12 Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

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Last year, back-to-school shopping hit a record average $689 for families with school-age kids for items like clothing, school supplies and electronics. This year the cost won’t be nearly as high — $635 per family, the National Retail Federation predicts.

“The good news is that consumers are spending, but they are doing so with cost and practicality in mind. Having splurged on their growing children’s needs last year, parents will ask their kids to reuse what they can for the upcoming school season,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release about BIGinsight’s survey results.

That’s still a lot of money per family — “well above where [spending levels] were a few years ago,” the NRF says — but there are ways to significantly reduce those costs. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson offers tactics for saving money on school supplies, clothes and gadgets for your kids in the video below. Check it out, and read on for more ways to save.

1. Start at home

Make a list of everything you’ll need — starting with the list of supplies your school requires — and check around your house before you buy any new supplies. You probably have pens, highlighters, pencils and a few other supplies left over from last year. Mark what you have off the list.

2. Stick to the list

Once you’re in the back-to-school section, your kids will want multicolored pens, funny-shaped erasers, and every folder they see with a superhero printed on the front. Resist the urge to splurge and stick to your list.

The same goes for you. Resist the urge to buy something now because your kids might need it later. If they do end up needing a second set of markers, you can always buy them later.

3. Shop thrift

Nothing says you have to buy school supplies at a big-box store. Thrift stores, secondhand shops, and even garage sales can be a great source of cheap school supplies as well as backpacks, shoes and clothes for your kids.

4. Check for freebies

Programs like The Resource Depot collect and give away extra school supplies. It helps the environment by keeping useable goods out of the landfill, and you’ll get freebies. Check your local newspaper or town hall website to see if a program like that exists in your area.

5. Comparison shop online

Check prices online before you buy anything in the store. Apps like Price Comparison Shopping and ShopSavvy make it easy. Just open the app, scan the barcode of whatever you’re thinking of buying, and you’ll automatically see available online prices.

And don’t forget to check retailers’ websites. Many big retailers offer online-only specials.

6. Look for coupons

Search for coupons and promo codes before you buy anything online or in-store. You can find coupons in your newspaper or via apps and online sources. We’ll give you some examples.

These smartphone apps find coupons:

Online you can find coupons at:

7. Shop on the state tax holiday

Taking advantage of your state’s sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping can save a lot of money, especially on bigger-ticket items like clothes and computers. For example, at the sales tax rate of 9 percent where I live, you’d save $18 on $200 worth of clothes for your kids.

Not sure if your state participates? Check the 2013 State Sales Tax Holidays list.

8. Buy in bulk

You can save money buying in bulk at Sam’s Club or Costco, especially if you split the cost with another parent. Compare shopping lists, see what you both need, buy in bulk, and split the cost.

9. Wait until the last minute

Every summer, retailers stock up on brightly colored binders, organizational tools for lockers, and “LOLZ” stickers. Then, rather than get stuck with the leftovers after the school season starts, they put their back-to-school items on clearance.

If you buy the necessities now and wait until clearance time to pick up the rest of your list, you’ll save a bundle.

10. Shop sales

Never go shopping without checking the weekly circulars – including those for drugstores or overstock stores like Big Lots. If retailers sell arts and crafts or office supplies, they’ll carry school supplies too and you can find great deals on sale.

11. Swap with friends

If you have extra supplies at home, set up a swapping party with friends. Tell everyone to bring their extra school supplies, clothes their kids outgrew, or unused backpacks and sporting equipment. Lay everything out and see what you can trade.

12. Stick to the basics

Despite what your kids might think, you really don’t need the glitter-dipped pencils, designer spiral notebooks, or neon erasers. You’ll save a ton of money if you buy plain, generic school supplies. Sure, your kids won’t be thrilled in the store, but when the fancy stuff is out of sight, they won’t care anymore.

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  • dalekgrrl

    I was able to find a big 3 ring binder at a thrift store for .65, and a never-used lunch box for 2 dollars. (It was even Ed Hardy brand, my son loved it) We are reusing his backpack from last year, and always stock up on paper and notebooks when they’re only 10 cents apiece, the same with all the crayons and glue and such. I put them in a tote and pull them out as needed!