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Shop smart for school supplies
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- August can feel like December to family budgets strained by back-to-school purchases, but planning and careful shopping can ease the crunch.
Jan Lukens, Extension consumer management specialist at Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said how much a parent spends on supplies varies by teacher, grade and school. It is also affected by whether or not the school has uniforms.
"Parents should be encouraged that there are a lot of things they can do to save money, regardless of the list of necessities they may be given from the teacher," Lukens said.
To begin with, don't wait until a few weeks before school to start shopping. Even without a list of required school supplies, Lukens said parents can buy standard items such as pencils, paper, construction paper and glue throughout the year when they go on sale. Stockpile these early to make shopping easier before school starts.
Lukens recommended parents shop around and compare prices when they get their child's school supplies list.
"We have done small consumer studies and found there is a great deal of price variation for items," Lukens said. "The person who is willing to shop, check the ads in the newspaper and spend some time on the phone comparing prices can save a great deal of money."
For example, Lukens found she could easily spend $20 to $30 buying the 12 items on one third grade school supplies list. After careful shopping, she found everything for less than $10.
Another trick is to put off the purchase of book bags until just after school starts.
"A lot of school supply items will go on sale right before school because of competition, but book bags have few price concessions and tend to be sold on the basis of how attractive they are to children," Lukens said. "If you can convince your child to wait until school starts, virtually every book bag goes on sale and you can find many for one-fourth their original cost."
Clothes are usually the most expensive back-to-school items, but Lukens said school uniforms help cut costs.
"I truly find if uniforms are worn in school, they save money mainly because you don't have to have the variety of clothes," Lukens said. "You can get by with three or four uniforms a season if you have to."
Lukens said when uniforms are not required, parents find themselves buying more clothes so children can have the variety they want.
"If you're trying to decide if you have enough clothing, get between one and two weeks worth of outfits," Lukens said. "You can get by with one week's worth of outfits, and it's certainly not necessary to have more than two weeks worth of outfits for kids."
When buying uniforms, Lukens said to pay extra for quality and durability as the same clothes will be worn all season. With other school clothes, durability is not as big an issue since usually the child rotates more outfits, and each item is worn fewer times before it is outgrown.
"If you're going to concentrate dollars per item, spend more money on good shoes for the child," Lukens said. "Young children are very active and need comfortable shoes with good support."
Where uniforms are not required, determine what the dress code is before buying school clothes. It's also a good idea to go to a new school ahead of time with the child to see what other students are wearing.
The final preparation to make before stocking up for school is to prepare a budget. Estimate the costs of the items needed and determine if funds are available. Shop wisely to stretch dollars, and postpone optional purchases.
"If shopping for supplies doesn't cause a budget crunch in your family, remember the community organizations and churches that collect school supplies for others who need them," Lukens said. "Contribute to these if you can, as they can be a big help to other families trying to prepare their children for school."