school new and high-end. We would be angry with our mom and dad when they'd say "no". But, now that we play as parents, we realize that our parents were correct. It's good that aside from the experiences we've had, there are now a list of advice like this Shannon to help us make the right decision and handle situations how to deal with our kids.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Thanks, Jayson! I appreciate your kind words. It is very easy as a child to not understand why we can't have everything we want and get upset over it. This is why I so strongly encourage parents to remember to include the "why" behind the "no". Kids often times think parents are being arbitrary or mean, when there is a very practical and smart reason why they say "no".
  4. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    An average of $350 for going back to school spending? I must be getting old (or cheap) but that seems like an outrageous amount to be spending. Do you spend that much? I certainly hope not.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      I'm not sure if that is a per child or per family average. I would also venture that if parents added up their total school year costs from school supplies, clothes, activities, yearbooks, fundraiser, etc. that they probably pay more than that per child and most don't even realize it. And certainly don't budget for those expenses.
  5. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    People tend to go a little overboard now-a-days with back to school shopping. When I was growing up, we only got to buy the basic necessities and had to reuse a lot of supplies. I obviously wanted to have everything brand new, but my mom just put her foot down and said "no, you don't need that pen with 5 different inks. Here's a pencil."
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      LOL! I think I remember those pens with five different inks. :) It is very easy to go overboard with back-to-school shopping, which is why it is so important to set a budget. Otherwise it's so easy to get caught up in the moment and your kids' excitement and just spend. We go through our supplies before we hit the stores too. There is always some items that can be reused and we often overstock our school supplies, so there are often new supplies waiting to be used too.
  6. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    We are thinking alike today for sure. I will certainly give my daughter her budget when she actually wants something besides the basics. Right now, as long as I don't make her wear jeans, she could care less where her clothes came from, but I bet that will change sooner than I want!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Your daughter and Taylor would get along perfectly. She's not a big fan of jeans either. :) She wants to wear cute clothes but she's still young enough that she doesn't really care what store they come from or what brand they are. Of course, that will eventually change. She'll just have to get even better with her budget!
  7. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    I have a few years before I have to worry about back to school shopping...I think it's a great idea to empower your kids to make decisions. It gives them some control and experience in budgeting. I like the infographic, they're always fun and informative. I definitely love a bargain and there are really good promotions at Staples...if you know your way around their rewards/rebate system.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      The first back-to-school shopping spree is always the most fun and bittersweet. You'll get a kick out of helping Baby LRC (although I guess he won't be a baby any more) pick out his backpack and school supplies. The girls really enjoy budgeting, which makes me very happy. They understand when the money is gone, the money is gone. So they get very creative in trying to figure out how to stretch it out.
  8. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    Is that average of $350 per child? Yikes, if so. We didn't nearly spend that much even with all the clothing included.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      I'm not exactly sure, Brian. And I don't know what they all included in that total. But it would definitely take a bite out of a family's budget, particularly if they didn't save for it.
  9. Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    So glad I don't have to worry about outfitting kids with new clothes and supplies for the upcoming school year, but I'm so glad you shared these tips for those who do need to do so.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
      Some day, Kayla … you'll be looking cross-eyed at the school supply list, wondering what the heck a few of the items even are. :)
  10. Thursday, August 7th, 2014
    I recently learned that back-to-school represents over a $70 billion dollar industry in the US alone!
    My husband and my step-son's mom were discussing the back-to-school expenses and they came up with a list of items needed and the total required. My DH and I split the cost with the mom for half of all school expenses. School supplies really have become more expensive each year! My step-son is in love with backpacks so we get him a new one each year as a treat. Thanks for offering these tips Shannon.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, August 11th, 2014
      Wow - $70 billion. That's amazing and yet somehow not surprising when you consider what huge push it gets every year. And I swear the school supply list also gets longer. :) It's great that you guys were thoughtful about what you wanted to get your stepson to make sure he got what needed and little something he wanted instead of just hitting the stores. I've been guilty of that in the past and you definitely up spending more.
  11. Thursday, August 7th, 2014
    Great tips Shannon! I love the idea of involving your children so they can start flexing those financial muscles. I actually read a study read a study from the National Retail Federation a few weeks back that said families, on average, spend just over $600 on back to school items. Regardless if it's that or $350 there are definitely ways not to spend that. On a different note, I'm happy on multiple levels that I was able to divert my daughter's attention from the Frozen backpacks. :)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, August 11th, 2014
      LOL! I can't believe you were able to convince your daughter to go with a different backpack. I know what a HUGE fan of Frozen you are. I guess she just Let It Go. :) Back to school shopping can get very expensive when we don't pay attention and unfortunately I do think most of do. We shop to get it over with! We don't realize what a hit it is to our family budget.
  12. Thursday, August 7th, 2014
    Love the success tip about there being no right budget! The best thing we did was give the kids a budget. We went from huge lists of must haves each year to just the key things they needed or wanted. I would love it when I would hear "It's okay, I can use my coloured pencils from last year"!
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, August 11th, 2014
      Me too, Deb! I love how creative the girls get with stretching their budget. From being willing to reuse school supplies or searching out the best deals to make sure they got the best price. Such good lessons to learn at a young age because it is so easy to get in the habit of everything must be new in our throw away culture.
  13. Thursday, August 7th, 2014
    Even as an adult I LOVE back to school time. There's something about stationary that makes my heart go pitter patter haha. A friend of mine recently shared her daughters back to school list and my mind was blown at the stuff that they were expected to buy over and above the basics. Growing up my elementary school bought everything every child would need and sold the packages to the parents for much cheaper than parents could do alone because they were buying in bulk at such large volumes. This was before dolar stores and computers though so I don't know what it would be like now ;)
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, August 11th, 2014
      I enjoy shopping with the girls, but I don't enjoy the crowds so much. But it does bring back a lot of good memories from when I was the one picking out a new backpack, etc. THe school supply list seems to get bigger every year. Some schools still do sell packages of the school supplies, but it's typically a fundraiser so the savings may be small.
  14. Friday, August 8th, 2014
    We budgeted $100 for back-to-school, but only spent around $50. School supplies are cheap for kindergarteners! We did buy her a new outfit and a lunch box as well.
    • Shannon Ryan
      Monday, August 11th, 2014
      I bet your daughter was so excited to get her back-to-school supplies and lunch box! Yes, kindergarteners don't need much which is really nice. The supply list grows the older they get!
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    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan