Late summer is a tough time of year financially for Toronto mom Monica Belyea. That’s when she faces the double whammy of back-to-school shopping for her kids, coupled with looming upfront school-related costs – opting for the pizza lunch program her son enjoys, for example.
This year, things are more difficult than usual. She finds that her weekly food budget “can’t get me through the week anymore,” and after months of paying higher prices for things like gas, “I just don’t have that much money to make. the ride,” the single mum-of-two said.
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For Belyea, back-to-school shopping this time around means “just looking at what’s doable in this new world where things are more expensive.”
She is not alone; many parents across Canada are wondering how to manage their children’s back-to-school needs this time around. Although Statistics Canada reported that the country the inflation rate saw its first drop in a year this weekmany prizes — including groceries – are still on the rise.
CBC News spoke to personal finance specialists and a business research expert for tips on cutting back-to-school costs.
Establish budgets; shop your home
Toronto-based silver specialist Melissa Leong has heard from others about higher prices and “shrinkflation” – when companies reduce packaging or product size but keep the price the same – and noticed it herself while shopping.
“There are fewer pencils in the box, but they cost the same as usual,” she said.
The author of the guide to personal finance Happy Go Money: Spend wisely, save wisely and enjoy lifesaid families need to be “more, more organized” when shopping for back-to-school this year, as multiple factors “strain every Canadian’s wallet.”
“My friends talk a lot about being worried about lunches – and making healthy, appropriate lunches for their kids, because their grocery bills are skyrocketing.”
WATCH | Melissa Leong’s financial tips for saving on back-to-school shopping:
Cost-cutting strategies you can try, she said, include “shopping at home” to see what supplies you already have, comparing prices carefully between stores, waiting to buy certain items when offers are more plentiful and use coupon code apps when shopping online.
If your family is on an extremely tight budget, Leong noted that some community programs and agencies provide free backpacks and school supplies, so you can try contacting groups in your neighborhood for more information.
Combine sales, coupons, store offers
Pat Hollett sees many new names and faces in Canadian Savings Group, the volunteer-run website and social media initiative she founded, where she and other bargain-hunting experts share special offers and grocery coupons. Around 6,000 people have joined in the past two months alone, pushing the group’s Facebook following to over 100,000.
“Everything has gone up in price and Canadians are struggling to make ends meet – that’s what I hear every day,” said Hollett, who is based in Barrie, Ont., and is the group’s CEO. .
“There are only so many things you can control — you can’t control gas prices, you can’t control the housing market — but you can control how much you pay for grocery bills. So our mission is to help Canadians save money on their grocery costs.”
Like Leong, Hollett recommends starting simple.
“Don’t take the first thing you see. Shop around and pay the lowest possible price for the same item,” she said. “Best price where you can…Try other brands, if they’re cheaper.”
Its next-level strategy, however, is to use multiple techniques at once: using coupons, cashback offers and apps, and exploiting points card offers to reduce prices as much as possible.
Here’s how it might work: Suppose a store sells your child’s favorite cereal for $4.77 this week. There may also be a manufacturer’s coupon (printable from a website or a hard copy found at a physical store) that offers additional savings per box.
In addition to the sale and coupon, a particular grocer may also offer a deal to point card holders who purchase five boxes of cereal. Layering these three discount techniques could equate, for example, to paying just 77 cents per box, Hollett explained.
She explained how shopping this way can save families up to several hundred dollars a month and could be applied this very week, for example, on items like kids’ lunch kits in Atlantic Canada, a brand popular cheese cracker in Quebec and a six-pack of tissue boxes in Ontario.
It may require a change of mindset and habit for some, as well as additional time commitments, but “it all depends on how much work you put into it,” Hollett said. “Saving money for families is really hard, so every dollar you save will help you buy other things.”
Look for deals. Teach children to budget.
The questions Enoch Omololu has received from readers of his personal finance website reflect the growing economic pressures Canadians are facing, whether it’s questions about stopping automatic payments, savings, on people asking to tap into RESPs to cover their children’s expenses (the answer to that last question, he pointed out, is that you can’t).
“Disposable income has been stretched to the limits, physically, and people are struggling to pay for things they would normally ignore and mindlessly pay for,” said Winnipeg-based SavvyNewCanadians.com founder .
Among the cost-cutting tips he’s using with his own family this season:
Comparison shopping for large purchases, such as electronics, combined with finding manufacturer discounts.
Major purchases (children’s retailers have up to 75% off summer clothes, he says, that could be layered for fall or purchased for next year).
Search for gently used items in thrift stores.
Weigh which items to spend more on and opt for generic or discounted versions for others.
Omololu also advises involving children in some financial conversations and decision-making.
WATCH | How Enoch Omololu turns back-to-school shopping into a lesson in budgets:
Her eight-year-old, for example, needs three pairs of shoes this fall: one pair indoors for school, another for after-school care, and a third for general outdoor use.
As a lesson, Omololu made a deal with his son: the youngster can choose a brand new pair (for which Omololu will find the lowest possible price). The remaining two pairs will be the ones her mom and dad choose – maybe new, maybe from a thrift store. If he destroys the fancy sneakers by kicking rocks, the replacements will also be an affordable pair chosen by his parents.
“It’s about involving them in the process and making them understand that funds are not – money is not – an unlimited resource for [their] parents,” Omololu said.
For some parents, how to afford back-to-school items was a concern even before school was out. Reusing crayons, water bottles, lunch bags, and other supplies for another school term, carefully weighing new versus thrift store purchases, and talking to her kids about cutting costs are all the tactics Winnipeg parent Bamidele Sanusi is employing this year.
With his wife currently on maternity leave with their youngest, the father-of-three says saving for back-to-school and cutting back on discretionary spending is important “to be able to manage recurring costs, which are rent, gas, phone bills and the like. Now is the time to be wise with your spending.
WATCH | Rising prices have made back-to-school shopping difficult for many: