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Back-to-School Shopping Tips

Spending and Saving Tips

Back-to-school shopping is big business, and while nothing beats the retail sales volume of the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation, total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $108 billion this year. While more than 65% of this is spent on college students, the largest portion of all back-to-school budgets is expected to go towards electronics ($31 billion) and clothing ($20.8 billion) purchases.

With the average family spending from $849 (K-12) to $1,200 (college) to get their kids ready for school, how can you help your students get what they need to start the school year off right and still keep your back-to-school budget in check?  Below are some tips to help you shop smart and save:

1. Make a List

Hopefully your student’s school provides a list of essentials for your child’s classroom needs.  This is a great place to start for important supplies, however, there many other items such as clothes, shoes, glasses, backpacks, sporting equipment, etc. that you may also need to consider.  Many colleges also provide classroom and dorm materials lists, so be sure to check with your child’s school to find out not only what is needed, but also what is allowed.

Back-to-school shopping has to fit within your overall financial budget. While some things are most certainly “needs,” without a budget it’s easy to let the “wants” take over. Review the list you made and your finances then estimate what you think you will need (and can afford) to cover this year’s supplies.  If possible, allow a little extra for something you may have forgotten or something special you decide to add.

Before you hit the stores, take an inventory of what you have at home.  Chances are you will be surprised at how many items you may have left over from past school years or as a part of your household supplies that will do the trick.

Monitor local ads, coupons, and online promotions to watch for sales on key items on your list. To help keep your errands to a minimum, consider shopping at retailers that offer to price-match competitors. And, while discount and office supply stores probably offer the largest selections of supplies, don’t forget to check your local grocery and drugstores for specials this time of year as well.  If you’re shopping online, use comparison shopping engines or consider sites such as Upromise.com that allow you to earn cash back for college when making purchases with their online shopping partners, or check with your child’s school to see if they partner with any fundraising shopping sites.

As you begin to purchase items, be sure to mark them off your list and record what you spent next to each item.  Not only will this help you focus on the items you still need, but it will also to help you keep track of your spending and make sure you are still in line with your budget.

While you don’t want to overspend, if you have room in your budget to stock up on any extra sale items that you know you will need later in the school year, now is the time to take advantage of what may be the lowest prices of the year.  Notebooks, pens, pencils, markers, and paper are often good items to stock up on while on sale now.  Also, with items such as backpacks, you may want to consider spending a little more now for a quality item that is built to last the entire school year or beyond. This will help keep replacement costs to a minimum later in the year.

Garage sales, swap meets, and second hand stores are another source for savings, especially for clothes, coats, and expensive sporting gear. In addition, check with friends or family members who may happily share gently or even never-used hand-me-downs. Even if they don’t have the items you need, they may have experiences and tips that can save you from buying something you don’t need.