August has barely begun, and already parents are either sending their children back to school (Whoa! Whatever happened to summer!?), or getting ready to do the same in a few weeks. That means, of course, steeling ourselves for some major shopping and hoping to find ways to save money on back-to-school supplies.
And boy, do we need all the help we can get. Just looking at my daughter's school list made me go all MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). There was a separate supply list for each class. Each. Class. Two two-pocket folders for math, one for ELA, another for science, and so on. A spiral notebook here, a graph notebook there. Plus the usual assortment of pens, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, sticky notepads, and cleaning supplies that never seems to vary with each grade. On top of that, of course, are the organizers, pencil cases, sharpeners, lunch boxes, backpacks, and all the other school necessities that, with any luck, will help ensure a successful year.
But this doesn't come cheap. According to the National Retail Foundation, back-to-school spending, from kindergarteners through high school, is expected to top $82.8 billion this year. That's a lot of notebooks.
I don't begrudge my kids or their schools all those supplies. Hey, I'm a teacher as well as a mom, so I know that half of those pencils get lost or chewed up in the first three weeks, and all those tissues don't stand a chance during flu and allergy season. But just because we have to prepare our children for school doesn't mean we have to clean out our bank accounts doing it. Not when we can take advantage of these money-saving tricks out there.
Use What You Already Have
"Mom, I don't need all those marble notebooks," my daughter told me before we went shopping. "I still have two that I barely used last year." Sure enough, all we had to do was to tear out the three or four pages of old notes, and we had a couple of nearly-perfect composition books ready to go. The Today show recently offered back-to-school savings tips from Flipp app savings expert Lauren Greutman, and her first suggestion was right along those lines: Go through your kids' rooms and your own junk drawers and make a pile of school supplies that can last another year. (Bet you have a ruler and a couple of highlighters around the house somewhere.)
Take Advantage of Your State's Tax-Free Deals
In some areas of the country, the local retail economy gets a boost when the state designates specific summer weekends as tax-free days on school merchandise, according to USA Today. Unfortunately, 10 states have already had their tax-holiday weekends, but Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas, and Maryland have theirs coming up this month. Or, if you live near (or plan to visit) Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, or Oregon, you can take a day trip and hit the malls and outlet stores there; in these states, there's no sales tax whatsoever.
Work Your Apps
Let technology do some of the work for you when you're trying to find the best deals. Apps such as RetailMeNot, Flipp, and Dosh can point you toward the stores with deep discounts before you leave the house. There are also browser extensions like Honey, that will find available coupons and discount codes for you while you're shopping online, said Forbes.
Pick Up Your Online Orders In Person
Shopping online is the best; a little browsing, a little clicking, and you're done. The downside: sometimes having to pay for high shipping fees. A better option: opting for in-store pickup, recommended USA Today. Lots of major retailers offer this perk (Target, Staples, Walmart, and Office Depot among them), and all you need to do is show up at the store location of your choice to collect your merchandise.
Go Off-Brand When Possible
Unless your child's teachers ask for a specific brand of glue or crayons, opt for the no-name brands, and you'll find your savings adding up. Stores such as Dollar Tree and Dollar General offer just about everything on your back-to-school list, and office-supply stores like Staples have store brands for less, as well.
Invest in Quality
Once you've stocked up on the inexpensive items, then you can look at the pricier ones. There are some school supplies that are worth putting a little more money into, just to make sure your child will get enough use out of them, said The Balance Everyday. For example, a well-made backpack may cost more, but it should last for a couple of years. A hard-case pencil holder will withstand rough handling and sharp pencil points better than a flimsy plastic or fabric one.
Take Advantage of Job and Student Discounts
Your job could help you save big at back-to-school time. Many retailers are offering discounts to teachers on everything from books to clothes right now, said Business Insider. Ditto for members of the military and their families, said Military.com. And students with a valid ID can get deals on clothing at places like TopShop and Levi's, according to People.
Shop in Shifts
As satisfying as it feels to get all your school supply lists checked off in one day, you'll actually save more if you buy only what's on rock-bottom sale at any given week, advised The Balance Everyday. As Labor Day draws closer and closer, major chains begin to drop their prices in order to clear their inventory. So check the weekly circulars and see if it's worth it to buy your notebooks another day.