Labor Day weekend used to be the last worry-free holiday for kids before they trudged off to begin the school year. Nowadays, though, many school systems start a whole lot earlier — like early August.
That means in the next few weeks, you’ll be shelling out hundreds of dollars in fees, uniforms and school supplies to outfit your kids for school.
Or do you have to break the bank, after all?
*New clothing isn’t critical yet — it’s still summer. Shorts, sandals and t-shirts will do for now, and are actually a benefit for many schools. (Few classrooms are air-conditioned.) Unless your school requires different clothing, there’s no need to buy replacement clothing until you find a sale. (Some schools prohibit bandannas or t-shirts with slogans, especially those with gang-related connections. Knowing specifics will help you avoid embarrassment, and suspension for your child.)
*For school uniforms, try the local thrift shop or Craiglist ad, before you purchase new. Outgrown uniforms are often one of the items donated or sold. Check with your local church, MOPS (a mothers group with elementary-aged kids), PTA or other social group. You can find sports equipment the same way.
*Don’t rent musical instruments. Unless your child is only going to play for a month or two, renting a musical instrument is a huge waste of money. You’re better off getting your own. Check the sources mentioned above, or ask families whose children were in band or taking lessons in previous years. One of the best places to find instruments in good condition: your local pawnshop!
*Swap your services for credit. Does the school band or sports team need manpower for the refreshment stand, putting away instruments, babysitting or bookkeeping services? You may be able to volunteer your time and expertise in return for those fees. Check with the office, or contact the coach/conductor directly; it never hurts to ask.
*Check the ads — including penny and BOGO sales. Then stock up. Chains like Wal-Mart and Target, office supply stories like Office Max or Office Depot (soon to be consolidated), and even places you wouldn’t normally consider, like Home Depot or grocery stores, often sell school supplies at ridiculous prices. Notebooks, pens, crayons, markers and such are often available for 50 cents or less. (I just bought 35 bound notebooks at our local King Soopers — 21 cents each.) Backpacks for $4.95, large packs of gluesticks for a buck…if it’s on your list, chances are good that you’ll find it on sale. (Tip: Use extras for Christmas stockings. They’re often needed, anyways, by the new year.)
*Ask a friend. An online friend, that is. A number of bloggers have school-aged children, either in schools or homeschooled. Their tips will help you find the best bargains. The best source is Crystal of Money Saving Mom; besides her own excellent advice, she’s rounded up tidbits from a host of other moms’ blogs. MSM also collects coupons, sales and freebies for a wide range of products, including low-cost Amazon e-books and a raft of educational materials.
*You’re doing it to save money — don’t forget those who really need help. Extra items, purchased on sale, can help out kids worldwide. Operation Christmas Child‘s packed shoeboxes are one of the easiest ways to spread the wealth. (Go here for more information.)
You’ll find more school savings tips on these Youtube videos. And don’t miss Part II on this subject, with moneysaving tips for college students.