During back-to-school season, Margaret Callahan of Crystal Lake doesn’t run from store to store to get her five children ready for class.
She’s already a year ahead of the game.
“After school starts and they put everything on sale really cheap, I go out and buy as much as I can,” she says. “If I see something on sale during the year, I buy it. Before school starts, whatever I haven’t
been able to find on sale, I go buy.”
Callahan usually shops at Wal-Mart and Target.
“If I’m in a store that has a clearance aisle, I try and look,” she says. “If I see a good deal, I buy it.”
Her husband, Dave, helps as well.
“When he buys office supplies for business, if he sees something at a really good price, he’ll buy a lot,” she says.
The couple’s best recent deal was packs of lined notebook paper for 10 cents each.
“We still have a huge stack of it,” Callahan says.
The supply list at her younger children’s school doesn’t change much from year to year, but when her oldest son entered high school, families were told not to buy supplies until teachers told them what they needed.
“One of his teachers said he had to have flexible binders, and I couldn’t find them anywhere,” Callahan says. “Now I keep my eyes open and buy them on sale.”
She added she has already stashed some away for her daughter who starts high school this fall.
According to the National Retail Foundation, the average family with school-aged children was expected to spend $548.72 on school merchandise in 2009. Those with college students were expected to
Staying on a back-to-school budget can test the savvy of the smartest shopper, but McHenry County resident and syndicated columnist Jill Cataldo says saving money at back-to-school time is a
matter of watching for loss leaders.
“Those are the very cheap items like notebooks for 10 cents or pencils for a penny,” Cataldo says. “I always keep the supply list with me, and when I’m near a store, I go in and buy only the loss leader.
Never buy all your items in one store.”
Some of Cataldo’s other favorite tips?
• Skip the supply bundles sold at school. You’re paying for convenience.
• Buy extra. Stock up on replacement folders, notebooks, etc. — especially for high school students, whose classes change at semester. Have a small business? This is a great time to buy office supplies, too.
• Check your pantry for paper towels, tissue and other paper products on your school list.
• Reuse durable items like scissors, rulers, pencil cases, backpacks, etc.
With four daughters 10 through 17 years old, clothes can be a big expense, says Deb MacLeod of Elgin. But she relies on a few strategies to keep control of her budget.
“I’m always watching sales, and the first place I go to is the clearance rack,” MacLeod says. “With all girls, we do a lot of hand-me-downs, too.”
The item she’s most likely to go above budget on is shoes, as she can end up buying as many as 16 pairs at back-to-school time.
“It’s one thing I won’t do as a hand-me-down, and they need school shoes, dress shoes, gym shoes and volleyball shoes,” she says.
While her girls like Sketchers, and MacLeod typically buys a name-brand volleyball shoe, the family isn’t brand conscious when it comes to dress or gym shoes. As with clothes, MacLeod watches for sales and uses coupons on shoes.
Going off to college means expenses far beyond tuition, room and board. Kristine Kowalski, vice president, marketing at KCT Credit Union in Elgin, Geneva and Aurora, says it’s important for families to
sort out college needs from wants. A little investigation ahead of time (such as talking to other families with college students and to the school itself) can help.
“Most people consider a computer a must, but what about a printer?” Kowalski says. “Could they share with a roommate? Do they need to pay for Internet or Wi–Fi, or can they get it free or at a lower cost
through the college?”
Setting a realistic budget for students away from home for the first time can be a challenge. Don’t forget to budget for travel to and from school; laundry; eating out; or extras like sports tickets and the Greek
For the first few months, Kowalski says, it’s a good idea to estimate higher-than-expected expenses, while keeping track of the student’s spending through online banking. Parents and the student should
check the account as often as possible.
“For students, it’s a good lifelong habit to get into,” Kowalski says. “For parents, they can help their children make good spending decisions.”