back-to-school shopping

Aug 28: Best from the blogosphere

August 28, 2017

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 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 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 25: Best from the blogosphere

August 25, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin



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 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 and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Back to school shopping: A teachable moment

August 15, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


One end-of-summer ritual for families with school age children is the annual pilgrimage to buy school supplies and fall clothes. But the cost of back-to-school shopping seems to escalate more every year, particularly if name brand clothing, tablet computers and smartphones are on the list.

However, getting ready for the new school term is an ideal time for you to help your child learn the difference between “needs” and “wants.” It is also an opportunity to teach them basic financial literacy skills like budgeting and managing their money.

Start by making a list of what each child requires including school uniforms (if applicable) and school supplies. Then go through closets to see what still fits and what you can salvage from last year. You will likely find clothing items in good condition that are too small for one child but can be used by another. Backpacks and desks may yield a supply of paper, pens and calculators left over from last year.

Then go online with your children to find out the price you can expect to pay for the key items on your list. Check out several different stores to find the best deals. Once you have a price list, create a budget with each child. If you can afford it, you may wish to add some “wiggle room” for unexpected purchases.

Depending on the age of your children, they can shop alone or with you. But regardless of the new gadgets or trendy items they are attracted to, remind them they have to stay on budget. Encourage them to comparison shop and wait for sales if possible to make their money go further.

Try not to shop when you or your children are tired, hungry or pressed for time. In these circumstances, you may end up taking the path of least resistance and overspend just to get it over with.

Here are some other hints for keeping your costs down and making back to school shopping a teachable moment:

  1. Get receipts: You may think you know what school supplies your child needs, but more often than not, this year’s teacher will want something different than the teacher asked for last year (i.e. individual binders for each subject instead of one large binder with dividers). Receipts mean you can easily return anything you don’t need.
  2. Don’t buy everything at once: There are always sales. Children don’t need winter clothing in September, so wait until a better selection at lower prices is available later in the fall. Also, hand-me-downs in good condition will likely surface once other families realize their children can no longer wear last year’s snowsuit.
  3. Name brands: Generally name brands and goods that have logos are more expensive than generic products. However, don’t fully discount your child’s need to conform in order to be accepted. You may be able to meet your child part-way and purchase some of these items at discount malls or end of season sales.
  4. Coupons: Look in the local paper and online for discount coupons. If you or your child have a smart phone, mobile coupons may also be an option.
  5. Lost, damaged items: How many times have you had to purchase a math set because pieces were lost or replace lunch boxes that disappeared on the school bus? Lost cell phones or computers can be particularly expensive to replace.

Some loss or breakage is inevitable. However, you can help your kids to become more responsible if you make it clear that if they are careless they will have to contribute to the cost of replacement items out of their allowance or earnings from a part-time job. Also, make sure that they know that where big ticket items go missing, you may not be able to afford to replace them at all.

Do you have tips for back to school shopping? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?
29-Aug College/University Credit card options for your college kid
04-Sept College/University What kinds of insurance does your child need?