Save big on back-to-school expenses

This was originally published on Monday, 11 May, 2015, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Can you believe that summer is just around the corner? Soon kids will be out of school and enjoying their time off. As parents, we can’t help but think about back-to-school expenses coming in a few months. Tuition, uniforms, school supplies, and other school-related items can add up and put a financial burden on a household. If you plan ahead and start saving now, back-to-school will not be so financially stressful.

Before you start spending money, take inventory of what you have. You may have bought extra items last school year or bought more things throughout the year that weren’t used. Take a look at what your children bring home at the end of the year. Are their supplies useable for next year? Can you recycle them or find other uses for them?

• School-supply list: Ask the school if it has next school year’s supply list. Without a list you may buy items that aren’t needed or miss out on an important item. Stick to the list as much as possible. Some deals are a real bargain, others may cause you to pay more.

• Stick to the basics: Kids love to buy the newest and trendiest items. Young kids especially love to have their favorite cartoon character or superhero on their school supplies. Many of these items cost much more than plain non-trendy school supplies. If they want to stand out, let them personalize their supplies with stickers, markers, or even some printed pictures of their friends and family.

• Swap school supplies: Gather your extra supplies and invite other parents over to swap school supplies. Why stop at school supplies? Trade lightly used clothing, school uniforms, and even toys.

• Online deals: Much like Cyber Tuesday for the holidays, many online retailers offer great deals on back-to-school supplies, uniforms, and shoes. Ensure that items, especially sale items, can be returned. If items can be returned be aware of the return-by date and what form your refund will take. Some sites refund with gift cards or exchanges only.

• Social Media: Use social media to find great deals. Facebook usually has pages that are dedicated to selling or swapping items. Craigslist and eBay are sites that you can use to save money. Not only can you find items, but you could also sell items and make some money to help with your back-to-school shopping.

• Bulk items: If you have a large family or if your kids constantly lose their school supplies, consider buying in bulk. Because bulk items have less packaging, they tend to be less expensive. Buy school snacks and lunches in bulk if you have enough room to store them.

• Price matching: Some stores will match the advertised price of their competitors for the exact same item. Ask if that includes sales or items found on the Internet.

• Warranty: When shopping, especially online, look at the warranty of an item. Certain online retailers like LL Bean, Lands’ End, and REI have warranties on backpacks and jackets. They will replace them free of charge if they break. Understand warranties for pricier items such as graphing calculators and computers. Several stores offer extended warranties on high-priced items. It might be worth the few extra bucks to ensure that your electronics are safe.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at


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