This time of year the ads begin appearing for all those slick and trendy school supplies. You can buy teen heartthrob notebooks, move-inspired pencils, rhinestone encrusted calculators and cartoon character erasers. The interesting fact is that they don’t serve the purpose any better than the plain old supplies. When you buy an item just because it’s cool, most of the time you are paying more for something that doesn’t out-perform its bland competition. So–the first step to saving money on school supplies is:
Draw up a budget.
Decide how much each child can spend on his school supplies. Have the children help you estimate how much would be needed for the items on the list–good practice in math skills. This is a good time to discuss how saving money on disposable items gives you more money to spend on bit-ticket items later, such as that new X Box game. Emphasize that a budget is not ironclad. You can spend less than budgeted, or you might have to spend a little more. But at least you have a goal before you begin shopping. As an incentive, offer to give each child the amount they go under budget, or maybe even match that amount. After a budget has been determined:
When those ads appear in the Sunday paper, hand the kids some paper and pencils and let them write down the best bargains on the items on their lists. Maybe one store is offering notebooks at a reduced price in bulk. Hopefully, the children will realize they can sometimes get more for their money if they “pool” it for certain items. If there are dollar stores in your area, they probably will not spend money on advertising. It might be worth your while to make a stop at one of the dollar stores before you go to the other places that advertised. Have the children take their lists with the best prices, and compare to the prices in the dollar store. Now that the children are involved in helping you find the bargains:
Ignore the “hot” stuff.
Chances are, if Hannah Montana is the hottest tween star, her face is going to appear on just about every back to school item out there. And, chances are, her face is going to raise the price significantly. As a teacher, I can assure you that the excitement of having the latest trend or fad splattered on your binder or notebook covers fades quickly within the first two weeks of school. Look for the practical, cheap but well-built materials that the kids can decorate themselves. A plain binder with a plastic sleeve on the front cover could be customized with a theme that depicts your child’s interests. Just find a picture on the Internet or scan and copy a favorite picture, print it, insert it into the binder front, and you have a one-of-a-kind statement that also happens to hold paper.
Why spend extra money on pens or pencils with pictures on them? They are going to last a few months at the most and then be thrown away. Buy the plain ones and save your money for something you can still use by the end of the school year. After you have bought your supplies on a budget. Now it’s time to:
Pat the kids on the back!
Show them you are proud of how they are learning to stick to a budget and work together to stretch their dollars. It’s not easy to buck the trends and avoid spending money on items just because they are the hottest things out there right now. But, it is worth the effort to teach your kids that hard-earned money should be spent thoughtfully.