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Tips to Help You Shop Smart for Back to School

Tips to Help You Shop Smart for Back to School

Back-to-school shopping costs can add up more quickly than you think. Various national surveys have found that parents can spend between $630 and $1,200 on average on supplies and clothes, a substantial portion of your monthly budget.

There are several ways to help lower the cost and still get your children what they need for a successful school year:

  • Plan ahead. Make back-to-school-shopping part of your annual budget. You may want to put money away throughout the year to fund this part of your budget.

  • Set a realistic budget. After reviewing your income and expenses, decide how much you can comfortably afford to spend. If your children need a big ticket item like a computer, shop around for the best price and find out if there are financing options that allow you to pay for the item over time.

  • Buy only what you need. Before you shop, get the supply list from your children's school to find out exactly what they need and only buy extras if it's a great deal on an item you know they'll need all year like paper or pencils. It's also wise to consider the quality of the supplies you buy. A $1 binder that falls apart in a month may not be as good an investment as a slightly more expensive version that will last longer.

  • Take inventory before you shop. Check around the house. You may be surprised to find you still have packs of notebook paper, a perfectly good ruler and other supplies leftover from previous school years.

  • Be a savvy shopper. There are lots of ways you can save money on your back-to-school shopping:

    • Keep an eye out for sales starting in mid-July. There are also big clearance sales the first week in September, so if there are items you can wait to purchase, consider this option.
    • Some companies, especially technology companies, offer student discounts, so ask about that option if you're buying a more expensive item like a computer or tablet.
    • Organize a swap with friends. You can exchange school clothes, sports equipment and even textbooks and calculators, which can add up to significant savings. Another option is to check consignment stores for gently worn clothes.
    • Shop during sales tax holidays. Many states have no sales tax days later in the summer. Shopping for bigger ticket items on these days can help lower your costs.
    • Choose used textbooks. Textbooks can be quite expensive, but many websites offer used or rental books, which can significantly lower your book bill.
    • 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. If you're shopping online, check coupon sites for promo codes and free shipping offers to help you stay on budget.