Tag Archives: back-to-school

Aug 28: Best from the blogosphere

Whether your children are tiny tots, teenagers or twenty-somethings, back to school shopping can really break the bank. And depending on the age and stage of the child, smart phones, tablets and laptops can really up the ante.

I have memories of walking through stores with both kids randomly throwing “essentials” into the shopping cart and having to carefully filet their selections before we reached the cash. Inevitably, every year after the big shopping trip I also discovered a stash of duplicate items left over from the previous year.

Here are a series of articles with ideas that can help you keep your back to school costs in line.

Money Crafters’ Heather Levin offers 14 Tips to Save Money on Back to School Supplies & Shopping List. She encourages readers to hit up the Dollar Store for some incredible bargains. She also suggests that you start looking for coupons in your Sunday paper, and search online for coupons at sites like RetailMeNot, which even has a special section on their site for back to school coupon codes.

10 Back-To-School Shopping Tips that Save Money on parenting.com recommends that you stick to your list and hold off on buying trendy gear until after the school year starts. She also encourages families to round up a couple of other parents with kids the same gender but different ages, and host an annual clothes swap. “Trade toys and books, too! You’ll save a bundle,” she says.

Tips from RealSimple on How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping by Amy Leibrock include focusing on getting the best price for the most expensive items on your list through coupons, incentive programs, rebates, weekly specials and online-only deals. Also, once you’ve decided where you’re going to shop, she says look for discounted gift cards for those stores on sites like CardSwap. You’ll save as much as 25% on cards recipients don’t want.

Learning how to save money and make smart financial choices is the focus of the blog myMoneyCoach. How to Get the Most Out of Your Back-to-School Budget advocates balancing the purchase of pricier name brands with generic products by offering to pay the first $20 or whatever your budget will allow for the item and letting your child pay for the rest. Younger kids can use gift money towards their “wants” and older kids can use part-time earnings to top up what they’d prefer to buy.

And finally, 6 tips for frugal back-to-school savings on Bankrate reminds readers to comparison shop online first to try and avoid impulse buying.Following the brands you use and the stores you regularly shop at on Facebook and Twitter, as well as signing up on mailing lists, can also net you back-to-school savings.


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Aug 29: Best from the Blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Late August is one of the most expensive times of the year for families with young children. Kids seem to grow like weeds in the summer and often have to be outfitted from head to toe. And expensive computers, tablets, smart phones and sports equipment are now on many back-to-school lists list along with low tech supplies like pencils, pens, binders and post-it notes.

Here are some ideas I have gleaned from other bloggers to help save you money:

  1. Check with the school: Find out from your child’s school what exactly you are expected to provide. There is no sense buying all sorts of notebooks, binders and pens if the basics are already handed out to students.  And teachers often have strong preferences about how they want students to complete and organize their work.
  2. Make a list: Before heading out on a shopping trip for school supplies, check what items from previous years are unused and which binders and back packs can be re-used because they are still in good condition. Then make a list and stick to it.
  3. Take inventory: Try on coats, boots and other clothing items to see if anything still fits. Where you have several children close in age, determine what can be handed down. Consider a clothing swap of gently used items with friends and neighbours.
  4. Spread it out: While you may feel pressured to buy everything at once before school starts, you won’t need snowsuits and boots until November. Spreading out necessary purchases over the next few months until you see great sales will take the pressure off your budget.
  5. Online deals: Major retailers with bricks and mortar stores often offer deals online. In addition to using coupon sites, like RetailMeNot, there are a number of price comparison sites, including shopbot.ca and ShopToIt.ca, that list how much an item costs at various retailers. When shopping online, choose retailers that offer deals such as free shipping, promo codes and discounts.
  6. Buy generic: Pre-teens and teens in particular may be into “name brands” that can cost hundreds of dollars more than generic equivalents of similar quality. Giving your children a limited clothing budget or telling them they have to earn the money to buy trendy items will help them to better understand the value of a dollar and keep your overall costs down.
  7. Shop alone: This may or may not work depending on the age of your child and what you are shopping for. However, the easiest way to avoid arguments about buying more expensive school supplies and clothes with the latest Disney characters may be to shop without your kids so they won’t distract you from your mission of finding and buying items that are the best value.
  8. Used sports equipment: Children grow out of skates and skis every year. Outfitting a minor hockey player can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. Some sports stores sell hockey equipment starter kits for better prices than if you buy each item individually. You may find gently used equipment on sites like Kijiji. Craigslist, Ebay or a local classified website. Some arenas have sports exchanges or you can talk to parents of older hockey players.
  9. Last year’s model: Contrary to what your kids may tell you, they don’t need the latest iPhone or iPad. The odds of mobile devices being lost or broken are very high. Earlier models may be offered by carriers for under $100 and you can often share minutes on a family plan. Also, kids typically text as opposed to sending emails so a costly data plan may be unnecessary.
  10. Extra-curricular activities: Extra-curricular activities like dancing, swimming, sports and music lessons are an important part of every child’s education but they can add up. Don’t fall in to the trap of signing your children up for more activities than the family schedule can mange for more money than you can afford. Go over the brochure for the local community centre with each child and pick one or two convenient activities that are offered at a price that fits within your budget.

