What to scrimp and what to splurge on when it comes to Back to School

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Back to School

Back to SchoolBack to School sales are in full swing now, and that means we’re being inundated with deals. But some deals are better than others, because not all Back to School supplies are created equal. Keep the following in mind when you’re out shopping this summer:

Pencils and other writing instruments – Kids tend to be extremely rough on their writing instruments, especially in elementary school. Pencils, pens, and highlighters are also items that are frequently borrowed and easily lost. So although some brands are more durable than others, you’re usually better off buying the cheapest ones you can find. Look for loss leaders that go for as little as a penny a pack at this time of year!

Crayons – In my experience with elementary school teachers, Crayola crayons are the preferred brand because they last longer. They do tend to be a little more expensive, however. So this is one of those times when you have to know your child. If your child is careful with her belongings and enjoys coloring, Crayola crayons are probably worth the extra quarter per box. But if your child tends to break crayons on purpose and recklessly shade an entire page with one color, then buy the cheapest brand you can find.

Glue – Out of all of the traditional school supplies, glue sticks might be the one where there is the greatest difference between brands. For long-term stickiness, teachers I know swear by Scotch brand glue sticks. So if you know your child will be bringing home some fabulous art projects that you want to have last for years, splurge on glue sticks. Otherwise, buy the loss leaders.

Lunch containers and lunch boxes – If your child takes a lunch to school every day, this is one area where you really have to know your child. Some brands break down within the first month of school, while other brands can last years. If your child is the type to lose their lunch box regularly, you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on containers and carriers – consider sticking to the semi-disposable Glad and Ziploc containers that you can get very cheaply with a coupon and sale. On the other hand, if you child is responsible, more expensive containers like Sistema or Kids Konserve can give you more flexibility in what you pack for your child’s lunch. As for carriers, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the inexpensive insulated lunch boxes that I picked up at The Children’s Place have lasted more than one school year.

School clothes and uniforms – Again, you need to know your child when it comes to buying clothes or uniforms for school. If your child tends to lose items or rip his clothes before he wears them out, buy the cheapest items you can. Some schools that require uniforms have a hand-me-down program or swap sale so you can acquire the required items for less than full price. Other factors to keep in mind are your child’s growth rate, the frequency with which you do laundry, and your ability to pass clothes down to a sibling.

Backpacks – The quality of backpacks varies dramatically, and you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. But one thing that’s certain is that many backpacks are poorly made, so be sure to check the construction of the backpack and test all of the zippers before you make a purchase. Office supply stores often have half-off sales on backpacks during Back to School season, and they carry higher-end brands that tend to be better made. Personally, I have found Land’s End backpacks to be extremely durable and worth every penny as they have lasted multiple school years.

Stock up – If you find great deals, now is the time to stock up. You will need extra writing instruments, notebooks, and glue throughout the school year. Even the most responsible child will lose or break things, so if you can, keep extra lunch containers and even an extra lunch box on hand. You can even buy some extra clothing in larger sizes if they’re a great bargain. After all, the less stressed you are about school, the less stressed your child will be as well!

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Cathy is the founder of Chief Family Officer, where you can get daily updates on the hottest deals, and tips to achieve financial freedom and family bliss.