Don’t break the bank when it’s time for back to school

Ah, August. Summer is nearly done, and parents are starting to reset their minds and schedules towards September – even if their children are not remotely interested in thinking about the start of another school year. But while the kids are trying to avoid all things school-related, parents are looking for ways to save a little money as the annual back-to-school rush heats up. We’ve got you covered with a few tips on how you can save money this year.

Tip #1: Invest in a good quality backpack.

Each year, in trying to save a little money, I used to buy the cheaper backpacks that were on display. My thinking was that I was saving money. Until two or three months into the school year, when the cheaper version had worn through, and I had to go out and buy another backpack. Multiply that by more than one child, and it starts to add up. A few years ago, I decided to bite the bullet, and paid for the pricier, higher quality bags. They are still in good shape, and will be used again this year. And on the plus side, longer lasting bags are better for the environment. The old backpacks always ended up in the trash, which meant they were adding to the landfill problem. In the long run, you will save money, and teach your kids about helping out the planet.

Tip #2: Make lunches from scratch, or send leftovers for lunch.

This idea is one that has been a staple in my household since the kids started Grade 1. They are teenagers now, and can buy food at school, but they still prefer to throw together a sandwich, or grab leftovers from the night before to take for lunch. (The caveat here is that I need to make sure I cook enough food for them to take.) We all know that eating out every day adds up to a loss for our wallets-the same principle applies when it comes to your kids and eating at school.

Tip #3: Buy reusable containers for those lunches.

At one point a few years ago, I got tired of cleaning the (seemingly never-ending) supply of plastic dishes (recyclable once they were no longer usable), and switched to plastic bags and wrap to pack up lunches. Then my conscience got the better of me, and I switched back to reusable containers and thermoses. My guilt was eased, as the containers last significantly longer, and the added benefit was that I ended up saving money, since I no longer have to constantly buy more plastic wrap.

Tip #4: Don’t buy new clothes unless your kids absolutely need them.

For years, part of the back-to-school routine was being dragged out to try on new clothes for the upcoming year. How many of us hated that process? It was still summer, still hot outside, and the last thing I wanted to do was try on fall and winter clothing. But even though I hated it, it did not stop me from putting my own kids through the same torture, year after year. Until about three years ago, when I realized that none of them had gone through any massive growth spurts over the summer. And I remembered that September in Ottawa is still pretty warm, and that their summer clothes would be just fine for the first few weeks of school.

Shoes are a different story – most parents I know (myself included) have horror stories about how fast their kids’ feet grow. Buy the shoes. Just follow the same advice as for backpacks – buy good quality, and pray that they don’t outgrow them before they outwear them.

Tip #5: Don’t buy school supplies until you know what will be needed.

Growing up, we always went back to school with a brand new supply of pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, paper, and anything else my mother could think we might need to succeed in class. That was what I did too, until I found out that every year, my kids’ teachers sent home a list of things the kids would need. The high school kids don’t even get paper lists anymore; they sign in to their email, and get the information online. I also avoid the first night of back to school, because panicked parents fill the stores, trying to get everything on the list all at once – the lineups are worse than the weeks leading up to Christmas. Waiting just one extra day usually solves the problem.

Tip #6: Don’t pay full price for anything, unless you absolutely must.

Every store has back-to-school sales that last until the end of September. There are very few items that you need to pay full price for until then. Always, always follow my mother’s advice – and your mother’s too – check the sales, comparison shop, and don’t pay full retail price unless it’s an absolute necessity.

These are only a few ideas on how you can save yourself a few bucks as summer winds down. As we head back into the rush of the new school year, my best tip of all is to simply relax about what needs to get done (because eventually it will), and to just enjoy the last days of summer.