Tech, bank accounts and cellphone plans: 3 tips for back-to-school savings

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With summer winding down, the annual splurge on pencils, notebooks and coloured folders has begun.

But old-fashioned school supplies like glue sticks and highlighters are just the beginning. There are also laptops, phones and calculators — not to mention new jeans, shoes and t-shirts.

Families expect to spend $168 per child this year, according to a recent survey by

Some of the standard pieces of advice for parents to cut down on expense and stress is to research the products and prices, comparison shop and get the kids involved in the budgeting process.

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Still, here are some extra tips you may not know about:

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Buying second-hand laptops and other back-to-school items

August and early September usually see retailers engaged in ruthless discount wars to attract parents’ back-to-school dollars. But the second-hand economy may save you even more — and it, too, kicks into full gear.

By the end of summer, many sellers are often eager to empty their garage, storage units and home, according to personal finance and travel expert Barry Choi of Money We Have. But many likely also realize it’s a good time to offload items that cater to the needs of back-to-school shoppers.

Kijiji said it noticed a supply spike in listings such as backpacks, mini-fridges, desks, office chairs and textbooks in August and September of last year 2018.

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Buying used may be especially useful to keep a lid on the most expensive piece of the back-to-school shopping list: laptops and other consumer electronics.

Many cost-conscious parents and students seem to already know this. eBay, for example, told Global News it saw laptop purchases increase by 20 per cent around back-to-school season last year compared to the previous two months.

But the seasonal increase in demand doesn’t seem to lead to higher prices.

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On Kijiji, August and September were two of the best months to buy a second-hand laptop last year, with median prices around $150, compared to a 12-month high of $170 in April.

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What to look for in a student bank account

Financial institutions are no strangers to the back-to-school retail warfare. Every year, there’s a deluge of offers seeking to entice students heading back to campus to open a new chequing account. The promotions this year entail sign-up bonuses like small cash gifts, points for a free trip to the movies, or a chance to win thousands of dollars in a lottery draw, according to a list compiled by financial products comparisons site

Student bank accounts usually come with lower fees than their grown-up counterparts, but not all of them offer unlimited free transactions and Interac e-Transfers.

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Also, student bank accounts offered by the big banks are generally automatically grandfathered into regular chequing accounts with monthly fees sometime after a student finishes school.

“We recommend that all Canadians re-evaluate their banking products on a yearly basis to assess how their options compared to others on the market. This is particularly important for students who are approaching their graduation date to ensure that they aren’t automatically signed up for a personal account with the same bank,” Victoria Shinkaruk at Ratehub said via email.

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Notably, Scotiabank’s Tangerine and CIBC’s Simplii Financial have regular no-fee bank accounts with unlimited transactions and free e-transfers.

Credit unions and smaller digital banks also offer a number of attractive student bank accounts. The catch, though, is to make sure they’re associated with an ATM network that’s close enough to campus.

Finally, choosing a financial institution with brick-and-mortar branches has some perks — like the ability to walk in and ask for a blank cheque if you’ve run out.

Still, “if you’re a client of an online bank you can get cheques delivered to your residence with a little planning ahead,” Shinkaruk said.

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How to choose a cellphone plan for your kids

The first step is figuring out what kind of phone and plan your child needs, according to Scott Hannah, CEO and president of the Credit Counselling Society (CSS). Step two is communicating your assessment and research findings to your offspring, who may have wild ideas.

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“Setting expectations beforehand will avoid meltdowns at the mall and allow your child to be involved in the decision making, knowing the maximum amount they have to spend each month,” Hannah said via email.

This year, parents will find a much wider choice of unlimited data plans, after Bell, Rogers and Telus joined smaller providers like Shaw Communications’ Freedom Mobile and SaskTel is offering data packages with no overage charges.

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“The advantage of a fixed fee for unlimited data is predictability of cost, which can make budgeting easier,” said Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, director of education and community awareness at CSS.

The question, though, is whether you really want to give your child or teen the ability to spend endless hours on Instagram, texting or downloading apps, Hannah cautioned.

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Cheaper plans with data caps can also help you teach your kids about money.

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“I can tell you it was a good learning opportunity for my boys when they went over their modest data plan and saw their allowance diminish as a result of the overage costs,” Hannah said.

Finally, WiFi can also be a cost-effective alternative to data plans, Yanchuk Oleksy said.

An added advantage is parents can install computer software to monitor and limit their child’s access to WiFi, which can be turned off in the evening to ensure a good night’s sleep, she added.

— With a file from Global News’ Arti Patel

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