Ah, August. That last bittersweet month of summer.
As a kid, I remember feeling both a sense of excitement and dread as the summer drew to a close. I was torn.
There would be no more weekday pool parties and playing tag after dark with the neighbor kids. Homework and early bedtimes were definitely a bummer.
But the start of the new school year also meant I’d get to see my school friends every day. Plus, before the first day, I’d get to go shopping with my mom for school supplies.
I loved picking out new folders, a backpack and brand new pencils and pens. Since I’d inevitably grown since the last day of school, I also got to pick out cool new clothes and shoes.
Looking back, I realize now just how lucky I was that my parents could afford to buy us the things we needed to start the school year off right.
Many of the clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank don’t have that luxury. When you’re struggling just to pay the bills and can barely afford food, it’s overwhelming to think about all the things your child will need for school.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to save on those school supplies and new clothes. Many stores run major sales prior to the start of the school year.
But if retail shopping is still out of budget, here are a few other suggestions for saving money on back to school items:
1. Consider secondhand items. Visit Craigslist, Ebay, local thrift stores and even yard sales to find good deals on gently-used items. With a little patience, you can find everything from clothing and backpacks and to computer desks and notebooks.
2. Buy in bulk. If you have multiple children, or just need a bunch of a particular item, you can save by buying large quantities both at online retailers and at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. These places can save you money on everything from lunchbox snacks to pencils.
3. Swap with other parents. Organize a group of parents from your community and host a school-supply and clothing swap. Your child may be tired of the Spiderman backpack, but it’s brand new to your neighbor’s son!
4. Take advantage of discounts. Many stores and online retailers will offer special student discounts on big-ticket items like laptops or dorm furniture. If you’re a veteran or a member of your local Farm Bureau or AARP, remember to ask each store if they offer those discounts. Sometimes it can pay big just to ask!
5. Repurpose and reuse! Remember those half-used notebooks in the garage left over from your high school math class? Rip out the used pages and use a new picture to cover up that 90s grunge band on the front. Leave no drawer unturned – you may find enough miscellaneous crayons to fill a whole box! (And hey, remember the gazillion pens and pencils you got from local businesses advertising at your neighborhood picnic? Fish those out!)
6. Go DIY. Now, sewing your child’s clothing may not be economical or good for your sanity, but there are lots of school items you can make yourself out of household items. How about turning that old makeup bag into a pencil pouch?
7. Go for the plain Jane. Save by buying the plain version of everything from notebooks to backpacks – they’ll be cheaper than the ones with the licensed cartoon characters. Fancy them up yourself with stickers, keychains and photos you print at home!
8. Use office supply store rewards and rebates. If you shop regularly for your work supplies at store like OfficeMax or Staples, you may have accumulated some major rewards points. Now is the time to cash those in for supplies for the kiddos! Plus, many stores offer rebates and gift certificates for back-to-school items – just sign up for the email alerts!
9. Wait it out. If your child can make it through the first month or two of school with last year’s backpack, you can score a major deal on a new one just by waiting for school supplies to go on clearance.
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank