The Wisconsin Bankers Association offers for your use the following consumer education column. Your bank is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. The purpose is to give our members an easy-to-use tool for promoting the banking industry to Wisconsin's communities. An archive of Consumer Columns is available, as well.

Summer may be in full swing, but fall will be here before you know it. That means back to school shopping is on its way. Have you budgeted for school supplies and new clothes yet? The average family is expected to spend a record $696.70 on back to school expenses, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF). However, creating a strategic budget and planning ahead can help you keep your family’s costs down. Here are a few simple tips to help you stick to your budget during this year’s trip through the “back to school” aisles.

Take inventory of what you already have. Once you have your shopping list from your child’s school, check off any items you already have around the house. Notebooks, pens and pencils, and scissors are examples of items you don’t need to purchase every year. This tip also applies to clothing. Basics never go out of style, so you don’t need to buy your child a whole new wardrobe every year. When you do need to get them new clothes, buy sizes they can grow into.

Start looking for sales and coupons early. Going back to school shopping last minute is a sure-fire way to spend more than you need to. Start going through that pile of “junk mail” flyers you get every week for school supplies you’ll need. Spreading out the shopping over several weeks not only makes it easier on your budget, but is also a good way to make sure you buy as many items as you can while they’re on sale, rather than getting everything in one giant trip and only buying a few discounted items. Don’t forget digital sales, either! The NRF survey revealed almost half of shoppers were planning to take advantage of sales from major online retails, such as Amazon’s Prime Day.*

Shop Smart. Sometimes quality trumps price. One example: backpacks. Spending a bit more upfront to purchase a good backpack will save you money in the long run, because the higher-quality item will last for years, whereas a cheaper one may need to be replaced in a matter of months. Clothes and shoes are on the other end of the spectrum, however. Children outgrow clothing so fast it doesn’t make sense to spend extra money on brand names.

Organize a Back-to-School Swap. Round up a couple of other families with kids who are different ages than yours and host an annual clothes swap. You can trade toys and books, too, for additional savings. Many schools that have uniforms organize this type of event, so be sure to check with the school office to see when and where the swap will take place, as well as the condition requirements for clothing to be swap-able.

Have the kids help. You can use back to school shopping as an opportunity to teach your kids about personal finance topics such as budgeting and price comparing. Give teens a budget for their items, and then go through their list with them to separate the “wants” from the “needs” before shopping. Have younger children participate by decorating plain binders, folders, and notebooks (which are cheaper than character-decorated items) to personalize them.

An archive of Consumer Columns is available here on WBA's website.
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