Have you seen all the Back to School ads? Everything from clothes, backpacks, shoes, laptops, school supplies, lunch packing paraphernalia, decorations, organizing gear, furniture, food… it’s enough to make your head spin and your wallet bleed. Surprisingly though, when you dig down deeper, some of these so called “specials” aren’t specials at all, they’re normal price! So how do you know what’s a steal and how do you get the best price?
Time, Research and a Healthy amount of Stocking Up.
This post might be a little late to be researching and checking prices (as a lot of schools have already started and school supply lists have been out for weeks). Fortunately for my family PreK doesn’t have much in the way of supply lists and my husband never uses more than 1 spiral notebook and a pencil for school. Also, their schools both start after Labor Day. But I’ve been checking out the ads that keep coming through our house and always find it amazing that lots of these items aren’t even on sale. It’s usually the same 10 items on sale everywhere for approximately the same price. Instead the best deals seem to be coming from places like office supply stores that are offering “free” after rebate deals.
So what do you do. Well, the same thing you probably do when you go grocery shopping every week.
- Make a price book – Most do this at least to some level in their head. You “know” a good deal for the food you’re always buying, But writing it down, especially for like items of slight different packaging, different brands and from different stores helps you keep track of everything and know that you’re getting a good price for what you’re buying.
- Compare prices and sale prices until you find the best deal – Depending how much time you have, it might be the best price in the next week or the best price in the next month. You’ll have to buy what you need by the time you need it, but don’t forget the discounts after school is in full swing and the stores are slashing their prices to get things off their shelves. (See point 4 on what do after school is in full swing.)
- Buy it – Even if it’s not “really” free (rebates that give you money back later) or Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals that require you to buy more than you need. If you need it buy it at the best price per item (especially if it’s an item you could possibly use more than one of) even if that means buying it in bulk. Of course if it’s something expensive or a only-need-one type item (I’m thinking graphing calculators or laptops or for some even backpacks), resist some of the more ridiculous “deals” that aren’t a deal at all.
- Stock up for the future and keep a box of extra supplies – In our house, we have a box in our garage that holds binders from over a decade ago (cleaned out of their previous contents), notebooks with half the pages (the ones that were used) ripped out, stacks of binder paper from countless unused reams from who knows where, and boxes of pens and pencils (mostly from Costco). Sure these items aren’t the latest and greatest in office or school supplies, but we are never in a shortage of the essentials.The best time to start this nice collection is right after school is in full swing and all those school supplies you just bought are on discount (think 50% off or more). You can also look at what was used (or not completely used) from the previous year and reclaim a couple still-in-good-condition items, instead of throwing out the lot and starting over every fall. Then mid-year when your family needs to restock on their supplies you’ll know just where to go for that extra that you got at super-sale prices. Or if you’re really lucky most of the school supplies you would have had to buy next year will already be in the box. Then you can just concentrate on shopping for all the other new school year items (clothes, gear, tuition, fees, pictures… oh, the list goes on and on).
This fall we have two in our family going to school (or back to school actually). First my eldest daughter is starting her very first school year and going to a co-op Preschool. She is super excited and has been telling people she’s going to preschool since February. Second, my husband is going back to school for his masters (he already has a PhD in another discipline). I will admit it’s a bit odd (when I really think about it), my child is going to school while my husband is going back to school. But then again all except the last 9 months of our married lives (7 years at the end of this month!) he’s been in school, so we’re also very used to it. The commute to get to his new school on the other hand will be interesting, along with did I mention I’m going to be working as close to full time as possible? Yes, I give you permission to call us crazy. 🙂
What I’ve been thinking the most about this new chapter of our lives is “Is there anything I can do to make it easier?” We anticipate our finances to be super tight (time to revamp the budget and really stick to it). We expect our schedules to be off the chart busy (better make sure we plan some family time and weekly date nights) and a bit all over the place. And we expect to be doing a lot of “extras”, extra work, extra studying, extra household chores during what used to be our “down time” (after the girls went to bed). I think the biggest challenge is going to be trying to keep a good perspective on this short (likely 2 years) period of our lives, so we don’t burn out, while also being realistic about what we can and cannot do (beyond the necessities).
