As summer starts to wind down and the new school year fast approaches, so does the all-too-familiar stress of back-to-school shopping. New backpacks, trendy clothing, snazzy binders, bento lunch boxes—not only can all the choices be overwhelming, but they also add up quickly. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best ways you can save money and keep your cool while picking up school essentials for your kids.
The first step is to determine what your kids actually need—and don't need—for the new school year. Work together to create a list of all the supplies that are essential, as well as those that are just ‘wants.’ To get started, review the school supply list your kid's teacher provided (if applicable), and check out our printable school supplies checklist. From there, think about how your budget lines up with the list. Prioritize the essentials, of course; then you can start adding items from the optional list. Kids can even help budget if they have some loonies and toonies stashed away in their piggy banks—it’s a great way to teach them about the value of money!
Before you start making any actual purchases, do a sweep of your house. Check through your closets, storage bins, your art supplies and even last year's school bags for extra supplies you may have laying around. It’s a great idea to reuse and recycle what you already have before buying new supplies. With all the treasures you find, consider spending the dying days of summer on some DIYs with the kids. Fish pencil cases, watermelon T-shirts, paint-splattered sneakers—the possibilities are endless. Click here for ideas and instructions.
You're done your inventory sweep—but don’t rush off to the mall just yet. Instead, head to the houses of your neighbours and friends. While this may seem unusual, planning a swap party with other parents can prevent plenty of waste. Gather the items you have and know your kids won't use and trade with other parents who might have the supplies you’re looking for. Friends, neighbours and even family members may also have clothing that doesn’t fit their kids anymore but would be perfect on yours. Think of it as a swapping shopping spree!
Once you’ve exhausted all your recycling efforts, it’s time to hit the shops—but don't just make impromptu trips to the closest stores. Instead, be prepared for those inventible back-to-school deals and do your research to know which ones are really worth your while. Look through flyers, peruse their websites and keep an eye on key social media feeds— a little bit of prep work can save loads of dollars!
In addition to sales, many stores have solid price-matching policies. Canadian Tire, Staples and more will match their competitors' deals or even beat the price by one cent—so if you see discrepancies from store to store, you can often hit up the most convenient one and still get all the deals. Just remember to check the price-matching guidelines (for example, if it has to happen prior to purchase or if products must have the same model number). As always, there are exceptions to the rule, some retailers let customers price match an already purchased product within a certain amount of time. Ka-ching!
Similar to price matching, many big-box stores will refund the difference of a recently discounted item as long as the product was originally purchased at full retail price and a receipt is provided. Think Children’s Place, Old Navy, Walmart and The Gap. Just keep in mind that the request is usually upheld if the original purchase was made within a certain amount of days. Children’s Place, for example, will provide a refund only if the item was discounted within seven days of the original purchase. Guidelines for price adjustments do vary from store to store so always review their policy and hang on to those receipts!
Using coupons and taking advantage of special promos is another great way to save on supplies. You can totally unleash your inner extreme couponer—we won’t judge!—by skimming newspapers, magazines, social media and websites. Online resources like Save.ca and retailmenot.ca allow you to search for offers from specific stores and brands. Let your fingers do the walking and get those printers inked up and ready! For online purchases, you can use a browser extension like Honey, which automatically finds and applies discounts before you process your transaction (and is totally free!).
Dollar stores are really good for stocking up on pens, pencils, erasers and highlighters, among other things. Not only that, but they're also convenient and an affordable option for tight budgets. Shopping stores like Dollarama and Dollar Tree often means grabbing a few packs of stationary goodies for the same price as just one at competitors. And be sure to check out our list of things you should always buy at Dollarama.
Just like swapping with friends, upcycling clothes and accessories is a great alternative to buying brand new. While there are chain thrift stores like Value Village, Plato’s Closet and Once Upon a Child all across Canada, you can also consider visiting smaller, neighbourhood second-hand shops for cool and unique pieces. Avoid thrifting sneakers and other everyday shoes, since they mold to each child's feet and may carry fungus, like athlete's foot and warts.
You can often buy in bulk and save money (not to mention avoiding the hassle of zigzagging the city) when you do your shopping online. Amazon is great for affordable school supplies and often offers free shipping. Just beware of deals that seem too good to be true–they often are! So read reviews and thoroughly research any new sites, products and sellers before making any purchases. Coupons can also be applied to online purchases, so make sure to scour the Internet for special savings or consider using browser extensions and rebate sites like Rakuten.
With these tips and tricks, you’re ready to face the back-to-school shopping binge. Remember, it’s always better to start early than wait until the last minute, so go out and round up those school supplies. You’ve totally got this!
This article was originally published online in August 2019.