Back to School

How to avoid overspending in the year’s 2nd biggest shopping season.

If you feel like the back-to-school shopping season gets more expensive ever year, you’re not far from the truth. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) the average family is on track to spend about $630.36 this year for K-12 back to school shopping. Five years ago in 2010 families were balking at $606.40 and costs are 4% higher just five years later.

More concerning is that there seems to be no end to this trend. Electronics get more expensive, kids clothing keeps getting more couture, and even class supply list get longer. Luckily, there are plenty of good ways to cut costs – you just have to have a good strategy going into the shopping season before you ever hit the stores.

The information below is designed to help you avoid debt problems that come from overspending during the back-to-school shopping season. If you find your balances start to get too high after back to school shopping, we can help. Call Consolidated Credit today at or complete an online application to request a free debt and budget consultation with a certified credit counselor.

Shopping with the P.R.P.R. method

Heading to the store with a list of everything under the sun – or worse, not shopping with a list at all – is a quick way to wind up with credit card bills you can’t really afford on a tight budget. Instead, you need to put some thought and legwork into getting your shopping strategy ready before you start buying.

The P.R.P.R. method helps you create a strategic plan of attack for shopping.

Step 1: Prioritization

Gather up all the class supply lists and then put together a list of all the clothing, electronics and extras that your kids are convinced they need. Now start prioritizing those purchases.

  • Is everything really necessary for the first month of the school year? If not, move those purchases to a later month so the cost is spread out. That includes winter coats, clothes and boots.
  • Do you really need that many of a single item? From too many binders to an excessive number of shoes, make sure your children will really need that amount of whatever it is for the first month of school.

Now rank your shopping list and only purchase what’s critical for the first week of school. For everything else, decide which month it will be best to purchase and adjust your shopping lists accordingly.

Step 2: Research

Next you need to do some research to ensure you get the best deal on everything you buy. Saving a few bucks here and there may not seem like a big deal, but it really adds up.

Here are some tips on how to research ways to save effectively:

  • Look into tax-free holidays in your state. This is usually one weekend in the month before school where sales tax is cut completely. It may not apply to everything you need to buy, but it’s worth it when it does.
  • Like and follow retailer social media. Facebook and Twitter communities for retailers to find special discounts that get sent directly to your wall.
  • If you’re not big on social, get deals to your inbox. If you’re not on your social networks 24/7 then spotting deals on social may not be convenient. Instead, hit up the retailer’s website and sign up for their deals newsletter.
  • Use a free price comparison tool online. You can search through for products, in general, or even compare prices on a specific brand and model. Note where the best deals are and save those locations for the next step.
  • Actually pay attention to the junk in your mailbox. These days your mailbox is filled with circulars from local stores that you may just toss without even looking through them. Take a few minutes to flip through the circulars before they go into your recycle bin to find great discounts in your local area.

This is what the tax-free holiday map looks like for 2015. Hover over a state to see dates; click to see a summary of qualifying items/price limits and a link to the fine print. Source: State revenue departments

Step 3: Planning

Next you need to take those discounts and deal that you found to create a strategic plan of attack for your shopping list. If deals are spread out around town, group them for several smaller trips or at least put them in order so you can make one clean sweep around town.

Also put a little planning into what you intend to buy in bulk. People think bulk shopping is the perfect way to save, but often you end up spending extra for too many of one item you never end up using all of before the end of the school year. In addition, if you bought in bulk last year you should make sure you don’t have some of what you purchased left over. If you do, take it off your list.

You should also resist the temptation to head out and shop simply to take advantage of a great sale. If you see a sale advertised and they’re promoting a better deal than what you found in your research, then adjust your plan. But don’t be tempted into shopping for things you don’t need simply to avoid missing out on a phenomenal deal. Just stick to your strategy and don’t deviate for any clever advertising.

Step 4: Realism

This is where you apply some practical reason to your shopping strategy. Your children are likely to want the world… or want at least as much as the next kid has. However, giving into every request is a good way to wind up with too much credit card debt at the end of the shopping season.

Make sure you take your children’s requests for specific items into consideration, but don’t buy to appease them at the expense of your financial stability. If they have a long list of electronics and/or special clothing they want, pick one or two items at most that work for your budget and work those in if you can.

If the items aren’t something you can afford with the extra burden of back-to-school shopping already on your budget, then prioritize those expenses for later months and let your kids know. Or (even better) ask your children to do extra chores to earn those items or use part of their allowance to pay for it.

Always keep in mind, even if you hadn’t unlimited funds to spend, giving your children everything they ask for things like back to school shopping sets a bad financial precedent for them later in life. They won’t have restraint with their own money, because they didn’t watch you be smart with yours. The more you include your children in the budgeting and frugal shopping process, the more they can pattern the right financial behaviors when they’re finally out on their own.