Back to school shopping

Guest blogger Leanne Salyzyn is an insolvency counselor, licensed restructuring professional and trustee in bankruptcy. Post a comment or contact her on Twitter with your personal-finance questions.
I know I’m not the only parent who loves the television commercial with the parent happily pushing a shopping cart through a stationary store while the song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is playing in the background. It’s a great image until we get to the cash register.
A recent survey disclosed that the average Canadian family spends in excess of $600 on back to school items. That’s a hefty price tag after paying for summer camps and the family summer vacation.
Parents know that back to school also means back to other kid expenses that you won’t find on any school supply list. Don’t forget the fall swimming lessons, hockey registrations, sports gear, music lessons and music equipment rentals. The list of expenditures can be endless but the balance in our bank account isn’t.
Here are a few suggestions on how to survive this fall without going broke.
Take inventory
Create or obtain a school supply list. Cross off what you already have at home. Don’t spend money that you don’t have to spend. Many items such as rulers, pencil cases, protractors and dictionaries can be reused year after year. The book bag or lunch bag you bought in May or June may be fine to use again in September.
Set a budget
Determine how much you can spend and stick to it. Include all expenses not included on the school supply list such as back to school clothes, shoes, book bags and lunch bags. Share the details with your kids and teach them the first lesson of the school year: a financial lesson.
Shop around
Compare prices, read back to school flyers and take advantage of the best price policy offered at most department stores that will price-match their competitors. Be app savvy. Use your phone apps to help you save by using coupons and freebies just for checking in. Canvass couponing sites. Check out a warehouse store like Costco for deals on electronics. Ask a friend to split the cost of the box of 500 pencils that can be bought in bulk so you both save. Don’t miss a trip to the dollar store. They can be the lowest price for generic school items.
Don’t shop for the year
The schools would prefer you supply your child with all the items on the first day, but it’s not necessary. The key is to focus on stocking up on what the kids really need for the beginning of the school year. Save some of the back to school spending for later in the year. Kids go through growth spurts. Buying everything before school may mean you may have to buy clothes or shoes again three or four months down the road.
Reward yourself
Take advantage of the reward points you have collected. Cash in on gift cards you may have in your wallet.
Pay with cash
Many credit cards give us reward points. Credit cards also allow us more time to afford to pay for school expenses. However, if you already are carrying a balance on the card and can’t pay the balance in full by the time the bill is due, it will cost you more money than paying with cash. Interest charges add up. School supplies “on sale” are not saving you any money if you also have to pay interest.
School teaches our children many lessons. Perhaps our lesson should be to take advantage of this school year and save gradually for the next year. With a little bit of pre-planning, we could save $520 a year by simply putting aside $10 a week and not even notice it. It’s an easy way to get an “A” in financial planning.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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