How to Save Money This Back to School Season
As someone who is deeply committed to achieving balance in life and finances, let me offer some ideas for how to navigate this time of year and still set up yourself, and your family, for success.
I believe in the concept of refining. The saying, “You can have it all, just not all at once,” certainly applies at a time when your children’s needs for back-to-school clothes, gear and activities can be overwhelming. It’s valuable to take a step back and set a clear and simple objective that your whole family can get behind.
1) Eliminate waste
One of my dear friends, who has sons age 12 and 14, decided last year her family would be more eco-conscious while lowering their expenses. One way was to drive less and instead walk and bike to work, school and activities. This has saved them almost $200 in a year.
Another was to reduce household waste. They committed to lunches that were free of packaging, therefore having healthy homemade lunches instead. While this didn’t initially elate the teens, they soon understood it allowed them more say in what they were eating. And just by investing in reusable drinking bottles and food containers, the family saved $250 in a year by no longer having to buy plastic wrap, aluminum foil, plastic resealable bags and single-use bottled juices and water.
2) Select activities with care
One of the biggest drains of money and time can be enrollment in too many activities. Hockey, horseback riding, soccer, dance class…it can cost a small fortune and lead to a chaotic schedule. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he writes that you can become an expert at something if you practice it for 10,000 hours.
Case in point: A friend began a dialogue with her daughter about art, an activity where the child showed promise. She loved drawing, designing and creating. So my friend encouraged practice at home, and sent her to classes on technique. She still enrolled her child in softball, but getting her deep into something she could excel at has saved everyone stress and at least $1,000.
Another idea: Trialling an activity. Let’s say your son or daughter wants to get into hockey. First, make sure they learn, and enjoy, skating. If so, purchase used hockey equipment; with sites like craigslist.ca and kijiji.ca, you can save big bucks. Once they have a proven interest and commitment, you can start buying new gear.
3) Find the best deals
Finally, when it comes to back-to-school clothes, cross-border shopping is one way to save. (Go with friends to save on gas.) Make sure you bring a list of items and sizes you need so you don’t over-shop. Another tip you can take to the bank: Before you do any shopping, sign up online for VIP or membership cards at various retailers; you’ll get deals and coupons to take with you.
Saving money, and stress, is about making small, mindful adjustments each day and understanding that the ultimate outcome is to enjoy life.
Katie Dunsworth is one of the founding Smart Cookies, along with Andrea Baxter, Robyn Gunn, Sandra Hanna and Angela Self. They have published two books (smartcookies.com). You can follow Katie on Twitter @katie_dunsworth.