Pattie's Blog: Get the most bang for your back-to-school buck
Ottawa-area schools are devoting less shelf space to shorts and more to school supplies.
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012 12:28PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 14, 2012 1:19PM EDT
Back-to-school shopping can be a great learning opportunity -- if you let it!
I love the school supply store chain that uses the theme music, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” for its commercials this time of year. Oh joy! To some it signifies the beginning of a new year more so than January 1st and for most of us it means the back-to-school shopping negotiations begin.
According to Ernst and Young back-to-school spending sales kicked into gear on July 1st in the U.S. and that has moved things forward here in Canada. Consumers are a little more hesitant to spend as the concern and frustration continues to mount regarding the global economic situation and the most recent dismal jobs report. Bargains will be key this shopping season and brand loyalty will be challenged as shoppers look for deals online and in the store. Retailers understand this and appreciate that competition will be fierce. There is a very young, discerning and savvy consumer out there and they know exactly what they want.
The report indicates sales are likely to increase year over year by 2.5 per cent with the focus on clothing, shoes, stationery and topping the list: electronics, with the average person spending $677 before Labour Day according to Visa.
I couldn’t help but wonder if given the strength of the Canadian dollar, perceived deals in the U.S. and the new traveller exemptions (allowing Canadians to import products without duty or taxes to the tune of $200 when you visit for at least 24 hours and $800 for visits of at least 48 hours) more people would be shopping south of the border. The answer, according to Visa, is no. Visa says 83 per cent of Canadian shoppers plan to keep the majority of their spending within Canadian borders when they buy in the stores, and 72 per cent plan to do the same online.
So how do you get the biggest bang for your back- to-school buck? Budget! I know you don’t like to hear it but planning and budgets do work. Open the lines of communication with your children and let them propose a budget to you. Establish the ground rules around what absolutely needs to be bought, the bare essentials so to speak, and outline clearly how much money can be spent. Don’t budge on the agreed amount. It is great if children can learn at an early age the importance of living within a plan. Encourage them to find the best deals and consider making a competition out of who can the stretch the dollar the furthest. Limiting brand items helps and deciding -- before you hit the malls -- on what that special piece will be can saved you both a lot of angst. There may be times when splitting the costs can go a long way for the really expensive pieces.
Something to think about: CIBC came out with a poll suggesting 45 per cent of Canadians don’t have an emergency fund. I think sometimes until you have experienced a hardship you rarely appreciate the value of having a little money set aside. This is where budgeting yet again comes into play. Small amounts saved on a regular basis can help you plan for back to school shopping. It happens every year and you don’t want to dip into your retirement fund or worse go further into debt. It becomes habitual and children have a habit of growing every year and I would treat it like a fixed cost but it really isn’t discretionary.
Most people have such distaste and distrust for budgets….but they do work. You see where you are spending your money and where you need to take corrective action. When you have a plan, your ABCs of back-to-school shopping give you top grades -- attitude, budget and costs are all aligned. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!