Watching Your Wallet: You can save money on school supplies before and after the first day

From pencils to dorm room bedding, NerdWallet offers up tips to save

Watching Your Wallet: School Savings Secrets

(InvestigateTV) - Whether your kids are already back or headed back to school soon, it’s not too late to be frugal or even get yourself ready for next year.

But wanting your children to have the last fashion and all the newest school supplies is causing parents to overspend on back-to-school shopping.

Kristel Bush had her list and definitely checked it twice. She picked it up at a Walmart in Virginia and allowed InvestigateTV to follow along as she picked up things on her list.

The Henrico, Virginia, mom said she considers herself a deal hunter: “I shop around typically and price compare."

Kristel Bush looks at a school shopping list at a Walmart in Virginia. She needed to shop for a second grader, and her list included a box of tissues and pencils, among other things.
Kristel Bush looks at a school shopping list at a Walmart in Virginia. She needed to shop for a second grader, and her list included a box of tissues and pencils, among other things. (Source: Jennifer Warnick/InvestigateTV)

Bush never does all her school shopping at one time.

“It’s a little bit of pressure but I try to pace myself so it doesn’t get too crazy, you know?” she said with a laugh.

Bush’s second grader isn’t quite into the latest backpack just yet, but she knows that time isn’t too far away.

“Back-to-school shopping is pressure when it’s clothes, and they start to get clothing-conscious. But ... thankfully we haven’t gotten here yet," she said.

Most parents say they spent more than they intended last year

In a new survey by the financial website NerdWallet, conducted online by The Harris Poll, nine out of 10 parents with kids in kindergarten through college admit to splurging last year.

The number one place they broke their budgets was clothing; 74% said they spent too much in that area. Next, 60% of parents responded that they spent more than they wanted on backpacks. Another 59% broke budgets on school supplies.

“Parents tend to overshop. Ninety-three percent of all parents who shopped last year said they went over their budget,” said NerdWallet personal finance expert Kelsey Sheehy.

She said the survey found that peer pressure plays a big role, and it’s only growing because of social media.

“You have a virtual army of influencers telling your kids what they absolutely have to have this year and it’s really hard to combat," Sheehy said.

She said that is why parents need to take the power back by bringing kids along while back-to-school shopping.

Sheehy said allowing them to see the shopping list and know the budget offers a real teachable moment.

“Have them help to decide where that money can be allocated, but also know that you need pencils, you need a backpack, you need folders. You don’t necessarily need the newest coolest sneakers.”

She advised making a realistic budget and plan. If you know you “always” splurge this time of year (42% of parents said they do in the survey), set a budget that accounts for this. She also said to give yourself wiggle room.

The best time to buy might not be now, but in a few months

Another way to save money is to comparison shop. Apps like ShopSavvy or ScanLife make it easy to do. There are also some great browser extensions that will help you find deals- The Camelizer (also known as Camel Camel Camel), the Honey Browser and Wiki Buy are easy to download and add to your computer.

Don’t forget to go to customer service and ask about price matching. Some stores will match the advertised price of a competitor. “It takes a little bit more work, but you actually could end up with a bigger savings than even the advertised sales price,” Sheehy said.

You also want to see if you can get paid for your spending. That means using a credit card that earns rewards, cash back or travel rewards to pay for your purchases. Just be sure to pay off the bill right away so you don’t get any interest.

You also don’t have to buy everything at once and can time your purchases with sales throughout the year.

Financial experts say different times of year are better to buy different types of school items.
Financial experts say different times of year are better to buy different types of school items. (Source: InvestigateTV)

For example, early September is when you’ll find the deepest discounts on back to school items. Summer clothes are a great buy in late August and early September.

“If you can wait until October, you’re going to get a better price on things like jeans and fall apparel,” Sheehy said.

Black Friday is the time for discounts on electronics, laptops and tablets. January is the best time of year to shop for dorm bedding and towels if you have a child headed to college next summer.

Bush also said one of her tricks is to use leftovers.

“Last year, I had to buy large glue sticks. So you went through two-thirds of them. Thankfully, I’m able to use whatever carries over from the year before,” Bush said.

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