11 Ways to Save Money on Back to School Shopping

Don't break the piggy bank during back to school shopping.

Don’t look now, but summer is nearly over. That’s right–lazy afternoons at the beach will soon be replaced by the mad dash to get our children ready for school.

Before you prepare to battle the aisles of your local store during the back to school shopping season, check out these tips from top bloggers and yours truly. They can help you save serious cash–and your sanity–during back to school shopping season.

Know what you need

Before you prepare to shop for school supplies, get a list of exactly what you need. It will help you avoid spending money on things that aren’t absolutely necessary. Most stores stock local school supply lists to make this easy for you. You can also contact your child’s school or visit the school website, where many schools have supply lists grouped by grade and/or classroom.

“Having that school supply list in hand will shorten the amount of time you’re in the store as well,” says Kristin Willis, blogger and founder of Coupon Friendly, LLC. “You can get in, get out and get on with life.”

Recycle and upcycle

Resist the urge to rush, list in hand, to your local store to purchase supplies. Look through last year’s supplies for salvageable items like rulers, compasses or pencil sharpeners. It will save you money and teach your children the value of reusing.

You can also teach your kids how to upcycle, or find new uses for old items. Upcycling is a great way to save money and help the environment. For example, my second grader will use last year’s lunch bag as his art box this year. The size and zipper closure make it ideal for storing crayons and markers. It also lays flat on the shelf, which saves space in the classroom.

Hit the sales

If you’re like me, you want to avoid the frenzy of frantic shoppers by buying supplies as soon as they appear on shelves. However, buying too early—or too late–may cost you money since most supplies go on sale right about now.

“Stores are trying to be the first with the deals to get the most customers, so they start their sales early in the season,” says Joe Daugirdas, better known as Joe the Coupon Guy, an avid coupon clipper and blogger. “It’s easy to go to the store and get what you need at the last minute, but you may be paying double or more if you wait too long.”

Trying to find the best deal on every little item on your list is extremely time consuming. Instead, spend the bulk of your time comparison shopping for pricey items like electronics and backpacks.

Cut coupons

To shave even more money off the sale price, try coupons. Check your local paper and the Internet for weekly ads and coupons to help plan your shopping trips – and your savings.

Be careful, however, that you don’t travel too far out of your way. “Save gas by shopping at stores that are near your home,” Kristin advises. “Going all the way across town to buy $0.10 folders, compared to $0.20 folders at a store just down the road from your house, is not really saving you money.”

Buy extras now

Keep in mind that supplies on your initial list might only get your children through the first part of the year. Consider buying extra pencils and other supplies on your list that will need replaced throughout the year. Buying them in bulk and on sale will save you money in the long run.

Other quick tips

  • Host a back to school shopping swap

    Ask your friends to bring over clothes and supplies their kids no longer want. (Also ask them to bring over any coupons they don’t need and swap those at the time!)

  • Search for used—or digital—books.

    Gently used books cost far less than brand new ones. Many schools also now allow digital downloads, so consider checking with your child and their school to see if that’s an option.

  • Decide which items are worth the splurge.

    Do your kids crave a new tablet? Or would they rather have an impressive pair of sneakers? By letting your kids designate which item (or items) are splurge worthy, you’ll save money and teach them an important lesson on prioritizing purchases.

  • Shop on tax-free days.

    Many states and local governments offer tax-free shopping days during the back to school shopping season.

  • Connect with your kids’ favorite brands.

    You can learn about savings and get valuable coupons by following brands on social media websites like Facebook® and Twitter. Also consider signing up for brands’ e-newsletters to get discounts delivered right to your inbox.

  • Buy a discounted gift card.

    Websites like plasticjungle.com, giftcardgranny.com and giftcard.com let you buy other people’s unwanted gift cards at sometimes considerable discounts.

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