1. Take inventory.
Go through drawers and cabinets to scrounge up the supplies you already have. Look for wear and tear on lunchboxes and backpacks to see if they’re reusable, and get your kids to try on all their clothes so you don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe.
2. Get the school’s list.
Many schools put out a list of required supplies and sometimes these mention what the school provides (less and less these days), so don’t duplicate spending. It’s useful for planning a budget, but check with your students’ teachers too to make sure the list matches up and doesn’t include “recommended” (i.e., not really necessary) items, or items specific to classes your child isn’t taking.
3. Go through the ads.
Look for deals at department and big-box stores and figure out your shopping strategy. You may be able to save some time and gas by bringing the ads to stores that price-match their competitors.
4. Check prices online.
Depending on what you need, your best bet may be buying online. Try price comparisons at PriceGrabber, Google Product Search, and Amazon as well as retailer sites. Don’t forget to look for student discounts and coupon codes.
5. Buy in bulk and bundles.
Look for values in combo deals and larger packages. Sometimes spending more up front is the best way to save in the long run. And while we know you’re not the one going back to school, don’t shy away from doing a little math to figure out the unit price – make sure you’re actually getting a bargain.
6. Take advantage of tax holidays.
Several states offer sales tax-free weekends on certain goods in July or August. Be sure to look up a list of the year’s tax holidays to find details.
7. Look off the beaten path.
If buying used is OK, there are more options than you might think. Don’t overlook yard sales, and nonprofits like The Salvation Army and Goodwill. Pay it forward to those groups (or other church and community drives) by donating what your kids can’t use anymore.
8. Reward your children.
If your children make some complaints about reusing last year’s lunchbox or want brand-name clothes, ask them to do extra chores and help out however they can in exchange for a few bucks toward nicer school wares.
9. Shop throughout the year.
If you want the best prices, never stop paying attention. While the National Retail Federation says back-to-school shopping is the second biggest consumer spending event after the holidays, the best sales are rarely the most publicized or popular ones.