Back-to-School shopping is upon us and we are left wondering where the summer went.

Whether you’re in the “I could use another month of family time #INeedABreak” group, or…

…you’re in the “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” group ‒ stores are now stocked with school supplies and your wallet is about to feel a little lighter.

A lot lighter, actually.

Related: Why Every Student Needs An SPC Card

Back-to-School Necessities

According to this article (published last year), parents spend more on back to school supplies than they do on holiday shopping.

There are a few reasons why this is the case:

  • Sadly, there is no Santa to help us out with our annual back-to-school shopping.
  • School supplies are more costly than they used to be.
  • We want our kids to have everything they need to be comfortable when they go back to school. Sometimes that means we have a hard time saying no to the things they want… even if those things do not fit the budget.
  • Schools are now asking for very specific brands and even for parents to help supply the classrooms with things like whiteboard markers and boxes of tissues.
  • Electronics are becoming more popular for school, and in some cases they are even required.

With September just around the corner, let’s dig a little deeper to find out what parents are REALLY spending for back to school.

Here’s a list of items that a grade 5 student (New Brunswick) needs this year…

And the total was pretty surprising…

2018 School Supply List (Grade 5-6)

Please note: I didn’t do any comparison shopping. This total is if you are shopping through Walmart’s site. You could spend less if you shopped around for all the sales, but you could also spend a lot more – especially if Walmart’s $15 sneakers and $9 lunch bags aren’t exactly what your kids are looking for.

School Supplies List Cost
4 large white erasers $4.54
2 large glue sticks (one extra) $4.97
1 package 24 pencil crayons (pre-sharpened) $5.47
1 package of markers $6.77
8-10 dry erase markers (dark colours – thin) $8.97
1 pair scissors $2.97
1 metric ruler $9.17
30 HB# 2 pencils $2.91
1 pencil sharpener $1.97
6-8 pens (blue, black, red) $0.97
15 duo-tangs 3 red 3 green 3 yellow 3 blue 3 black (+1 with inside pockets) $14.85
1 package sticky notes $5.97
1 package 8 dividers for binder $4.42
1 calculator $4.97
4 highlighters (different colours) $2.97
1 pencil case $3.89
Book/school bag $29.99
Sketchbook $9.94
Shading pencils $8.24
1 small package of graph paper (1cm) $4.57
2 packages of 200 sheets lined paper (looseleaf) $8.58
1 coiled notebook (150-200 pages) $4.97
20 page protectors $14.34
8 lined Hilroy scribblers (32 page) $9.04
2-3 – 1.5″ binders (no zipper) $17.37
2 boxes of tissues $1.96
1 Protractor $0.55
1 deck of playing cards (for math activities) $0.97
English Dictionary $7.84
French/English Dictionary $9.00
Thesaurus $8.23
USB drive (memory stick) $6.88
Hardcover journal $6.97
Indoor/gym shoes (non-marking soles) $14.97
Lunch bag $8.97
Total before tax: $259.16

$259.16 before tax.

That’s almost $300 dollars per child when you tack on the government’s cut.

And this total doesn’t include any new back-to-school clothes, electronics, items older students might need, or things like water bottles and sandwich bags.

Plus, if your child is going into their first year of university? That adds a whole new level to the spending.

But, all is not lost.

Related: Why Credit Card Research Could Pay Off Big

4 tips for making your back-to-school money stretch

There are ways for parents to get the most out of their money when back-to-school shopping this year…

1. Make a budget and stick to it.

Knowing how much you can and should spend is important.

Without having a budget, it can be easy to spend more than you intend – especially on school supplies.

$2 here, $5 there…it doesn’t seem like much money, but all of those “cheap” school supplies really add up.

Creating a budget is key.

However, this is only half the battle. The harder part, for me at least, is actually sticking to said budget.

As parents, saying “no” can be especially hard.

We love our kids, and we want them to feel comfortable and even excited about going back to school. For many of us, that means getting them that name brand backpack, even though it might cost more than we intended to spend.

But if you really want to cut back on your September spending, you’ll need to find a way to say a firm and final “No.” (Again, easier said than done.)

Another option is to find ways to cut back in other areas.

Name brand pack back? Maybe. Matching lunch box? No way.

A good way to accomplish this is by getting your child involved on the budget side of things and not just the spending side.

If they know how much they have to spend in total for their supplies, but they still really want that backpack, have them come up with ways you can save in other areas.

Added bonus: You’re also teaching your kids about the value of money and the discipline needed to stick to a budget.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Shopping at Costco Canada Stores

2. See what you have around home that you can reuse.

Using things you already have around the house can really cut down on back-to-school shopping costs.

This is especially easy if you have last year’s supplies organized at home – maybe in a tote or closet – so you can find it fast and sort through what can be used for this year.

One idea I also came across was a mom who gives her child the school supply list and has them “shop around the house” first, looking for things they can use before hitting the mall. Turn in into a game (a scavenger hunt) – and it’ll keep your child busy and save you some major moolah.

Added bonus: It should also help you declutter. A win-win-win situation.

3. Get creative and do some second-hand or vintage shopping.

Second-hand and vintage shopping is pretty popular right now because it is about so much more than just saving money.

With people becoming more and more concerned about the amount of waste us humans produce, there has been a real push for people to start reducing and reusing.

Back-to-school is a great time to start teaching the next generation about this practice.

Take them to your local thrift and consignment shops.

Make it fun and let them pick out an outfit for you to try on.

You can also personalize, by adding some patches or pins to your pre-loved clothing.

Added bonus: Vintage is so in right now. Every time I go to the store it amazes me how fashion has come full circle. With the right finds, your kids are going to be very on trend.

Related: Debit vs. Credit: Which Card Is Better?

4. Use your credit card so you’ll be earning valuable rewards on all your purchases.

Finally, no matter how many money-saving tips you’re able to use in your favor, chances are you’re still going to be forking over some money for school supplies and back-to-school clothes.

Why not earn some rewards on those purchases?

With the right credit card in your wallet, you could be earning up to 4% back in cash rewards on all your “beginning of school” purchases.

If you have the in your wallet, for insurance, you can earn 4% cash back on all gas and grocery store purchases.

This means that if you pick up some of your supplies at your local grocery store chain, you’re going to be getting 4% back.

And as an added bonus, some Walmart Supercentres are classified under the “grocery” category, although it varies from location to location. So, to start, perhaps make a smaller purchases on your credit card first to see how your local Walmart Supercentre is classified.

Another way to make sure you’re getting your 4% back is gift cards.

Many grocery stores sell gift cards and a good number of those gift cards are for places where school supplies can be purchased:

  • Winners,
  • Walmart,
  • Staples,
  • Shoppers Drug Mart (added bonus for scoring some PC Optimum points on your back-to-school shopping as well)…
  • even the Dollarama.

With a little fancy footwork and some planning, you can earn maximum rewards on all of your back to school purchases.

A no-fee option

Perhaps you love the above idea, but you would rather credit card that has no annual fee.

The could be the better choice.

With this card, you won’t be getting 4% cash back ‒ but if you pick “grocery” as your spending category, you’ll be earning 2% back following the steps above. Not bad for a no-fee card.

Plus, you also get to choose a second 2% back spending category ‒ and a third category if you have your cash back rewards deposited into a Tangerine savings account.

Just be sure NOT to treat your credit card as extra income. Remember to set your budget and stick to it.

Related: Top No Fee Credit Cards with 1% Cash Back (or More) On All Purchases

We’d love to hear from you

How do you deal with pricey school supplies and long “must have” lists?

Do you have any tips to share with our readers about back-to-school shopping?

Please let us know in the comments below.