Whether you are sending your kids off to kindergarten or to college, back-to-school time means a serious dent in your wallet. With some planning, however, you can limit the size of that dent. Here are some helpful hints:
Set a budget — As with any shopping run, if you do not make a list and do not have a budget, you are very likely to spend more than you intended. Research prices online or in stores before you start.
Use the budget as an opportunity to discuss priorities with your kids — if they want a particularly expensive or trendy backpack or shoes, they can help decide where the money can be saved in other supplies to pay for their indulgence.
Track sales early — Back-to-school sales certainly help, but if you keep an eye out for extraordinary deals on basic supplies during off-seasons and clearances you can save significant money.
August, and to a lesser extent, January, are the peak back to school times. Shortly afterward, when the larger stores are liquidating their back-to-school aisles and reducing their stock, you can pick up great deals. Buy the basics in bulk — notebooks, paper and pens, etc. — and save them for the next school year.
Coupons — While they are tedious to collect and use, coupons accumulate savings. Collect them from the paper and any collection board or online sites throughout the year. Online coupon links are available from some retailers, if you don’t mind putting up with extra e-mail in your inbox.
Alerts — Following some retailers on Facebook and Twitter can allow you to find special deals and sales that are not otherwise publicized and can give you advance notice for ones that are.
Book deals — Textbook prices are shocking these days, but more options are available to avoid paying retail. Used books are available many places, especially on college campuses. Newer options include the ability to download virtual textbooks, or rent textbooks for a semester.
Also, consider asking those that have already taken a particular class if you can buy their book — sometimes they will even give it to you. Of course, you have to make sure that book is still being used for that class.
Shop used — Saving on used items can go beyond textbooks to clothes and other school needs like dorm-room furnishings. Try second-hand shops and yard sales, or online sources such as eBay and Craigslist.
Tax-free days — Most states and areas offer sales tax-free days for school-related supplies and stores tend to run corresponding sales. Usually these take place in late July or early August. This can be a great time to buy the larger items that your child may need, such as laptop computers, to multiply the savings.
Rewards programs — Look for any cash-back or other rewards programs at retailers or online vendors where you normally shop for supplies. Similarly, you may be able to receive rewards through your payment method by using a credit or debit card that has a cash-back or useful rewards program. Just make sure that you are not tempted to buy more things than you need to extend the benefits, and check for exclusions in what you can purchase.
What’s that noise? It is the sound of your less-dented wallet thanking you for doing your best to save on back-to-school needs. It may also be the sound of you congratulating yourself for saving the family money. Go ahead; you deserve it. Give yourself an “A” in savings.
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