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Back-to-school shopping tips for post-secondary students

By ATB Financial 31 August 2023 3 min read

While it may seem like summer just started, the beginning of a new school year is likely on your mind. Planning for a new semester can always stir up excitement and maybe a little bit of apprehension. How much will it all cost? How will you pay for it all? Where to start? 

Rest easy. We have compiled some back-to-school shopping tips that will help you feel prepared for the fall semester, whether your budget is healthy or limited.  

Here are a few tips to help you save this September.


Know your budget.

Determine how much you can comfortably spend using this student budget worksheet. Back-to-school shopping doesn't need to cost a small fortune, but it can get pricey if you’re not mindful of what you’re spending. Once you’ve determined how much you can afford to spend, write it down as a reminder to stay focused on buying only what you need. Review the course materials you will need for each of your classes. Books and other course materials (such as software subscriptions) can be a significant expense and you’ll need to budget for it. Have a little bit of money in your budget for unanticipated expenses so they don’t catch you off guard.

Tip #1: Keep your budget itemized and organized. Make room in your monthly budget to pay for the school supplies you need right now, and plan ahead for items you can purchase next month or later in the year. Avoid using a credit card unless you know you can pay it all off before your next payment is due. 


Take an inventory and write a list.

This is the perfect time to sort through your belongings such as household items and clothing to determine what you have and what new items are needed. Take stock of last year's school supplies, because chances are you still have notebooks, calculators, binders, backpacks and more that you can use again.

Tip #2: Number the items on each list in order of priority. The higher priority items are things you absolutely need for the start of the school year, such as textbooks or subscriptions. Lower priority items can be purchased later on, which makes your start-of-school-year expenses feel more manageable.


Shopping for school supplies

When it comes to school supplies, always shop around. Whether it’s textbooks, laptops or just basic supplies - deals are everywhere this time of year and some merchants may be offering lower prices than others. For example, publishing companies sometimes sell digital versions of textbooks for a portion of the price of a hardcover version. You can also try purchasing your books second hand.

And be sure to check online for deals—keep an eye out for currency exchanges or shipping charges that may bring the price back up. Shopping online also allows you to save time, and ultimately you’ll only buy what you need without being distracted by other items at the store. Naturally, if you can save money while supporting local businesses, that can be a win-win too.

Tip #3: Bigger ticket items like technology tend to last more than one school year. When you invest in these items, think about your needs over the next few years. What type of functionality will you need? Buy items that will last. 


Creating your back-to-school wardrobe

Despite what advertising seems to suggest, nobody needs a whole new wardrobe every September. If you are looking to save money over the long-run, think about creating a capsule wardrobe and only select a few items this fall that can be used to refresh existing outfits.

If you decide to pick up a few items, shop the end of season sales—summer clothes can be layered in cooler weather. Many consignment shops have created online store fronts that are great for purchasing gently-used items and can be coordinated well to create new outfits.

Tip #4: If brand names are important to you, choose a key piece or two to mix in with the generic brands to help keep your budget in check. Second hand and consignment stores often have quality brand name finds as well.

There are plenty of other expenses you may want to consider in your back-to-school budget such as tuition, cell phone plans, transit passes, on-campus dining and extra-curricular activity fees. No matter how you put your budget together, prioritize and stick to it! And don’t forget to try and save for the future whenever possible.

Need a little help with budgeting? Book an appointment with one of our experts. We’re here for you.

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