6 Tricks to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

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Want to avoid spending up to $500 on school supplies this fall? Start shopping smart now.

More than half of consumers will start back-to-school shopping before July ends, according to a new survey.

Shopping site PriceGrabber surveyed more than 1,500 people about their back-to-school plans, including their budgets and what they’ll buy – and 17 percent started last month, 35 percent will start this month, and 43 percent will wait until August. Meanwhile, 81 percent plan to spend the same or more this year, with a majority keeping the budget under $500.

The 20 percent budgeting above that probably includes all the parents buying their kids tote-size tech toys including laptops (19 percent), tablets (15 percent), and smartphones (12 percent). When I was in school, the most high-tech item I got was a lunchbox. But enough sour grapes. Here are some ways to get more bang for your back-to-school buck…

1. Check your stock

Don’t duplicate what you already have. Dig through drawers and cabinets for leftover pencils, crayons, and paper. Check bags for wear and tear to see if they’re reusable – only 51 percent of survey respondents said they’re buying a new one. Get your kids to try on all their clothes and only replace what they’ve outgrown. While 79 percent say they’re buying clothes, it doesn’t have to be an entire new wardrobe.

2. Get the school’s list

Find out if the school or specific teachers provide any supplies. Ask which ones are optional. A simple phone call or email is often enough to get the answers you need.

3. Cash in on tax holidays

If you live in one of several states that offer a sales tax holiday, get your supplies at the sticker price. Check the list of state sales tax holidays for dates and more info.

Of course, if you shop online (and 79 percent will, up from 69 percent last year) from a retailer like Amazon, you can skirt taxes altogether in most states.

4. Check prices online

Even if you don’t plan to buy online, it makes price comparisons easier. Try PriceGrabberGoogle Product Search, and Amazon, as well as retailer sites. Don’t forget to look for student discounts and coupon codes, and check out the Money Talks News deals page.

5. Buy used 

Used goods can mean big savings, especially with technology. Try yard sales, Craigslist, and nonprofits like The Salvation Army and Goodwill. Pay it forward to those groups (or other church and community drives) by donating what your kids can’t use anymore.

6. Shop year-round

Turns out 55 percent in PriceGrabber’s survey said they plan to spread out back-to-school purchases to make the cost more manageable. Why not stretch it out over a whole year? It’s not as if this stuff disappears from shelves like holiday decorations. Keep an eye out for deals – especially as the school season winds down – and you’re likely to save more while avoiding a big financial hit every fall.

Stacy Johnson

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