Tips for Smart Back-to-School Shopping

By Tracey Dowdy

School supply displays have been in stores pretty much since school got out last term and retailers have been targeting you and your kids all summer with what’s trending. That marketing has made an impact and your kids know exactly what backpack, tech, and clothes they want for this Fall – and I bet you do too because you’ve probably heard it a thousand times.

Sixty percent of parents say their kids influence at least half of their back-to-school purchases, which explains Money Magazine’s findings that parents with school age children will spend an average of $630.36 on back-to-school shopping, earning retailers a whopping $24.9 billion.

But before you panic, take a few minutes to review these tips to keep both your kids and your budget under control:

1. Before you step foot outside the door, set the ground rules. Grab your list, let your kids know how much flexibility there is and what you’re willing to spend, and whether you’re going to splurge on extras. Set boundaries like “You can have a new lunchbox or a new outfit” or “You can choose one item with characters or a name brand logo.” It’ll cut down on in-store meltdowns and save you both frustration in the store.

2. eBates splits the commission they receive from retailers with you so you get cash back for online purchases. Right now they’re offering special back-to-school deals with double cash back for purchases from retailers like Lenovo, Old Navy, and Staples.

3. Sites like often offer cards at a 5-10% discount and when layered with in-store sales and coupons those gift cards translate into significant savings.

4. Take an inventory of what you have so you don’t end up buying items you don’t need. Good quality backpacks and lunchboxes can sometimes last more than a year and some of what your fifth grader used last year can be passed down to your seconder grader. I have a drawer of random pens and pencils, odd sharpeners and rulers, so I always “shopped” at home before shopping in-store.

5. Buy your basics in bulk to stock up for the year. Items like paper, pencils, erasers and tape all go on sale as soon as school starts and stocking up in September means you’re set for the rest of the school year.

6. Make sure you pay attention to what’s approved and not allowed based on the list sent home by teachers or the school. Some teachers specify the exact calculator they need or may not allow notebooks with cartoon characters. Paying attention the first time means you won’t have to go back and replace items.

7. Instead of sending in the entire supply list at once, send in only what’s needed at the beginning of the school year. A smaller supply tends to make kids more conscious and less likely to lose or give everything away. Re-stock the supplies as needed throughout the year.

8. Buy local or at least shop at mom and pop shops when you can. We all love a bargain and school supplies can add up but buying from local stores rather than the big box retailers will stimulate your local economy and help a neighbour at the same time.

9. Let your kids buy the trendy items with their own money. If they absolutely have to have that Star Wars backpack or Minions lunchbox, let them pay for it out of their allowance or savings. Having them spend their own money on an item will make them think twice about what they really need and will make them less careless about losing the item or treating it poorly.

10. Take the time to network with other parents to find the best deals, find out which lunchbox stands up to the wear and tear of an 8 year old, or where to find that one style of folder your 13 year old insists on. There are Facebook groups, online discussions and parent/caregiver groups connected to your child’s school.

11. Mail in those rebate coupons. Don’t choose a product for the rebate if you’re not going to take the time to mail it in. Those rebates add up and it only takes a few minutes to complete the information – and it feels like free money when that check arrives in the mail!

12. Wait to buy clothes until after school starts. I know it’s all about the first day of school but most of the best deals come later in September. Items like boots, denim jeans, sweaters and coats always come with bigger discounts later in the fall.

13. Many states offer tax-free days, so make sure you take advantage of those opportunities. Again, stacking your deals – coupons, rebates, in-store sales – coupled with tax-free shopping can mean big bucks.

14. Consider shopping earlier next year. Many schools send home the next year’s supply list at the end of the year, so once those school supplies hit the shelves in June start stocking up a little at a time. Retailers rotate sale items on a weekly basis so chances are you’ll be able to scoop up deals throughout the summer.

15. Finally, make the whole experience a teachable moment. Help your kids to understand basic marketing principles, like where items are placed in the store to get their attention – e.g. the most kid-appealing products are displayed at their eye level. Teach them the difference between wanting something and needing something – “You need gym shoes” vs. “You don’t need $200 gym shoes.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Are You Ready to Blab?

By Chantal Bechervaise

Were you ever called a blabbermouth as a kid? I admit to being called a blabbermouth a couple of times as I have a tendency to talk a lot. That may come in handy now with an increasingly popular video chat service called Blab. Blab is a live-streaming app which allows up to four people to chat simultaneously as an audience watches. Observers can leave comments, register likes, and even switch places with one of the four video chatters if invited by the host.

One of the attractions of Blab is that it’s very simple to use. Here’s how it works:

First go to, click on ‘Start a new blab’ and create a description for what you would like to talk about. You can select up to three tags to help people find your chat and decide if you want the chat to go live now or sometime in the future.

You will then be provided with a link that you can share with others to invite them to your chat. When people click on the link they can then choose to ‘subscribe’ to the chat, which means they’ll get a notification once it starts.

You can also record your chats by clicking on the record button that will appear in the top left of your Blab screen. Once you click the record button, you will be provided with an embed link which you can use to share your chat via email, your blog or various social media platforms.

If you are the chat host, you can allow others to join your chat. (You need at least one other person for the conversation to begin.) As host, you can also:

  • Accept people into the chat. People can request to join the chat but you must accept them before they can participate.
  • Block off seats so others can’t join the chat. This is useful if you are conducting an interview and only want to include specific people.
  • Ban people. Banned people will still be able to listen to your chat but they won’t be able to interact with you or any other participants.
  • Mute yourself or others on the chat. Mute can be useful if there is a lot of background noise.
  • Change the topic. The host can change the chat topic by clicking on the edit icon at the top right of the Blab screen. It can also be changed by entering “/topic” into the comments box followed by the new name for the chat. Conversations can go off on a tangent quite easily, so it’s important to keep the listeners up-to-date on the current topic.

Joining someone else’s Blab chat

If you receive a link to a Blab or see one on social media, you can click on the link to join in or, if it hasn’t started yet, hit the subscribe button to get a notification when the chat goes live.

You can also go to and search for chats that are currently taking place or are scheduled for a future date. Just click on one or more tags on the left side of the screen to see all the live and scheduled chats in those categories.

In many ways, Blab is easier to use than Google Hangouts and is a lot more fun! It can be used as a way for people to get together and debate current topics and events, have short meetings with remote workers, or to collaborate on a group project, and I have already seen people using it for live weekly talk shows.

Want to see Blab in action? Check out the VZWBuzz Recap, which took place on Wednesday, September 3.

CBechervaise67Chantal is located in Ottawa, Ontario. She is passionate about everything related to the World of Work: Leadership, HR, Social Media and Technology. You can read more from Chantal at her TakeItPersonelly blog or follow her on Twitter @CBechervaise.