Also see:

Back-To-School Costs: How To Avoid Blowing Your Budget
How to Save Money on School Supplies
Back-To-School Shopping: Five Money Saving Tips
Back-to-School Shopping on a Budget | MintLife Blog
Back to School Tips – How to Balance Your Budget with Needs and Wants

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Aug 22: Best from the Blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we have a pot pourri of stories from some of our favourite bloggers who have continued to write compelling copy through the now waning, long hot days of summer.

Are you a techno-phobe or an early adopter? Alan Whitton aka Bigcajunman writes about how old financial technology habits die hard on the Canadian Personal Finance Blog. Despite some lingering security paranoia, he now deposits cheques by photographing them with his cell phone.

One of the primary changes personal finance advisors suggest that clients make to save money is to put away their credit cards and start spending cash. On Money We Have, Barry Choi explores what happens if you decide to use cash and debit more. He says that depending on your personal situation, this may affect your credit score, you will forgo travel reward points and you also can lose out on other standard benefits like travel insurance and auto insurance covering car rentals.

Mark Seed on My Own Advisor answers a reader’s question, How would you manage a $1 million portfolio? His bias is to own stocks indirectly via passively managed Exchange Traded Funds for the foreseeable future to get exposure to U.S. and international equity markets.  However, he says his selection of investments will likely differ after age 65 and in future he might hire a fee-only financial advisor or use a robo-advisor to manage his portfolio.

I recently helped my son find an apartment in Toronto so I thought Kendra Mangione’s article From a house to a bedroom: What $1,000 a month can rent across Canada was particularly interesting. She says you will pay $950 for a single bedroom with an ensuite bathroom in a Vancouver suburb but $950 will get you a two-bedroom, 864 sq. ft. townhouse close to downtown Regina and the university.

And whether you have children who are new graduates or you are only beginning to help pay for your kids’ post-secondary education, check out Parents Deserve a College Graduation Present, Too in the New York Times. This piece explores a Korean-American tradition for former students to give parents sometimes lavish gifts, once they have their diplomas in hand.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

BOOK REVIEW: More money for beer and textbooks

By Sheryl Smolkin

4Sep-moremoneyforbeer

 

“More Money for Beer and Textbooks” by Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard is 200 easy-to-read and digest pages of down-to-earth advice about how to finance a post-secondary education without going into massive debt. And the authors do not advocate living an austere party-free existence.

Both are in their mid-twenties and graduated from the University of Manitoba. Kyle is a high school teacher and Justin is the Dean of Residence at St. John’s College on the University of Manitoba Campus. They also blog at myuniversitymoney.com and  youngandthrifty.ca.

They recognize how difficult it is to get a high school or university student to sit down and read a book that won’t be on a final exam — particularly a personal finance book!

That’s why instead of counselling extreme frugality, they look at post-secondary education from the perspective of two guys who wish they knew then, what they know now. They figure they would each be at least $5,000 richer if they had taken their own advice.

They start off by comparing the cost of four years of school living away from home (about $80,000) to living at home (about $34,000). They also run the numbers for a two year college degree ($30,000 vs. $11,000). Nevertheless, they conclude that higher education is and will continue to be an excellent investment in an information-based economy.

When evaluating whether going away to school is a worthwhile investment, they weigh the pros and cons of on and off campus living for students.

One interesting living option proposed is for parents with more than one child attending the same school to consider buying a house with additional bedrooms for renters to help defray the mortgage costs. Prohibitive housing costs in cities like Vancouver or Toronto may make this idea impractical, but it could be a workable solution in smaller college towns.

For kids or their parents who think Canada and provincial student loans are the answer, the comprehensive section on applying and qualifying for student loans and paying them back is an eye opener.

The application process is so complex, the book gives a checklist of 16 types of information to have available before even beginning to complete the online form. And depending on parental income, it is assumed that the Bank of Mom & Dad will make a major contribution to school costs.

Repayment of student loans doesn’t start until six months after the end of university, but interest starts accruing at the end of the final semester. Former students can opt for a variable interest rate of prime plus 2.5% or a fixed interest rate of prime plus 5%. A bankruptcy will not wipe the slate clean but a Repayment Assistance Plan is available in limited circumstances.

The chapter on scholarships and bursaries reveals the surprising fact that every year in Canada about $7-million in free money earmarked for post-secondary education goes unclaimed. There are lots of great suggestions about where to find scholarships and12 scholarship tips anyone can use.

For example, the authors say don’t just Google “scholarships” and apply for the top three like everyone else. The people who really succeed in the realm of scholarships are those who apply EVERYWHERE.

Too much trouble?

Most scholarship applications are similar and once a student has applied to several, he/she can cut and paste the rest with a little creative tweaking. And if the application process is really complicated, the odds are the applicant won’t have much competition.

There are also lots of good illustrations of how scholarship applicants can market themselves. For example, a former McDonald’s employee can emphasize the positive by describing the experience as “building practical business and communications skills in an entry-level position while learning how to contribute positively to building a team atmosphere.”

Providing references with a summary of activities and attributes they may not be fully aware of is another great suggestion that could result in detailed and glowing letters of support for scholarship applications.

Trying to keep costs down while still having a good time?

Kyle and Justin suggest students drink at home instead of in a bar to improve their “booze-to-dollar” ratio. They can also score free soft drinks and save money each time they offer to be the designated driver. For those with the space and inclination, they even suggest making homemade beer or wine can as another way to minimize cash spent on alcohol!

Other chapters deal with summer jobs, student tax returns, credit cards, budgeting basics and the importance of choosing an “in demand” career.

As both educators and recent graduates, the authors are able to strike the right balance between a breezy presentation and delivering lots of useful information. This book can be the catalyst for important discussions between parents and their college-bound offspring.

More Money for Beer and Textbooks can be purchased for $14.40 online at Chapters.

Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard
Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard

Aug 25: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

backtoschoolpicture

 

Welcome to the back to school issue of Best from the blogosphere. Regardless of what part of the country you live in, days are getting shorter, nights are cooler and there is a touch of colour on the few leaves that are already drifting to the ground.

That can only mean that soon the kids will be back in school and your “to do list” includes school supplies and provisions for school lunches.

In the Toronto Star, Dana Flavelle reports on a survey that says back to school shopping is going to be more expensive this year. Just over half of Canadians polled said they will spend more $200 on their sons and daughters (at 54% and 56% respectively), while 12% will fork over more than $400 for clothing and school supplies. To help stay on budget you may want to re-visit Back to school shopping: A teachable moment posted on savewithspp.com last year.

On Brighter Life, Diana Mancuso writes about preparing your child for back-to-school. Whether this is the first time youa re sending your child to school or you are a seasoned pro, preparation is always key to ensuring a smooth transition from summer vacation to the classroom.  For example, easing into back-to-school bedtime and morning routines plays a crucial role at this time of year.

If your child is heading off to college, you may be interested in Tori Flood’s article on Yahoo!NEWS discussing the dorm gadgets you don’t want to forget when heading back to school. Some of these like a smart TV and a wireless router may seem pretty over-the-top, particularly for students on a beer budget. But I really like the hot pot that can boil water like an electric kettle and also cook food directly so hungry students can avoid having to use the hotplate in the communal kitchen. A white noise machine might also be useful in noisy dorms.

Should your child have a smart phone or a dumb phone or any phone at all? Yahoo tech columnist Dan Tynan says give younger kids a dumb phone. A simplified feature phone that lets you talk to them and get their location is more than enough for most pre-tweens. Like training wheels on a bike, dumb phones are an excellent way to teach kids how to communicate through technology.

And going back to school isn’t just for kids. If you have been thinking about taking courses to upgrade or change careers, take a look at 10 ways you can afford to go back to school on Canadian Living. For example, you can use the federal government’s lifelong learning plan to take money out of your RRSP – without paying a penalty – to help pay for your post-secondary studies. Also, you don’t have to be a kid to have a registered educational savings plan (although the government will not augment your contributions),

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.