9 Tips for Last-Minute Back-to-School Shopping

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You’ve got clothes, backpacks, lunch boxes, binders, pens, and paper.

Then there’s that list of supplies the teacher asked for, everything from tissue paper to magic markers.

It’s no wonder a National Retail Federation survey names back-to-school shopping as the second-biggest annual consumer spending event (after the winter holidays, of course).

According to the NRF survey, the average parent with children in grades K-12 will spend $689 on back-to-school shopping, up from $603 last year.

If you waited until the last minute to get your shopping done, you may think there aren’t any deals left out there – but we’ve got you covered. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson gives you ways to save on back-to-school shopping. Check it out and then read on for more…

Let’s expand on Stacy’s ways to save and give you a bunch more…

1. Take inventory

Your child probably hasn’t touched that binder or stack of pens in several months, so you may have forgotten you already have supplies on hand. Start by taking an inventory of the supplies you already own. Go through your child’s backpack and desk drawers, put everything in a pile, and see what still works. And don’t forget to check your own desk and junk drawers – those free pens and highlighters that businesses hand out will work just fine at school.

2. Make a list of necessities

It’s always easier not to make a list. But that often leads to two wasteful trends: You forget stuff that’s necessary, and you buy stuff you don’t need or already have. So make a list, then cross off the items you discovered from taking inventory. Now you know what you need. But before hitting the mall, hit up your pals…

3. Host a swapping party

Once a year, my neighborhood association hosts a back-to-school clothes-swapping party. Parents bring in clothing, backpacks, winter coats, lunch boxes, and even some school supplies. Then they trade with other parents. It’s a great way to get rid of extra clutter and get what your kids need without spending a dime.

You don’t need an entire neighborhood to do the same. Just get a few friends together and ask them to bring whatever their child is no longer using.

4. Look for used

If you can’t get it through trade, you can still get a deep discount by shopping used. I see backpacks, winter coats, kid’s clothes (some still with their tags), and school supplies at garage sales all the time. (I’m an avid garage-sale shopper.) Also check out your local secondhand stores to see what you can pick up gently used.

5. Find sales and coupons

Retailers start stocking up on school supplies in July, and they’ll run sales right through September. So even if you wait till the last minute, you can still find a good deal.

And don’t forget drugstores. Regular prices at drugstores can be higher than at the big-box retailers, but they also run competitive sales on select items. For example, I recently saw a buy-one-get-one-free deal on notebook paper and pens at my local drugstore.

To get the absolute best deal, use a coupon on sale items. I’ve noticed more coupons for school supplies in my Sunday paper, but you can also find some good ones online. Check out:

6. Use apps

Sunday circulars and coupon sites aren’t the only way to find deals. If you’ve got a smart phone, put it to use. A few free apps help you find sales from national retailers. Check out:

  • Zoomingo – Finds local sales from stores like Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Staples, and Target
  • Grocery Pal – Posts weekly ads for grocery stores, drugstores, and some national retailers
  • SaleLocator – Uses your phone’s GPS to find local sales

You can also use your smart phone to find coupons. Check out:

7. Wait for clearance deals

Most retailers stuff their stores with school supplies now, but a few weeks later, they start making room for their holiday wares. So they’ll run clearance specials at even bigger discounts. So buy what your child needs now to get by – then stock up for the rest of the year when the clearance sales start.

8. Shop overstock stores

Overstock stores like Big Lots don’t have the best selection, but they do offer bigger discounts over the major retailers. You won’t find everything you need, but you might pick up a few things on your list.

9. Upgrade the basics

Last week, I went with a friend and her daughter to pick up school supplies. Without fail, if we picked up the plain pencils or the basic spiral notebooks, her daughter would pick up the glitter pencils and the Justin Bieber notebook.

Retailers are smart – they know kids like shiny things, and everything my friend’s daughter wanted cost at least 10 percent more than the basic supplies. Rather than just tell her daughter she couldn’t afford it, my friend had her pick out a few packs of $0.99 stickers. When she got home, she decorated her basic supplies with the cheap stickers. They’re both happy, and my friend didn’t overpay just to get a celebrity’s face on a notebook.

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