Back-to-School Shopping Tips


Ah, summer! Baseball and sunshine, lemonade stands ... and back to school? Yep. Summer or not, it's time to think about ways to save money shopping for back-to-school clothing and school supplies.

Savvy shoppers begin planning now to get the most for their back-to-school dollar.

Hang onto your wallets! With the rise of "back to school" as a two-month marketing exercise for retailers, coupled with cash-strapped school districts placing more of the supply burden onto students' families, it can be a tough job to get the kids outfitted without breaking the bank.

Try these school shopping tips to save money, time and your sanity when shopping for back to school.

Kknow before you go

Before checking so much as a single back-to-school sales flyer, you need to know two things: what you need, and what you already have on hand.

What's on the list? No need to scrabble through cluttered drawers for last year's handouts! Local discount and office supply stores now feature checklist kiosks for nearby schools; school web sites are another good source for supply lists. Download or grab each kid's checklists, then scour the house for items already on-hand.

Shop at home first--and set up Supply Central

Any item already on-hand is a bonus freebie, so check the house for rulers and protractors, pencils and binder paper.

Set aside a supply stash. One way to conquer the "where is it?" chaos: designate a box or shelf as School Supply Central. This tip will serve you well throughout the year. Find that stash of 9-cent boxes of crayons or a few packs of binder paper from last summer's shopping spree? Tuck them into the box; the short stuff will know where to find new crayons when they need them in November.

Stick to your list--and your budget

School supply aisles look like toy departments these days, and kids have big gimme eyes for school-day flash and bling. Shop from your list to keep back-to-school spending within budget.

Better, use a list as an exercise in financial education. Children, as natural consumers, are easy prey to "buy-me, buy-me" pressures, so smart parents set limits during this time of year.

Once you have an idea of your child's true needs, establish a budget amount, and create a learning experience. Yes, little Jenna WILL want the pricey licensed-character backpack and the lunchbox and the binder, no matter the cost. A bit of horsetrading along the lines of, "Well, the budget will let you buy the backpack only if we choose less expensive binders" can make the limits clear--and teach financial skills at the same time.

Shop early!

Back-to-school loss leaders (products offered at prices below their actual cost to entice you into the store) begin to pop up in discount stores and office supply stores mid-July. If you can pick up loss leaders for items you know you'll need--like lined notebook paper, pencils, crayons and report folders--you'll spare the budget for big-ticket buys.

Shop around!

While shopping, keep your eyes open. These days, just about every retailer wants a piece of the back-to-school action. School supplies pop up in the oddest places, like crafts stores, dollar stores and supermarkets. Shop off the beaten path for good prices!

Shop late!

While nobody wants to be caught dead dragging multiple children into the crowded school supply aisles the weekend before school opens, a short week later will see the same merchandise marked down to clearance prices--and no crowds.

Turn a deaf ear to children's pleas of "But I HAVE to have it all today!" and budget some cash for season-end discount buys.

That's the time to stock up on the basics that will be needed all year: binder paper, composition books, spiral notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and markers.

Seek out the stocking stuffers

If back-to-school is here, the holidays won't be far behind. Clearance-priced school supplies make great Christmas stocking stuffers. A quick trip after school begins--and once the items are marked down--can fill Santa's stockings inexpensively.