As children head back to the classrooms this fall, school expenses are on the minds of parents now more than ever. Over the past decade, back-to-school spending has risen significantly and is expected to total more than $27 billion in 2018, according to a recent Deloitte study. While your child dives into their new classes, consider these tips for spending smart this school year.
Timing your costs
The vast majority of back-to-school shopping occurs early, as 83 percent of total spending takes place before the second week in August. Yet despite this popularity, holding off until late August or early September can be a wiser approach.
By waiting to shop for supplies other than the day-one essentials, your student can determine what will actually be needed for each class. This helps avoid purchasing unnecessary supplies or having to re-shop for missed items. Also, since clothes and accessories typically represent a large portion of back-to-school expenses, waiting allows your child to find out what is in style. On average, early shoppers wind up spending an extra $100 compared to the later shoppers.
Many items can be re-used or handed down to avoid repurchasing. Keep track of durable supplies such as binders, scissors, backpacks, and rulers at the end of each school year so they can be used year after year. For items such as calculators, lab goggles, or other class-specific needs, try to pass down from brothers, sisters, or friends who already took the class.
For high school and college students especially, seek out used textbooks to cut down on what is normally a substantial cost. In addition to the wide variety of online sources, many schools have an on-campus used textbook system.
Research sales and savings opportunities
Although back-to-school shopping has grown in overall size and cost, so has competition among retailers. This provides consumers with some excellent opportunities to save. Before hitting the stores, research and compare different retailers’ deals. Often, the best method is a combination of different stores for different needs. For example, a department store may have the best deals on notebooks and pencils, but a manufacturer may have the best sale on a laptop.
To help with tuition costs, consider using a 529 plan, which is an investment account designed to give benefits to those saving for future education. There are two main types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. A prepaid tuition plan allows for the purchase of college credits at their current price, resulting in savings over time when factoring for inflation. These plans are currently only offered in 10 states and can get complicated if your student decides to switch schools. These plans are either fully or partially guaranteed by the state governments. Education savings plans, unlike prepaid tuition plans, can be used at any grade level and for other school-related expenses such as housing and technology. These plans are based on a range of investment portfolios and may result in added risk while saving for educational expenses.
Do not underestimate the costs of sports and other activities
Perhaps the most overlooked back-to-school expense does not take place inside the classroom at all. Research done by Utah State Professor and former NFL player Travis Dorsch indicates that many families are spending upwards of 10.5 percent of their gross yearly income on youth sports alone.
Making a sport and activity budget will help you understand what to expect in this year’s costs. Keep in mind, costs that are less obvious than registration fees – such as travel, equipment, food, and drink – can add up. Look back at previous years’ costs and clarify with your child what they expect to need for this year’s extracurricular calendar.