So, me being The Mom and planner extraordinare (at least in this family), this is what I plan to do:
- Cleaning schedule. Our family has flirted with this idea. We even went as far as setting one up. But when someone else (other than the person who set it up) is responsible for 80% of the cleaning, it doesn’t really get followed much. But this fall, I will be at least 50% involved, so time to revive the house cleaning schedule
- Calendaring and schedules. For the last 3 months, my husband and I have been spending a couple minutes on Sunday night going over the next week or two’s schedule along with planning out our meals. This has been such a good thing for us. We start the week on the same page and there aren’t any surprises about what each person has to do. We’ll continue this, but we’ll have to really stick to only 2 calendars (one on google for me with handy e-mail reminders for upcoming events and one on our written calendar – that my husband mainly uses and also where we have our meals planned).
- Get back in the fold when it comes to meal planning. I’m going to start helping out with meals again; planning, buying, prepping and making. Hopefully this meals a little less starch and a little more vegetables! 🙂
- Revamp the family budget with the extra school tuitions and the cut in pay (from working less).
- Stop eating out, period. As a family we don’t eat out much, but occasionally we find ourselves tempted by going out and give in (because of poor planning or we’re out for the day). But if we plan a little more ahead and we make sure we aren’t out during meal times, then we could save a bit even on our very occasional eating out.
- Stay away from places like Target unless the trip is necessary and then stick to the list of “need to buy”s. It always seems like certain stores we (*cough* I) visit seem to suck a few more dollars out of the wallet than was intended. (Can anyone say “Dollar Spot”?)
- Guard that date night like it’s life or death. The worse thing that could happen during this busy time is for my husband and I to grow apart. It would then trickle down to every part of our lives and our family. So we need to guard that night and how much we burn ourselves out during the week so that we can still enjoy that time together.
- Think about the dreams and goals we have for our girls and our family for this next year. I’ll have some one-on-one time with my younger daughter while her sister is at school, so what will I do with her during this time? How do I want to make the time I have with my kids special and formative for them?
- Stay plugged in with a small group. With our changing schedule, it’s likely we won’t be able to continue in the same small group we’re currently in. This could easily lead to” just dropping it for now” and not picking up anything in it’s place. So instead, maybe we’ll co-host or co-lead one in our home… with a potluck before hand (dinner for the night, check; not have to go anywhere for small group, check; fellowship, check). That idea is still in the works.
- Develop good habits. Ok, this one I’ve already started. I won’t say I have the best discipline in starting something new. So that’s why I started these way back, to give me time to make a new habit. These habits include:
- Going to sleep on time (so far, I’m 50-50 on this one)
- Daily bible reading (95% on this one)
- Daily journaling (total fail on this one, will need to jump start this one again)
- Exercise (5% on this one, need a new plan to try)
- Eating healthy – fruits, vegetables, fiber, less cheese (love my cheese!), salads (50% on this one, hopefully will change with me in the food buying-prepping cycle)
So that’s my starting list of things I’ve been thinking of and plan to do. Now my plans need to move to “In Progress” and hopefully I’ll be a little more ready for the fall (which for us starts in about 2 weeks). 🙂
Oops, I didn’t realize that this didn’t go out this week as planned. I was wondering why there were no new comments. 🙂
If you’ve ever gone through the Dave Ramsey plan or been advised by someone from several generations past (or even been keeping current with Suze Orman recently), you’ve probably heard that “Cash is King” and the benefits of living entirely on a cash system tooted. (This does include checking accounts, checkbooks and debit cards – as technically it’s still your “cash” on hand. What it doesn’t include is credit of any kind.)
But have you done? Have you thought about it (or is this the first time you’re hearing it)? Have you been tempted to just “buck the norm” and do it? Or do you think this is all crazy talk?
I have to admit that I often wonder if I (and my family) could live entirely on cash. We’re not highly dependent on credit (not including the mounting student loans that my husband is acquiring with his multiple post graduate degrees). We loathe the idea of a car loan. And we only buy what we know we have money for even if we’re using credit (meaning we’ve never held a balance on a credit card we’ve owned to date).
So why do we still use credit and why are we hesitant to use cash and debit cards only. For one, the rewards. Of course, everything is changing right now so this benefit might not be as alluring as it used to be, but my husband and I both get cash back from our cards and it’s a nice “bonus” every once in a while. The other reason is the extra security you get from a credit card. If a purchase is bogus or sometimes even if the purchase just isn’t up to your standards, the credit card company will stand on your side for a refund (or in the case of unapproved transactions, will reverse the charges). I’ve heard (but I could be wrong) that with debit cards, the money essentially comes straight out of your account and once it’s “gone”, it’s gone.
So, if you’ve gone to Cash Only, how did you do it and why? And would you recommend a frugal family like ours (who doesn’t really use credit like “credit” anyways) to go Cash Only too? Inquiring minds want to know.