Though most kids won't start classes for another week or so, August seems to trigger the psychological end of summer. The focus shifts from lazy days in the sun to preparing for the upcoming semester, which also includes loading up on necessary supplies.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average family of K-12 students will spend $688 on supplies this year. As expected, retailers offering back-to-school wares are commencing their annual promotions, hoping for a chunk of that budget. Consider the following 12 ways to offset your costs and keep some of that hard-earned money for yourself!
1. Go tax-free.
Many states offer tax-free holidays, usually in August or early September. Check out this list for state-by-state details. You can save between 10 and 15 percent on some items if you shop on the right days.
2. Shop at home.
While your child may long for a new box of crayons with 5,000 different shades, they likely have plenty stashed around the house. Check for leftover pencils and paper, as well. Last year's backpack, binder and other pricey items will do just as well for this school year.
3. Start swapping.
New clothes comprise the bulk of back-to-school shopping. Host a swap meet with other parents with kids from a variety of age groups, then invest in only a few trendy items your child can't live without. Otherwise, check out online swapping marketplaces such as thredUp.com and Swap.com.
4. Use discount gift cards.
The aforementioned study from the National Retail Federation shows parents increasingly favor gift cards over credit cards to help their college-age students offset everyday expenses. This is an especially savvy solution since you can purchase discount gift cards from sites like GiftCardGranny to restaurants, coffee shops and department stores, saving up to 30 percent instantly.
5. Set a limit.
$688 may be the average expenditure on school supplies this year, but that doesn't mean you have to spend that much. Since kids will happily fill an entire shopping cart (or two) with "must-haves," make a list beforehand and stick to it. Those with an allowance or funds from a summer job can foot the bill for extras.
6. Head to a dollar store.
Why pay $3 for a pack of pencils when you can find them for just $1 at a dollar store? You'll find several items on your list at these cost-cutting stores, including planners, folders, highlighters, composition notebooks and more.
7. Buy during the right month.
Many products are cheaper at certain times of the year. Jeans and computers, for example, are typically offered at the best prices in October, so it might pay to hold out for these sales. Retailers are eager to promote holiday wares after Halloween (sometimes before!), so prices on the remaining stock of back-to-school supplies will be greatly reduced.
8. Be social and sign up for savings.
Sign up for retailer e-newsletters to receive coupons and exclusive previews in your inbox. Also, check Facebook and Twitter for special promotions from your favorite stores, like Macy's and Office Max. Avoid opening store credit cards for the added discount, however, since simply signing up can ding your credit rating. Plus, these cards typically have higher interest rates than your standard credit card.
9. Compare prices on the go.
Another key to saving money on school supplies is comparing prices among competing stores and brands. Thanks to smartphone apps, you don't have to rush home each time you need to compare deals. Popular barcode scanning apps like RedLaser provide you with instant price comparison for local brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Additionally, brush up on your favorite stores' price-matching policies to get the prices available.
10. Designer goods for less.
If your daughter covets the latest designer fashions, consider shopping for labels at H&M, Kohl's, Target and other low-priced retailers currently partnering with the most brilliant minds in fashion. She can get her designer fix without breaking your bank, and even help offset costs by contributing from her own piggy bank. Consignment shops are another great source for designer looks.
11. Get rewarded.
Popular back-to-school destinations like Staples and OfficeMax offer great reward programs. For example, OfficeMax offered $200 in MaxPerksrewards last year with the purchase of an HP or Toshiba notebook. Currently, you can get $39.99 in Max Rewards with the purchase a new backpack and use the eligible credit toward other school essentials.
12. Attend events.
Teen VOGUE is hosting its first-ever "Back-to-School Saturday" on Aug. 11 in select cities across the country. While residents of Los Angeles will be treated to a live performance by teen sensation Cher Lloyd and a midday fashion show, other cities can take advantage of special offers on back-to-school fashions from such stores as Guess, Express, American Eagle and many more. For more information, head to TeenVOGUE.com.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.
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