BEV BENDA: My Coach Bev — How To Escape Back To School Shopping And Save Thousands of Dollars

I recently read that the National Retail Federation projects parents will pay on average $970 for back-to-school expenses. “Back to School” shopping is the second-largest retail shopping season next to Christmas.

So if each family spends roughly $1,000 annually, we are up to $13,000 on average from kindergarten to 12th grade! Ouch!

Want to save thousands of dollars in back-to-school shopping? It’s quite simple.  Don’t do it.

What? Rebel against the school supply list? No. Honor the school list but in a different manner than back to school shopping.

I credit my two sons for the solution.

They love sports. As they were growing up, they loved being outside, batting ball, playing catch, kicking soccer balls, throwing footballs, etc. During harsh North Dakota winters, they were building snow forts. Video games were not an option because we as parents didn’t buy them. While their friends were glued to videos and TV, our boys were  outside playing.

They did not like back-to-school shopping because it took away at least one day of playing outside in the summertime.

So when they were 12 and 8, respectively, they approached my husband and me with a way to eliminate this annual tradition. I remember the proposal well, and the conversation went like this, with the older son doing most of the talking:

“Mom and Dad, we have a great idea to save you money!”

“OK, lets’ hear it!”

“We want to skip back-to-school shopping.”

“Hmmm. And how to you propose you meet the requirements on the Back to School Supply List?”

“Easy. We use our old backpacks and find all the supplies right here in our house.”

I thought about this, and realized this was achievable. I have often said the pens and pencils in this house reproduce when we aren’t looking. I also remembered my own childhood. I used the same backpack throughout elementary, high school and college … and I still have it! Truly, do children need a new backpack every year? Probably not.

“OK! Let’s try it. Here’s the list.”

We gave each boy his school supply list, and they raced to start the “treasure hunt.” They filled up their old backpacks with all the required supplies in less than an hour.

My younger son said, “We have enough pens, pencils, notebooks, erasers and Glue sticks to supply the whole neighborhood!”

“What about your school clothes?”

They both looked miserable. “Please don’t make us go to the Mall! There’s nothing wrong with the clothes we have!”

We thought about that and realized they were right.

Like many other consumers, we have been deceived into believing they needed new clothes just because school was starting. If they grew out of their clothes, that’s another story. But there are plenty of garage sales and thrift stores to find “new clothes” for little or nothing. Don’t forget about the relatives who like to buy new clothes for them on their birthdays. Truly, they have never been without something to wear.

So that was the beginning of saving thousands of dollars. By senior year in high school, each boy had back-to-school shopping down to a science. They kept all school supplies in one place, so it was just a matter of going through the list and checking off each required item.

My younger son came up a brilliant idea as time went on as he saw his friends going back to school shopping. “Since I’m not buying new clothes, could I get a new baseball cap every year? After all, we are saving you and Dad a lot of money.”

I thought about his baseball cap collection, which lined his room with at least 150 caps. He didn’t need another one. I thought about it, then responded.

“Absolutely! Here’s $25 — I am excited to see your new cap!”

Leave a Reply