School supplies aren’t cheap. According to a recent survey from RetailMeNot, North American parents spend an average of $507 to get their kids ready for the new school year. Canadians are expected to shell out even more this year. The need for tablets, laptops, and other technology are driving up back-to-school costs as the ongoing pandemic has caused many classrooms to adopt online learning.
It can be tricky sticking to a budget during this time of year, but it isn’t impossible. Whether you’re planning on sending your kids to school or choosing the distance education route, this step-by-step guide will show you how to put dollars in your pocket while giving your children everything they need to succeed this semester.
1. Scour your home for school supplies
You probably already have a bunch of school supplies sitting at home. Go through your home office, closets, and basement storage bins and you’ll most likely find stacks of pens, paper, and more. You may even discover an old laptop collecting dust and a junk drawer filled with tech essentials like headphones, flash drives, and USB cables. Reusing stuff you already own not only saves you tons of money, but it’s also great for the environment too.
2. Borrow or trade school supplies
Ask extended family if they have a spare tablet, printer, and other equipment you could borrow. You can also see if your friends are interested in trading extra supplies. For example, if you have a bunch of pencil crayons and your friend is overloaded with notebooks, a swap would be a win-win situation for both of you. Uniform exchanges are also a great idea if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a new school outfit.
3. Buy in bulk and split the cost with friends
Buying supplies in bulk is a great way to cut down on back-to-school costs, however, not everyone can afford this upfront investment. If purchasing hundreds of crayons and markers put a strain on your budget, ask your friends with school-aged children if they want to pool in and split the costs.
Consider doing this for masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment too. Doctors recommend children bring two facial coverings to school each day so they can change into a clean mask at lunch or if one gets dirty.
4. Buy second-hand
From quality backpacks to gently used clothing, you’re sure to uncover a variety of preloved treasures at bargain prices when scouring garages sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops.
For discounted computers and smartphones, check out Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. Items for sale are often in mint condition or still in its original packaging – great news if you like to buy new electronics. When making a purchase, make sure to meet the seller and test out the item before paying. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price too. You can also sell unwanted items on these platforms if you want to raise money for new school supplies.
5. Shop online and get cash back
Rakuten gives you up to 30% cash back when you shop online from top brands. The site partners with over 750 stores including Staples, Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart. Cash back payments are sent quarterly by cheque, PayPal, or Amazon e-gift card. You can also get $25 for every pal you refer to Rakuten.
6. Hit the dollar store
Your local dollar store is filled with basic school supplies at ultra-low prices. Beyond the stationary aisle, you’ll find other essentials such as lunch boxes, water bottles, hand sanitizer, and more.
7. Spread purchases out throughout the year
The month before school starts isn’t the best time to get a laptop. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day offer better deals so look at your child’s schedule to see when they need to use certain technologies. If a big digital project isn’t due until halfway through the semester, it’s worth holding off on big-ticket tech items so you can shop the sales.
The same goes for new clothes. Clothing prices tend to drop after September so don’t make the mistake of buying your child a new wardrobe in August.
8. Shop around and compare prices
Spend some time figuring out which stores have the best prices. If you don’t have time to sift through paper flyers, download the Flipp app to quickly browse digital flyers from over 2,000 retailers. What’s great about the app is that it lets you make a shopping list and then shows you the best deals for those items in your neighbourhood. Other features include digital coupons and notifications for expiring offers.
9. Use price matching
Check to see if your favourite stores do price matching, a service that matches or beats a competitor’s lower price. In most cases, all you need to do is go to the customer service desk and show the advertisement from the competing store to get the lower price. Walmart, Superstore, London Drugs, and Hudson’s Bay are just a few of the retailers who have price matching policies.
10. Take advantage of student discounts
Did you know countless brands offer discounts and exclusive perks for students?
Here are some deals you won’t want to miss out on:
- Microsoft: Free Office 365 for students and teachers at eligible institutions.
- Apple: Special education pricing on MacBooks and iPads. Free AirPods on eligible purchases.
- Lenovo: Save an extra 8% on Lenovo products and enjoy special financing options.
- SPC Card: The student savings card costs $10 and offers year-round discounts of up to 30% at stores like Adidas, H&M, and Samsung.
11. Buy refurbished tech
To keep tech expenses low, shop for refurbished computers, laptops, and tablets. Local computer repair shops and big names like Apple and Dell sell these types of products with warranties and guarantees, allowing you to make purchases with peace of mind.
12. Plan low-cost lunches
One of the easiest ways to save money throughout the school year is to make your family’s lunches. Skip the overpriced cafeteria food and get inspired with these five easy, budget-friendly lunch ideas. Try to grocery shop and meal prep on Sundays – that way, your lunches are ready to go for the week. If you want to trim your grocery bill, look into Checkout51. The app lets you earn cash back on groceries and gas. Simply take a photo of your receipt and upload it into the app when you’re done shopping.
13. Claim child care tax deductions
Parents, hang onto your receipts. If you pay for child care expenses (i.e. nursery schools or daycares), you can claim these payments on your tax return and get money back.
Here’s how much you can claim for each child every year:
- $8,000 for children under the age of 7
- $5,000 for eligible children aged 7 to 16
- $11,000 for children who qualify for the disability tax credit
When tax season comes around, use Form T778 to calculate your childcare allowances.
If your child has a learning disability, you can deduct the costs of school or tutoring as medical expenses. You’ll need a letter from your medical practitioner, so please remember to keep any receipts and supporting documentation related to your child’s education.
Bonus tip: Use the back-to-school season to teach your kids about money
It’s never too early to teach your kids about money. Show them the cost of everyday items and the importance of sticking to a budget. Once they understand that, let them help develop a back-to-school shopping list. They’re less likely to demand everything they see when they realize there is a limit on funds.
Older children should learn that acquiring money takes effort, so get them to do jobs around the home in exchange for an allowance. Once kids have to make and spend their own cash, they understand the value of money and become careful spenders. You can also set a back-to-school spending budget for each child and challenge them to find affordable items that stick to the financial plan.
If your child is after expensive name brands, highlight the difference between needs and wants and make sure to set a limit on the number of brand name items you buy. Another thing you could try is paying a percentage of the cost and having your child pay the rest. If they really want the item, they will have to learn how to save up first to achieve their goal.