Last-Minute Back To School Savings Tips

If you have kids, it may be panic time; the kids are back at school this week and there are lots of shiny new supplies to buy. Here are some tips to make the most of your school shopping time and budget.

Photo: cloneofsnake

Every school's wishlist for students is a little different. Over the past decade of parenting I've had lists handed to me before the end of the previous year, lists handed to me on the day my kids returned to school and lists that weren't finalised until the end of the first week. It can be a bit of a muddle, and what's worse is that it's not just you out there trying to grab that last elusive pencil case. Aafter the first day the stationery racks of seemingly every store in the land will be bereft of all but the most expensive school gear, and that's if you're lucky!

  • Shop now for the basics Even if you don't have a list provided of what your student needs, there are a few simple basics that just about every school kid needs — or that can double up as household stationery supplies if you get it wrong, or as spares when (not if) they go missing at school.

  • Don't forget the shoes! This one's a particular bugbear of mine; just prior to the start of the school year, relatively inexpensive simple black shoes are everywhere. But children (especially at the primary level) grow rapidly, not to mention wearing shoes out at sometimes alarmingly rapid rates. Start your kids on a fresh pair of shoes today — by tomorrow they'll most certainly be gone.

  • Don't forget the supermarkets For some this will be an obvious tip, but I was struck last year by the number of parents who quickly rushed to either Officeworks or their local newsagency. I love newsagencies, but I'm not going to pretend they're always the cheapest option. Plus, if your kids hate going to the supermarket (and if they don't, can we swap?) it's an easy way to simply snaffle up what you need without them arguing why they only want a purple pencil sharpener, or whatever else takes their fancy. Which leads nicely into . . .

  • Avoid shopping at 4pm any time this week Arguably true for anyone thinking of shopping this week, but the absolute worst time to try to snaffle up some cheap school supplies is when everyone else is doing it, which will largely be right after school pickup. Not only are you competing with other parents, but you'll also have to remember if you needed 2B or HB pencils while your offspring are busy running around the aisles setting fires.

  • Fancy is nice, but it gets lost at the same rate as cheap This is what I like to call the "Smiggle" rule. I've seen plenty of kids turn up on day one with beautiful pencil cases packed with exceptionally expensive looking pens, pencils and gizmos. I've also seen, at the end of that day, fancy looking pencils sticking out the side of a bush, forgotten completely by their original owners.

  • Order textbooks online where feasible If there are set texts — usually more of an issue at the secondary school level — check with online booksellers if they've got them cheaper than the school's "recommended" outlet; even if you pay for express shipping you may be able to save some serious money.

  • Don't PANIC With an obvious hat tip to Douglas Adams, it's worth pointing out that teachers are human beings too, and they've all seen students and parents struggle with school supply lists. If you just can't get everything on the list on day one, it's not the end of the world; many teachers will have a few "emergency" spares tucked away in a drawer somewhere — although it helps if your child is polite about such things and doesn't take advantage of that generosity. For a day or so, though, it's almost expected that some kids won't have been able to get every last thing.

Any Lifehacker readers got other back-to-school tips they'd like to share?

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


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