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Back-to-school savings cheat sheet: 7 tricks to save more

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Andrea Woroch |
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While kids across the country soak up the last few weeks of summer, parents are already in back-to-school mode and busy tackling shopping lists. What usually seems like a simple task often comes with some financial stress as families shell out over $600 on electronics, apparel and other school needs on average for a single child.

While there are plenty of bargains and deals to be had, figuring out where, how and when to shop can be confusing. Keep this back-to-school shopping cheat sheet handy to help you save big on what you really need so you don’t waste time or money.

Read more: Where to find the best deals on back-to-school everything

Look for leftovers

Not everything on your child’s classroom requirement list needs to be new. In fact, your children likely have lots of leftover supplies from last year that can carry them through the first few months of school. Partially used notebooks or half-used cartons of crayons will do just fine! Review your shopping list and compare it with what you already have at home by sorting through the kid’s play room, closets and desk drawers.

Stock up on penny deals

Office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot promote various penny deals on basic supplies like pens, notebooks, folders and glue sticks which they rotate every week. Check their store ads every week for current offerings and stock up on these one-cent deals for the full school year! You can also find great bargains for as little as dollar on supplies like a five-pack of pens or 12-pack of mechanical pencils at Office Depot.

Compare, match and track prices

Comparing prices is essential to saving money, especially as more and more retailers like Target, Walmart and Office Depot promise to match competitor sales. Staples is actually taking this a step further by promising to beat prices by another 10% this season with their 110% price guarantee! Compare store circulars on the go using the Flipp app or get instant price comparison using the ShopSavvy app by snapping a picture of a product’s barcode, both of which you can use to request a price match. This strategy allows you to load up on supplies from one store instead of driving all around town. Don’t forget to track prices using (Editor’s note: Now called MyAlerts) as you may qualify for a price adjustment should something you buy go on sale afterwards.

Search for used or refurbished options

Clothing and gadgets typically take the biggest bite out of every parent’s back-to-school budget, but you don’t have to sacrifice quality to save. There are plenty of used and refurbished goods in like-new condition for up to 90% off regular retail. Thrift stores, consignment shops and online re-sellers including ThredUp and Tradesy are top resources for gently-used clothing. Meanwhile, Apple, Newegg, Best Buy and even warehouse club stores like Costco and Sam’s Club offer refurbished or open-box laptops, tablets, computers, smartphones and the like for up to 75% off.

Know when to go generic or stick to name brands

It appears that shoppers are catching on to the money-saving magic of store brands as 28% of parents plan to purchase generic or store-brand school supplies to cut costs this season. Follow their lead and go with the generic versions of basic supplies like notebooks, folders, rulers and loose paper — there is little to no difference between store brands and name brands. On the flip side, backpacks, art supplies and sneakers are typically better brand-name buys because they’re often higher quality and last longer, reducing the need to replace them.

Take advantage of tax-free deals

If you live in or near one of the 16 states offering tax-free holidays, you can greatly reduce the tax burden of your shopping trip and save big bucks by timing your purchases. Review this list of sale tax holidays dates and details to find out when they’re offered near you. Keep in mind, the range of eligible items varies by state, but supplies such as clothing, shoes and even computers usually qualify.

Snag summer clearance items

As retailers stock shelves with fall apparel for the school shopping rush, you can expect clearance prices on summer clothing of up to 75% off. This is a great time to pick up dresses, tank tops, shorts and sandals on the cheap, which your children can wear through the first couple of months of school and even layer under sweaters and coats during colder months. What’s more, many retailers are offering printable coupons that you can apply to the clearance items for an even deeper discount, like an extra 40% off final sale at JCrew.

Read more: School’s Facebook post about kids’ ideal bedtimes draws cheers, jeers