Here’s an unexpected spillover effect from the rising cost of food in Canada: according to research by Ernst & Young (EY), sales of back-to-school items such as clothing, shoes, and stationary are expected to be “stagnant” this year, compared to a 3.7 per cent gain for the sector in 2013.
“The stage is set for an overall sluggish back-to-school season,” says Daniel Baer, EY Partner and Canadian Retail and Consumer Products Sector Leader. “Higher food and gas prices, inflation, and investment in new homes are leaving consumers with fewer dollars to spend on clothing and other traditional back-to-school items.”
Among the consumers feeling the pinch? Here’s my tried and true advice for stretching dollars come September.
Lesson 1: You Get What You Pay For
Last year, we bought my oldest daughter not one, but two backpacks. The first busted by Christmas and the second barely survived until the end of the school year. In both cases, the pulls pulled off the zippers and, later, the zippers themselves jammed. Many cheaply priced items may seem like a bargain at the beginning of the year but if you find yourself replacing them multiple times you’ll soon realize the flaw in the discount buying system. This year we’ll invest a bit more for something that’ll last the year (and hopefully longer).
Pencil cases are another unnecessarily throwaway item. Forgo the gimmicky kits with logos and images of whatever’s trending in your kid’s grade this year and opt for a hard plastic case with a locking lid (think Tupperware designed for pencils) that your kid will cart around for years to come.
Lesson 2: Plan Ahead
My wife is a master at long-term planning. (I’ve often joked that I suspect she’s already picked out my casket and funeral plot.) One of the many ways we benefit from that forward thinking is that she’ll wait for end-of-season sales to buy our kids’ clothes for the following year. Some of the stuff is discounted so steeply you wonder how it’s even worthwhile for them to sell it – T-shirts for $3, shorts and pants for $5, and sweaters for less than $10. I recently walked out of a Gap store with her carting two massive bags jammed full of clothing for next spring, and the total bill to outfit our two girls from head to toe was less than $100. If consumers really do keep their wallets closed this August and September, there are sure to be some bargains to be had for now, and next year.
Lesson 3: Find What’s New to You
Yes, it can be a tough sell telling your kids they can’t have the latest trends to start off the school year. But many secondhand shops, including chains like Value Village, do end up with brand new items they just weren’t appreciated by the first set of hands that held them. Failing that, you can offer them the full, mine-first retail experience by shopping at outlets like Winners, with a significantly smaller dent on your bank balance.
Lesson 4: Ease Into Extracurriculars
Participation in after-school athletics, music, and arts programs is key to a well-rounded education. But many of these activities require a steep investment in instruments or equipment. Again, no need to splurge on new. Retailers such as Play it Again Sports, sites such as Craig’s List and eBay, or even old-fashioned bulletin board postings at relevant venues can turn up great deals on “previously enjoyed” equipment.