This year, the back to school shopping list was (as usual) huge for my middle schooler. Pencils, pens, white out, binders, paper, notebooks – the list went on and on. As a full time working mom, I don’t have time to shop around for the best deals on all these items. Nor do I want to spend a ton of money. I ended up shelling out only $50 for all the supplies I needed, and another $40 on two new pairs of jeans. The shopping took under an hour and under $100. My middle son didn’t need any supplies or clothes, the supplies were provided by his school and he had plenty of clothes. I read a study from Deloitte that the average shopper spends $488, so this is one time I’m happy to be well below average! Side note – I find it interesting that the study found debit card users were lower earners. I only use my debit card and I doubt I’m in the lower earner category. I wonder why that is?
How was I able to spend so little time and money and still send my kids to school with what they needed? There are four tips other working moms can use to have successful, stress-free back to school shopping:
Organization: Having the supplies from the prior school year organized meant that I could quickly “shop around the house” to see what we already had. I was able to pick up a few notebooks and binders, as well as the rest of the box of pencils I had bought last year. Hooray! For clothes, we shopped the closets. My middle son had plenty of fall and winter clothes from my oldest and from his birthday, and the oldest had plenty of shirts and a few pants. He just needed a few pairs of jeans to round out the selection
Buy to Last: This costs you more upfront but saves money down the road. There are some things – like pencils, pens, glue, notebooks, paper, post-it notes, etc. – that are meant to be used up. For those I get the least expensive option. But for things like binders, folders, and backpacks I get quality items that come with lifetime guarantees. Often they’re a bit more expensive upfront, but save money and waste down the road. My kids are on the 4th and 2nd year of their backpacks. I got them on sale some time ago. Making sure they’re plain (not decorated with something they’ll outgrow or get tired of) and letting them decorate the backpacks with keychains and patches is the key to making sure they don’t get tired of their supplies. The backpacks with the guarantee were only $10 more than the lower quality flimsy backpacks that fall apart in a year (which I have gotten and regretted in the past). For folders, I get plastic ones that last a few years so I don’t have to get new ones. And for binders just make sure they don’t write on them – you can write on a piece of paper and tape it to the front if needed.
Look for deals: Yes, it’s true that I didn’t have time to visit 5 stores to try and get the best deal. But I have time to do what I call “easy deals” where I can save a good chunk of money without a ton of effort. This lets my money go farther when I just don’t have time to get the best deals – they’re good enough. I shopped for those jeans during tax-free week, and got them on sale. All the school supplies were on sale at Staples (more on that in a minute) and I picked up the generic brand everything. You also may be able to find a coupon online for a certain amount off a purchase. Now if my son had needed an expensive supply like a graphing calculator this year, then I would have done more deal shopping. Maybe next year. If you have more time it can be fun to try and shop the deals at different stores, but I just had too much going on at work and with the kids this summer to want to spend my time next year.
Shop online: Did you know that Staples has the option to order online and then pick up the supplies in one hour? This was the best time saving hack for back to school shopping that I found. If that option had been unavailable, I likely would have ordered from Amazon and had them delivered to the house. I was able to order the supplies at lunchtime, then swing by Staples on the way home and pick them up. Total time was under half an hour. For the jeans I didn’t shop online because you just never know how they’re going to fit, but for school supplies it was the perfect solution. You could also order online from Walmart, especially if you’re spending enough to get free shipping.
I hope these back to school shopping tips for working moms helps you to have a less stressful, time-saving, and money-saving experience the next time around. For Frugal Friday I’m going to write more about the money-saving tips on back to school.
What’s your favorite back to school shopping tips? Did you score a particularly good deal this year? Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.