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Keep Back-To-School Shopping From Breaking the Bank

 

The time to start planning for smarter back-to-school shopping is now. While supplies like pencils, crayons and lunchboxes aren't big-ticket items, the costs can add up surprisingly quickly, especially if you have more than one child in school. In fact, families spend an average of about $594 on back-to-school supplies and clothes, a substantial amount of your monthly budget.

 

There are steps you can take to cut those costs and still get what you need.

 

  1. Start with a list and a budget. Before you set foot in a store, make a budget that fits your financial situation. Your kids may want the cooler $5 pencil case, but the basic $2 one does the job just as well. Get the list of required supplies from your children's schools and stick to it while shopping. Only buy extras if there's a great deal, like packs of notebook paper for a penny.
  2. Find the best prices before you go. Check sale circulars and compare prices on all the items you need, then choose the place where you'll rack up the smallest total. While going to more than one store will be necessary sometimes, it's usually a waste of time and gas to run all over town in search of savings.
  3. Shop early (and late). Many back-to-school sales start in mid-July, so if you see items you know you'll need like notebook paper or pencils at an unbeatable price, buy them now. Prices also drop the week or so after school starts, so if there are some items you can wait to purchase, you could get them at a big discount in early September.
  4. Swap with your friends. Host a school supply and clothes swap with friends who have school-age kids who are older and younger than yours. You could get costly items like uniforms, sports equipment, textbooks and more for free.
  5. Shop sales tax holidays. Many states have days when no sales tax is charged during late July and early August. While you won't save much if you're just buying crayons and notebooks, if you need to buy more expensive items like computers, calculators or winter coats, waiting until the tax holiday could be a good strategy.
  6. Shop consignment stores and websites. You can often find back-to-school staples like khaki or dark blue pants and white shirts in great condition for a fraction of the cost at your local consignment store. It's also a good place to look for backpacks and sports equipment. Websites can be another place to find the items you need for less.
  7. Leave the kids at home. While back-to-school shopping has the potential to be a lesson in sticking to your budget, most parents find it hard not to give in when their kids ask for extras or more costly brand name items. If your children are teenagers, however, invite them to join you but set the budget ahead of time and let them know they'll have to pay the difference if they want a more expensive item.

Put Your Savings to Work

Any money you save from smarter back-to-school shopping can go into a savings account you can use for emergencies, holiday gifts or paying down debt.