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Smart shopping tips for back-to-school savings

Back-to-school shopping
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Shannon Wilburn |
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Finding the best back-to-school deals can be a lesson in and of itself. But don’t worry: We’ve done some research to help do the homework for you. We’ve got website savings, coupon sources, and app recommendations below, so read on!

Back-to-school shopping can be a breeze if you keep these things in mind

Before you hit the stores and sites, take time to assemble your “Big 3”:

1. A list

To stay focused, write down exactly what your children actually need to start school. Without a list, you might be tempted to buy some supplies and items just because they are on sale. Take inventory of their clothing and shoes, too. If they’re still in good shape, consider selling them on consignment. Getting your kids involved in the list-making process helps teach them responsibility — plus they can tell you what they really DO need so you can add those items to your shopping list.

2. A budget

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts families will spend 8% more this year than last on back-to-school supplies and clothing, or about $675 per family, on average. That’s largely due to the rising cost of electronics — but it could have something to do with lack of planning. Decide your priorities for purchases ahead of time, whether that is for laptops, clothing or other needs. Follow the tips below to help stretch your dollars.

3. A plan

Going shopping today with school starting soon? You’re not alone. The NRF says about one-quarter of families shop right before or right after school starts. We say the best time to shop is when the deals are hot and when supplies go on clearance. Also, decide if you’re shopping online (with 21% of the population) or hitting the stores (with 57% of other family shoppers). Check your coupons carefully! Some coupons and deals are offered for online or in-store only, so read the fine print.

Time to shop! Do a little research to save big.

Shop Resale

You can save hundreds of dollars buying used books and laptops instead of new. The same goes for clothing. At Just Between Friends we recently surveyed more than 1000 parents, and more than 65% said they shop resale for back-to-school and save more than 50% off retail prices for similar items. You can find deals at consignment events such as JBF as well as second-hand stores and local community websites like and Craigslist.

Here are some tips when shopping resale:

  • Shop for shoes before clothes: There are typically fewer shoes than clothing and popular brands and sizes go quickly.
  • Shop specialty clothing first: Look for specialty items like school uniforms, holiday dresses, and costumes first, then shop for staples like jeans, basic shirts, etc.
  • Look for new clothing: Search for “New with Tags” items first. Many consignors shop sales throughout the year and resell the items they find. You can often find brand new items at great savings.
  • Stock up on gifts: Speaking of brand new items, resale shops and consignment events are also great places to find teacher gifts for the classroom, as well as gifts for special holidays and teacher appreciation days. You can also find great toys for birthday gifts or party favors.

Coupon websites

They don’t call her The Krazy Coupon Lady for nothing. If you subscribe to the free newsletter, you’ll get money saving tips and lots of coupons for pens, notebooks, children’s clothes, shoes, and electronics. This week, she’s advertising $6 kids’ jeans at Target. Staples also offers a favorite of mine: one-cent sales. Just browse Staples’ website for 50 cent and penny deals that change weekly. That’s also the time to stock up. Kids usually need a fresh supply near the middle of the school year, and with deals like this, you can still save money. It’s also worth checking out Best Buy’s Student Hub for great deals on electronics not offered to others. Compare any deals you find with This site helps you compare products and prices between hundreds of stores so you can save as much as possible.

Mobile apps

The free app Retale shows you hundreds of coupons and shopping deals at your favorite stores. ShopSavvy offers cash back on some purchases from Target, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and other stores. The RedLaser shopping app gives you a bar code, so you can scan an item in a store and immediately learn if other nearby stores are selling the same product for less. But before you leave the store where you are, ask if they offer price matching. If they will match the sale price you’ve found somewhere else, you can save yourself some time. Often, stores will offer price matching to make the sale.

Points and rewards

If you like to shop at the same stores like Target or CVS, make sure you download their apps, as they fill them with coupons. Several stores like Target also give 5% off everything you purchase if you use their credit card. But read the fine print first. If there’s no annual fee, the savings could be worth opening a new account — especially if you are a frequent shopper.

Bonus tips

Finally, here are some additional tried-and-true secrets from moms and dads in the know:

  • Try flashing your child’s school ID. Many stores will offer a 10% or more discount if you are a teacher or student. Usually, you’ll have to ask for the price reduction.
  • Buy in bulk when possible to save on the actual cost per piece if you know you will be needing certain items in larger quantities. This may be the case with buying pens, pencils, paper, and notebooks, which are often cheaper to buy in larger packs. Remember quality counts when it comes to clothing, shoes, and backpacks. They won’t be worth the money if they fall apart in a few months. For more expensive items like backpacks, check for warranties and lifetime guarantees.
  • Shop the clearance rack. While it might be tempting to buy the newest fall clothes for your kids, it’s actually more economical to shop the sales on summer clothes. In some areas, kids can still wear spring/summer clothes through October. You can also buy larger sizes for the next year on basics like underwear, socks, t-shirts, and pajamas.
  • Make sure you get the deal. Write down those great prices and make sure they’re rung up correctly when you check out. Sometimes, the incredible savings are not recorded at the register.

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