With summer ending and fall nearly in full swing, it's time for kids to gear up for another school year. As students know, this means new backpacks, pencils, and notebooks. As parent know, this means a back-to-school shopping list that can be anything but budget-friendly. Read on for easy, money-saving tips that ensure your little student starts the school year off right, without breaking the bank.
An estimated 56 million students will be enrolled in elementary, junior high and high schools across the nation this fall. While retailers eagerly embrace the back-to-school season, many parents cringe as the costs add up for school supplies, sporting equipment, electronics, and new clothes.
Today's tough economy makes it challenging to invest in our children's education and future, and purchasing school supplies can be especially expensive. Stretch your family's back-to-school budget with these smart saving tips:
Assess Wants vs. Needs
Before you leave the house, make a list of items you'll need and be realistic about prioritizing needs and wants. Do a complete inventory of what supplies you already have at home. Sure, it's fun to buy all new, but if you just bought a new set of markers or a package of folders last spring, you can probably hold off a few months before restocking.
Remember, too, that prime shopping season is before school starts. Delaying non-essential purchases on items such as clothing until after school is in session (such as during or after the Labor Day holiday, when items are marked down) can net big savings.
Budget, Budget, Budget
Once your prioritized list is complete, determine what you can afford to spend on each category - school supplies, electronics, clothing and other. Use free online budgeting tools to help you stick to that budget. Comparison shop, check out online deals and watch store circulars for sales. Subscribe to receive emails, text or Twitter alerts from your favorite stores for special sales. Some stores even reward shoppers who "check-in" through social sites with more discounts.
In addition, some states also offer a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping. Buying in bulk can save money, too. Look for multi-packs of items like scissors, pencils and markers.
Don't forget that the annual back-to-school shopping excursion can be a great money management learning exercise for older kids. Share your budget with them, and help them make selections to keep your checkbook on target.
Check for Student Discounts
By having a student living in your home, you may be eligible for savings and not even know it. Many manufacturers, especially software publishers, offer education eligibility discounts, and some stores offer price breaks for students, too.
For example, check out Academic Superstore, an online store that works with leading brands to sell deeply discounted products. The website's catalog of more than 20,000 education-focused products includes school supplies, full-version software titles and consumer electronics at prices up to 80 percent off retail value. Some items are at such deep discounts that you will be asked to provide proof of academic eligibility - which for some products is as simple as providing an .edu domain email address or school ID.
Surf the Net for Deals
The Internet is a great place to find bargains. And many office supply and retail websites offer free shipping. Use online tools that let you compare prices of multiple websites to find the best deals. Don't forget to search for online coupon codes that can help stretch your dollar.
You can also save money by checking out the many online auction and trade sites. Bid on larger bundles that include several items on your list. You can further save money by trading gently used clothing and supplies with other area families. Look through the online forums of local freecycle and swap sites to find "new to you" items.
With a little pre-planning and discipline, you can manage through the financial stress and focus instead on setting a positive tone to send your kids back into the classroom.
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