(JL) — Already thinking about those back to school shopping bills? According to the National Retail Foundation, back-to-school shoppers spend A LOT. In fact, much more than consumers spend on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day combined. For back-to-college shoppers, it’s even higher — those consumers spent a whopping $55.3 billion just last year.
So, how can you maximize your budget and still get back-to-school must-haves? Here are five ways to keep your shopping expenses on track:
Take Inventory — Before you hit the mall or start online shopping, Christina Gatteri of MeNextYear.com encourages her clients to take stock of what they already have in an effort to prevent overbuying.
“Take inventory of what you have, both mentally and physically, acknowledging the blessings that they are and use that to fuel your smart money decisions,” says Gatteri.
Tip: Go through your kids’ closets and decide what to keep, donate, or throw away. The same goes for school supplies. Check drawers and closets for forgotten supplies that you can still use — that can help you save money.
Make A List — Once inventory is complete, make a list of what items you REALLY need for the first few months of school. This is certainly different for everyone. For budget-conscience families, a list may include a few pairs of new jeans, a handful of tops, new sneakers, and a special first-day outfit. The child can continue to wear last year’s clothes (if they fit). Winter coats and boots can be purchased later. Backpacks and lunchboxes can often be cleaned and reused too.
Tip: Many schools and teachers request parents to pitch in and purchase some additional classroom school supplies. Today, the list may include items like glue, crayons, pencils, Clorox wipes, and tissues. So, be prepared to add a little bit of padding to your back-to-school shopping budget.
Track Deals — For big-ticket electronics items like laptops and headphones, use sale trackers like CamelCamelCamel.com (yes, that really is the website’s name) to find the lowest price for items on Amazon. Other sites like RetailMeNot and Groupon are also good discount-finding resources. Also, check online flyers for big stores like Old Navy, Macy’s, Walmart, Staples, and Target for any back-to-school sales. These flyers usually start appearing in late July into August.
If you happen to be shopping in-store, try the bar code scanner ShopSavvy to compare prices. Also, college students may also have access to discounts at a variety of online stores. Consumer Reports has a good list for that.
Wait, If You Can — If you can stall on buying a lot of clothes, that patience may pay off. Many stores will start slashing prices on back-to-school apparel as early as September. (Last year, I bought a backpack for my daughter in October. It was 50 percent off.)
Tip: Some schools may enforce strict dress codes or require uniforms. So, best to review dress requirements in advance.
Plan Early — While most families are looking to enjoy the class-free summer and avoid back-to-school talk, the first day of school can seem to creep up quickly. So, plan early to beat the stress. Consider putting money aside in June and July to make mid-August cash spending more financially doable.
Finally, while back-to-school shopping can be a great bonding experience for parents and their kids, it can also bring on some difficult conversations. Talking with your kids about budget requirements and expectations prior to a shopping trip may be helpful. If your child really wants an expensive pair of headphones or shoes, maybe this is a good time to assign chores. This tactic can help your child understand the value of hard work.
And, sometimes, you might just say no.
For more tips, visit Julie Loffredi at JulieLo.com.