Back-to-school: Parents offer tips on how they save during annual shopping spree

Two weekends ago, Anne Zarifa and her children sat down to make a list of clothes they’d need for the coming school year after sifting through their closets to get rid of anything too small or worn out.

The Montreal mother of three says leaving back-to-school shopping until the last minute can be a costly error for parents — one that’s more important than ever to avoid in a time of high inflation. Zarifa said she tries to get ahead of the annual Labour Day weekend rush by starting her spree in early August, which also leaves more time to search for deals.

“I find if you’re looking to save some money, the deal items, they go fast and then the (clothing)sizes get picked over very quickly,” said Zarifa, whose son James is going into Grade 5 and twin daughters Clara and Nora are about to start Grade 2.

“So giving yourself a bit of time, I think, is good. Making a plan, making a budget so that you don’t overspend.”

But Zarifa said the biggest key to her strategy for saving money each back-to-school season is shopping second-hand. She relies on online platform Poshmark, where sellers advertise items they no longer need at a usually more affordable price than Zarifa said she finds at her local mall.

“I find, right now, everything’s more expensive in general,” she said. “You want your dollar to go just a little bit further.”

A new survey by PC Financial found 46 per cent of Canadians are more worried about their finances during this back-to-school season than in previous years.

According to NerdWallet, Canadian parents who plan to back-to-school shop this year expect to spend an average of $524 on those purchases, as more than a quarter intend to buy fewer school supplies than in previous years due to inflation.

More than half say they plan to shop during sales events for those purchases.

Natasha Macmillan, director of everyday banking at, said it’s clear Canadian parents are “feeling that pinch” this year amid a growing cost of living.

She said taking inventory to identify supplies from the last school year that can be reused should be the first step to cutting costs.

“I know as a kid, we bought brand new binders almost every year and it blows my mind that we did,” said Macmillan.

“Can you reuse your binders? What do you have at home that you can cross off your list?”

After that, it’s best to establish a budget “because it’s easy to quickly go overboard.” Macmillan also recommends “shopping strategically” by keeping an eye out for coupons on back-to-school deals.

“And that doesn’t have to always be in August, whether it’s starting that early or even waiting a week or two into September,” she said.

“There might be some additional deals that come online as another option to save money.”

For Robert Malcolm, saving cash usually entails waiting until the end of a season for sales. But he finds that strategy works best when gearing his shopping for the following year, since T-shirts and shorts won’t be needed as the weather gets colder.

“I guess I consider myself a bit of a weird parent because I actually shop a season behind,” said the Milton, Ont. dad, whose son Matthew is about to start junior kindergarten.

Right now, he’s focused on buying summer clothing for next year as stores clear out their seasonal inventory, but he’ll soon turn his attention to searching for back-to-school items that Matthew needs for September 2024.

“I know it takes a little bit of due diligence. But that’s basically how I’ve been able to save a ridiculous amount of money,” said Malcolm.

“This was born out of necessity because your kid can’t go to school without clothes. They’re growing constantly. You’re looking, especially now, for ways to save money and you’re looking to stretch every single dollar.”

Malcolm added he participates in numerous paid online surveys, which often reward participants with gift cards that can be applied to stores where clothing or school supplies are found.

“There are always deals on certain things,” he said.

He recommends fellow parents make their kids “a part of the process” so that even as they search for discounts, they still manage to track down products their children will enjoy.

“I suspect when (Matthew) gets older, he’ll have an opinion, like, ‘I like that shirt because it’s blue, or because this one’s red,’” Malcolm said. “If you get them involved, it becomes like a little bit more palatable.”

Zarifa cautions not to get too carried away, noting the importance of practicality when back-to-school shopping.

“I think as the kids get older, they start to be interested in brand names more,” she said.

“If I were to go out and just run down to the mall and buy everything that they wanted based on what brands they’re starting to like, I think I’d be broke.”

–The Canadian Press–

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