How to set your budget and avoid overspending on back-to-school shopping

The start of the school year brings new classes, new teachers, new routines and new expenses. According to the Retail Council of Canada, Canadian parents spent an average of $919 in 2019 on back-to-school expenses. If you’re wondering how much to budget for school supplies, that $919 includes an average of $179 spent on school supplies and $165 spent on kids’ school clothing and footwear.

But filling your child’s backpack doesn’t necessarily mean emptying your bank account. Here’s how to stay within your budget while getting ready for the new school year.

How do you budget for back to school?

Before you can set a budget, you’ll need to figure out what you actually need.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

It’s worth checking what you already have at home—or in your child’s backpack from last year. With the increase in remote learning in 2020 and 2021, your kids probably didn’t use many of their supplies, so they can be used again this year. Check in with your child too because they may want to continue using a favourite pencil case or a lucky pen set.

Rally your resources

Ensure that you’ve applied for any available funding through your provincial or territorial government. In Ontario in 2021, parents could apply to receive up to $500 per child up to Grade 12 under the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit. These funds can help determine what your budget will be for school-related items. 

Keep your receipts

Most schools provide a standard list of back-to-school items in June for the following year. But not all these items may be necessary. What your child needs and which items they’ll use varies from teacher to teacher, which you may not know until September. If you plan to purchase items ahead of time, it’s wise to keep receipts, leave items in their original packaging and shop at stores with generous return policies. If you find yourself with unneeded items or if your child switches to remote learning, you can return them for a refund.

How to avoid overspending on back-to-school shopping

Once you’ve taken inventory of your existing supplies, your needed items and your available funds, you can set your budget and make your shopping list. Here are some tips to help you save money while back-to-school shopping.

Buy school- and child-approved clothing

If you’re buying back-to-school clothing for your child, you’ll want to first consult the school’s dress code or uniform rules to be certain your child can wear any new clothes to school. Look for end-of-summer sales on clothing. If your child likes to follow trends in their peer group, you may want to purchase later in September to give them time to scope out school fashion.

Remember small feet grow fast

Most schools require both indoor and outdoor shoes. Outdoor footwear will cycle through running shoes, snow boots and rain boots, but your child’s indoor shoes will need to last all year. Children’s feet grow fast, so consider buying a size up for those indoor shoes.

Keep lunches are nutritious and convenient

All parents know that they need to grocery shop very differently when kids are packing a school lunch versus eating at home. Keep an eye out for sales on your child’s favourites like granola bars or other lunch-friendly items. With more schools moving to waste-free lunches, watch for sales on reusable lunch containers.

Choose where to spend more

Instead of splurging for scented markers that will dry up or get lost, invest in a comfortable school backpack your child can also use on weekends or at sporting events. Lunch bags are opened multiple times per day, so it’s worth finding a sturdy, insulated bag that will stand up to being zipped and unzipped by little hands. Some children are more boisterous than others, so it’s worth checking clips, straps and zippers for durability and quality.

Don’t forget about labels

Although it is an extra expense up front, investing in personalized adhesive labels for your kids’ school items may save you from buying a new winter coat or a new pair of boots when they’re lost or go home with another kid. Check with your school because many partner with customized label makers who donate a portion of sale proceeds back to your school.

Involve your child

Back-to-school shopping is a great chance for your child to develop financial literacy [link to CL article on teaching kids about money]. Share your budget and shopping list with your child. Work with them to decide which items are needs and which are wants. Tweens and teens can use their allowance to pay the difference between your budget and the price of the item they prefer. This can be a fun way to have children involved in the process of comparing prices, which will increase their sense of responsibility for their belongings.

Like school itself, the back-to-school shopping experience provides many ways for you to work with your child and your budget to make thoughtful decisions. That’s a smart way to start the new school year. 

Want to know more about how budgeting can help you achieve your goals? Contact me today.

Support students in your community through the Canada Life Student Success Drive

Equip students for success as they head back to an in-person or virtual classroom in fall 2021 by taking part in the Canada Life™ Student Success Drive is a national campaign.

From Aug. 2-11, you can make a monetary donation through United Way’s online tool, From there, United Way will ensure your donation is provided to an agency that connects students in need with mentors. You can also participate by volunteering with a student-centric organization in your community.

You can also share this campaign on your social networks by linking to our campaign page and using our hashtag, #MyCanadaLife.

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