Back to school

Money-saving tips for back-to-school shopping

Aug. 14, 2012 at 11:13 AM ET

Sam O'keefe / AP file /
A young shopper checks out displays of back-to-school supplies.

As summer comes to a close, parents giddily anticipate all of the money they’ll start saving now that they don’t have to shell out for all of those expensive camps anymore — that is, until they remember all of the expensive back-to-school purchases they have to make. Between school supplies and new clothes, the start of a new school year can also mean the start of some serious outlays of cash for parents. But experts say it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips for saving this school year.

Supplies

  1. Shop at home first. “Everybody’s in that mindset that you have to go out and buy new things every year, but a lot of things, like scissors, are in good shape and can be used again,” advised Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Guide. Check through your junk drawers and round up what you already have at home first, before going out and buying replacements.
  2. A number of states offer tax-free holidays to help offset the expense of school purchases. If yours is one of them, make sure you take advantage of it.
  3. Consider buying “permanent” school supplies. Huffstetler recommends investing in items like backpacks and lunch boxes. Choose ones with lifetime warranties, and your kids can use them from kindergarten onward. Be sure to pick plain ones that they won’t tire of, though. Huffstetler said she bought her children galvanized lunch boxes and has let her kids decorate them with stickers over the years, so now the boxes are fun, colorful and personalized.
  4. As long as your kids have those sticker sheets out, let them decorate other supplies. Save money by buying plain, inexpensive notebooks and supplies (rather than their costlier character-based counterparts). Then, let your kids decorate them and truly make them their own. As an added bonus, you’ve just entertained your kids for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Take a few minutes and put their names on everything. And we mean everything. It could help save you money down the road when you don’t have to buy replacement supplies because their old stuff wound up in lost and found because no one knew who owned it.
  6. The good old Sunday circular is your friend. Once you know what you need, find out who’s offering good deals. And rather than drive all over town, find a store that will match competitors’ prices and load up there.
  7. Think outside the big box store. Dollar stores, Big Lots and other discount stores can be a good place to pick up supplies for a bargain.
  8. Get social. Follow some of your favorite stores on Facebook and Twitter and watch for the deals they post. Some stores will even offer deals if you check in on Foursquare or Facebook while you’re there.

Clothes

  1. Have kids start with their own closets first. Do a clean-out and decide what still works, what has to go and what can be refreshed with a little styling.  
  2. What was once old is new again. “Right now, it’s actually really trendy and hip to have vintage and thrift items,” said style blogger Celina Santi. Today’s styles are in your favor this year, as a lot of teens may be open to shopping at vintage and thrift stores in the hopes of scooping up not just a deal, but a trendy look as well.
  3. Make money off of your kids’ old clothes. Even if buying used clothes doesn’t appeal to you or your kids, consignment stores can still work for you. Sell their old clothes there and earn a little extra spending cash to use elsewhere.
  4. If your kids are craving brand names, you might be able to snag them for less by shopping at designer discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Nordstrom Rack.
  5. Santi recommends focusing on getting a few solid basics and changing them up with accessories. There are some fun blogs that you and your little fashionista can check out together, to get some inspiration.
  6. Don’t rule out alterations. Hem a pair of old pants and turn them into capris. Maybe a little fabric dye can give new life to an old garment. Pinterest and style blogs have lots of ideas for giving new life to old clothes. Cute patches and fun styling can extend the life of a pair of jeans that have a small hole in them but are otherwise in good condition.
  7. Shop online. If you or your kids want high-end clothes without the high prices, check out sites like gilt.com, zulily.com and myhabit.com offer designer duds at big price reductions.
  8. Get social. Once again, social media can alert you to special deals at your favorite stores.

Dana Macario is a Seattle-area writer who can practically smell the fresh crayons and newly sharpened pencils that signal the start of a new school year.

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