Tips for Parents to Save Money on Back to School Shopping and Supplies
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It's back to school time for many parents! Everywhere, parents of school-aged children are trudging to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target to buy school supplies. Or, they may shop at OfficeMax, Office Depot, and Staples for all their needs since these business stores offer great back-to-school specials as well. All of these stores provide great convenience, good prices, and ample inventory and of course they can be found in just about any town across America.
Parents show up with long lists supplied by the local school teacher or school district and begin the tedious process of buying what their children need for school. Teachers may even specify certain folders or binders and big name pens, markers, and crayons. Some teachers even list things like boxes of tissues and large numbers of pencils - to fill the needs of children who cannot afford the supplies listed. Even though these stores all offer those great back-to-school discounts, those long lists can add up to some expensive back-to-school costs for parents.
As lists get longer and supplies cost more, you need to find shopping options. The usual stores and the "big box" stores do provide one-stop shopping convenience. You can shop with your list and check off things as you dump them into your basket. There is no assurance, however, that you are saving money. Here are some tips for saving money on back-to-school shopping.
- Start at home: Look around your house to see what is left over from last year. You can probably re-cycle last year's 3 ring binders, pull together colored paper from a number of projects, and use last year's glue and tape. (You can also think ahead, buying more than you need now against next year's order if you can get a really good price on something.)
- Shop strategically: Spend some time with the list and integrate lists for more than one child if your family is larger. There may be some advantages to buying things in bulk. For example, if each of two children needs ten #2 pencils, buy one pack of 20 instead of two of 10 and save a few cents. Every little bit adds up.
- Bring a friend: Shop with another parent. Integrate the neighbor's list with yours. See what bargains you can find in your mutual interest. You can probably find small savings in shopping for larger quantities that you can share.
- Leave kids home: Do not shop with your kids by any means. You can discuss your plans the night before and allow them some input on color or themes. But leaving them home will almost always save you at least 50%. There will be no impulse buying or buying up if they are not there to tug at your sleeve and throw a temper tantrum.
- Shop online: Shopping online may offer some bargains, especially if there is no sales tax or shipping cost. (Most of the bigger stores will allow you to shop online and pick up orders in the local store without shipping costs.) Use sales sites other than the most prominent ones. For example, look at www.discountschoolsupply.com or http://www.teacherheaven.com to see what deals they are offering on back to school supplies.
- Go outside the box: Consider stores that may not be on your usual shopping grid. Price supplies at stores, such as Dollar Store, Dollar General, and Big Lots. They may not have all the things you need, and you may not be able to "one-stop" shop, but you can find savings on some needs. Also, consider crafts stores, such as Michaels and Hobby Lobby.
- Think thrift store: Browse your local Thrift Store or a Goodwill Store where you might be surprised to find quality backpacks, lunchboxes, calculators, and other school tools. Used or slightly worn, a bargain is a bargain. And, there is some satisfaction knowing that your money is helping a non-profit with its community work.
- Pick a date: Several states have "tax-free" days on which you can shop without paying sales tax on products reasonably related to school needs. As taxes increase, this can mean a considerable savings on school supplies, electronics, and school clothes.
- Hand-me-downs: Think ahead on the purchase of durable items, such as computers, laptops, tablets, or calculators. If you have three children, you might want to spend a little more for quality in electronics, for example, with the intent to passing the item along to the next child in line.
- Texts online: An increasing number of textbooks are now available on-line as e-books. (Some states have initiated plans to replace all textbooks with online resources within the next 5 years.) You can download books from iTunes Store, Amazon.com, and other sources to compatible electronic devices. (For example, iTunes texts will not download to Amazon's Kindle.) In addition, there are numerous online sites for discounted textbooks, such as www.textbooks.com or www.ecampus.com/ You may also be surprised that you can rent textbooks online at these and other sites. For younger children, when books are required, start with availability at your local library.
- Negotiate brands: You might communicate with the child's teacher(s) to "negotiate" needs; for example, ask if the teacher will be satisfied with generic brands of pens, paper, and crayons. Ask if all supplies are needed at once or might be purchased later in the year so that you can stagger out costs.
- Seek help: If you are short on cash flow, seek help at local churches or food banks. They often have a limited supply of goods. And, do not forget the grandparents; school supplies may be a low-cost cost-effective way for them to show their affection.
Costs on school supplies have mounted steadily over the years, and you should not anticipate a turnaround anytime soon. But, if you shop smartly and are driven by the bargains when they are there, you can save some money and still get the kids what they need.
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