10 Simple But Worthwhile Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

schoolModern parents spend a small fortune when time for back-to-school shopping rolls around, making it the second-busiest shopping season in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation, the back-to-school shopping season is second only to the winter holidays in terms of consumer spending, and the projected average amount parents will spend grows with every passing year. As the economy struggles to rebound, fuel prices climb and a record-breaking drought threatens a spike in food costs, parents are forced to save money in any way that they can. These ten tips can help you preserve your budget and still send kids into a new school year with everything that they need.

  1. Check Your Existing Supply – Common items like rulers, kid-safe scissors and pencils are probably scattered around your home and taking up space in your home office, where they rarely see use. Before shelling out money for more of the same items you already have on hand, take the time to survey your current inventory.
  2. Watch Your Mailbox – Leading up to Labor Day, major retailers start sending out advertising circulars at a staggering pace. While you might ordinarily disregard these promotional mailings, the back-to-school season is a great time to pay more attention to them.
  3. Brave the Crowds on Tax-Free Shopping Days – Some states offer tax-free shopping holidays (we have that here in Texas) to encourage more retail spending and relieve some of the financial burden for the cash-strapped parents of students, making these days great money-saving opportunities. If you’re brave enough to fight the crowd of similarly-minded shoppers, retailers often run select items at a discount to further encourage lucrative back-to-school spending.
  4. Skip Non-Essentials – Making a policy regarding non-essential items before you take your child shopping is an effective way to save money without risking a sullen tween or cranky elementary student when you veto these purchases. Whether you limit non-essentials to one item per child or require kids to pay for extras out of their own allowance, it’s important that you stick to your guns when you’re in the store.
  5. Buy Plain and Personalize – Virtually identical items can have a dramatic price difference when a brand-name item is more colorful, so make a habit of purchasing standard supplies and encouraging your children to personalize them. Kids with an affinity for arts and crafts may actually prefer this method, as it allows them to express their originality with one-of-a-kind items.
  6. Choose Well-Made, High-Quality Items – A cheap backpack is no bargain if you’re forced to replace it before winter break, so make sure that you spring for better quality options when craftsmanship makes a difference.
  7. Wait for the Teachers’ Lists – While it can be tempting to scoop up school supplies throughout the summer, it’s wise to restrict early purchases to the things that you’re absolutely certain about, like paper and writing instruments. Any other purchases, especially pricier supplies, should wait until teachers release their lists to ensure that you don’t buy unneeded items.
  8. Put Your Smartphone to Work for You – Whether your smartphone operates on the iPhone or Android platform, there are an almost endless array of apps dedicated solely to helping users find the best prices on specific items. Many of these apps are free, so it won’t cost you a penny to save big.
  9. Hit Discount Stores – Don’t neglect the discount dollar stores in your area. Some of their items, especially standard ones like pens and pencils, are of comparable quality to more expensive brands at a fraction of the price. Rather than paying a premium for these supplies through big-box retailers, look over their selection first.
  10. Buy in Bulk – If you have a large family, buying notebooks, pencils, pens and other staple supplies in bulk could be an ideal arrangement. In most cases, you can buy enough to keep your kids stocked up for the entire school year.  A trip to your local Sam’s Club could save you a bunch of money over the course of the year.

Make sure that you hold onto school supplies at the end of the year, as there are many items that don’t necessarily have to be replaced every year. Many items that are still serviceable can be reused, even if it requires a bit of personalization to get your kids interested in carrying them again.