Valley First

Get yourself sorted! When to spend or save on back-to-school supplies

The school year hasn’t even started, and the first test has already been issued — to parents! It’s only one question, but get it wrong and you could have a lot to catch up on. Let’s see how you do: What is the simplest way to get the most value for your money when buying back-to-school supplies?

Now, before you rush to the discount bins and buy the whole shebang (we’ll get there in a minute), consider this theory for affordable value: spend on quality, save everywhere else. And here are some CliffsNotes about how it works.

Before you head to the store, compile and sort your shopping list into two categories, the “more” and the “less”.

Six Times to Spend Some Extra (the “More” Category)

  1. Backpack
    In the best-case scenario, the bag your kid drags around will get squished, squashed, soaked and generally roughed up. You’ll want it to protect whatever is inside. A MEC backpack could last through 4 years of university and even 20 years later still be going strong.
  2. Pencil case
    It’s going to get stuffed to the brim, zipped and unzipped a dozen times a day. Avoid the potential combustion and choose a higher-end sack. Like band-aids, the plastic options can’t match the resiliency of cloth.
  3. Sticky notes
    You’re paying for power here. High-quality brands seem to stay put more easily than those on the cheap. You wouldn’t want your too-cute, not-at-all embarrassing note on your kid’s lunch bag to flutter away, would you?
  4. Binders
    Over the course of a school year, kids flip open their binders over 1,000 times and transport them hundreds of kilometres. Protect their hard work and budget for the extra-tough type. The extra inserts are up to you.
  5. Lunch bags and containers
    Squished bread, cold soups and room-temperature applesauce. No thanks! Since you put all that time into crafting a delicious meal, serve it up at the temperature and consistency it was meant to be. You probably won’t have to hose-off as many leftovers (but just in case, choose an easily washable sack).
  6. Scissors
    For young kids, it’s worth spending on safety scissors—little fingers tend to fumble. Invest in a quality pair for teens as well, it will help those science displays look A+ perfect.

Six Times to Always Save (the “Less” Category)

  1. Pens, markers, crayons, pencils of all kinds
    They end up underneath desks, dried out in drawers or worn down to the nub. These disposable supplies are made for short-term use. You can choose a cheaper brand without sacrificing a great deal of quality.
  2. Note paper in all forms
    All those spelling tests, math homework and doodles are not going to end up in your memory book (hopefully just in your kid’s memory bank). Use sales, coupons or a trip to a discount store to stock up on loose and bound paper. Try the Flipp app to search local flyers. If you’re like most parents, when something magical does come home, you’re already snapping and sharing it on your phone anyway.
  3. Day planner
    Not just for texting marathons, your kid’s phone can be a great source for calendar planning for just a few dollars. Sit down together and decide which app has features that are the most useful. Prefer paper? It’s just as simple: all you need is enough room to write down daily homework assignments, birthdays and social events.
  4. Laptop/computer/tablet and peripherals
    At this stage, it’s unlikely that your child’s assignments require any computer super-powers. Anything you buy today will depreciate by the next big tech announcement, so spend only what you need to get the homework done.
  5. Ruler
    Is the edge straight? Does it tell centimetres and inches? Will it last through a playground sword fight (maybe find one with rounded corners)? No need to break the bank on this one.
  6. Clothing*
    Seasons, trends, and sizes change faster than your kid’s BFFs. Save money when buying fashion wear that will only last one school year. Visit some resale boutiques to source all-round low-cost garb.
    *Two exceptions: don’t be stingy when shopping for outerwear and footwear, which both help your kids stay healthy.

It’s that simple. In a few minutes of sorting your supplies into this two-part spending list, you’ll create a back-to-school budget. Forget scouring walls of product options, no longer shoulder the entire shopping burden (because you can share your list). And avoid future shopping trips to replace flimsy supplies.


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