Back-to-school shopping can quickly bust any well built budget

back to school shopping tips

With August almost over, the back-to-school hubbub is quickly on its way. Historically, the back-to-school shopping season is the second busiest shopping season in Canadian stores and this year doesn’t seem to look any different. In fact, according to some reports, spending on back-to-school is expected to increase 4.5% over last year.

Back-to-school shopping can quickly bust any well built budget if you aren’t careful. Forty-five percent of recent respondents in an poll stated they expect to spend upwards of $100-$200 per child. In fact, according to the same poll, a third of respondents expressed that back-to-school expenses is a big financial stressor.

With so many choices and so many items for sale these days it is hard to know how best to manage your expenses to make the best of the season while keeping the bottom line from ballooning out of control. Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District suggests the following to help stretch your budget this year.

Take inventory

Take stock of what your children have left over from last year. Are the pens and pencil crayons usable? Does your child have a calculator from last year? Can you get another year out of the gym shoes or lunch bag? If so, there is no need to rush out and replenish these items.

Taking inventory of your child’s school supplies and clothes is also a great opportunity to identify what can be sold or donated. The money you recoup from selling items at consignment or online can be put towards offsetting this year’s expenses. Understanding what you already have can help you make a list of things your child actually needs.

Shop with your children

Back-to-school shopping is a great opportunity to teach fundamental money management skills. Work with your children to develop a clear budget and list. Let them guide the shopping process, letting them know that they have to get everything on their list while staying within budget. This will help teach them the idea of opportunity cost, if you spend money in one area you are taking money away from another, an important element of budgeting and money management.

If you are shopping with older children who have some money of their own allow them to pitch in on the back-to-school shopping. Discuss with them an agreed upon amount that you are willing to spend. If they something more expensive for a shirt or shoes, allow them to make up the difference. This will help them to understand the purchasing process and the value of money by allowing them to make safe financial decisions.

With younger children, allow them to hold the list and help you find the items. Explain the purchasing process, don’t let them just see you pay with debit or credit, but explain how that process works. When a child only sees adults using cards they don’t fully grasp where the money is coming from, especially when put on credit.

Take the long view

When shopping, it is important to seek out items that will last the school year. Backpacks can be had cheaply, but if they are falling apart by November then the savings will quickly be eaten up by purchasing another bag. Also, if you know your children are hard on their clothes, choose clothing that is more hardwearing to help give a bit more longevity to the item. You may pay a bit more per item, but if you are not replacing the items a number of times throughout the year you will save in the long run.

Think of postponing shopping

In some cases it may be in your best interest to postpone the majority of your back-to-school shopping. Clothes for kids and teens tend to go on further discount at the end of September as do many office supplies.

Also, by delaying your back to school shopping you will have a better understanding of what your child really needs for the coming school year. There is no need to buy a mathematics set if your child won’t have use for it that school year.

Plan your technology purchases carefully

According to, tablets are the most sought after piece of back to school technology. This is a great time to discuss needs and wants. Will your child actually use the new tablet for school or will they typically be using a laptop/desktop for their assignments? While tablets are growing in popularity, there are still many things that they can’t do, requiring a secondary computer anyway.

When looking at acquiring either a new computer or tablet have your child make a list of what they need to be productive. With this list, head off to the computer stores and look at a number of different options. If your child is drawn to a machine that is perceived as cooler than others, see how many of the must haves it checks off from the list they created. If it doesn’t meet their needs then encourage them to keep looking.

When buying a tablet or computer it is important to shop around. Some stores have the same items at different prices. Shopping online could also be cheaper if using a Canadian site so you don’t have to pay shipping and exchange.

When buying new technology for your child, try to remember that what is new today is often obsolete in 2-3 years. The lifecycle of technology is compressed in such a way that what you buy for your child going into grade 9 may have to be replaced by the time they reach grade 12, or sooner. For your post-secondary student it may be obsolete before they are done their program.

Look at back-to-school as a year-long expense

By focusing on just what your children need for September and budgeting just for that, many other school related expenses are missed. Think about winter boots and jackets that need replacing, the lost lunch bag or backpack. What about pizza lunches, field trips, proms, and grad trips? Working these expenses into a school-year long budget will help you plan and avoid having to shell out money you were not expecting to spend.

Once the back-to-school dust has settled, add up your costs and use this number as your guidepost for next year’s back-to-school shopping budget. If you spent $350.00 this year, all you need to do is save $30.00 per month to cover next year’s expenses.

If you put this year’s shopping on your credit card and you are unable to pay your card off in full this month, make it a priority over the next three months to pay it off. Paying the minimum payment on a $350.00 credit card (and never using that card again) will take over 4 years to pay off (at 19.9% interest) and cost you an extra $163.00 in interest. Putting that into perspective, if you pay for your child’s grade 9 expenses on your credit card, they will out of high school by the time you have paid off your credit card from this year alone.

The Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District is a not-for profit accredited credit counselling agency whose mandate is to educate and counsel the community on issues surrounding money and credit management. For more information about credit counselling services in Sault Ste. Marie, please contact Credit Counselling Services of Sault Ste. Marie & District, 298 Queen Street East, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 1Y7, visit our website at, follow us on Twitter @CC_SSM, or LIKE us on Facebook.