Back to School Shopping Tips

Start the school year off right with these simple (but effective) savings ideas

Although sales on school supplies abound, it’s easy to wind up spending too much. Use the following simple pointers to navigate bargains, cut costs and lock in savings for years to come.

  1. Start at home. You might be surprised by how many supplies are already in your house. Send the kids on a scavenger hunt; whoever finds the most items on the teacher’s list gets a prize.
  2. Shop tax-free. More than a dozen states enjoy a holiday from sales tax during a few days in August. Visit taxadmin.org to find out if yours has such a break. Then plan to shop at stores with markdowns for extra savings.
  3. Get classics for free. Many of the world’s great works of literature and philosophy can be downloaded for no cost and printed in a variety of formats at gutenberg.org.
  4. Make one trip to shop at a store that price-matches. Staples, Office Depot and Office Max all have price-match policies, meaning if you see an advertised price on a certain item, any of the three businesses will honor that figure (including instant rebates). So pore over the circulars, then save gas money by heading to the nearest retailer.
  5. Swap before you shop. In addition to holding a clothing exchange with other parents—or through a website such as zwaggle.com—consider selling old sports equipment and instruments and using the credit or cash to buy the next size at usedsports.com.
  6. Compare prices in the store. If you have a smartphone, use the ShopSavvy app to scan any product’s bar code and ensure you’re getting the best deal.
  7. Go green. According to the Sierra Club, American families spend, on average, $85 per year on disposable plastic baggies. Show your children the value of a waste-free lunch—and save money—by investing in reusable snack and sandwich bags from sites such as reuseit.com.
  8. Calculate the cost. Think ahead to when your children will need pricey upgrades, like a graphing calculator. If your kids are responsible with their supplies, consider skipping the cheaper model and purchasing one they can use for several years.
  9. Reuse basics. Why buy new every year? Opt for plastic folders, dividers and binders instead of flimsy cardboard ones. If last year’s spiral notebooks aren’t used up, tear out the old pages and decorate a new cover.
  10. Work the warranty. If you’re in the market for a new backpack or jacket, buy one that comes with a lifetime warranty. L.L.Bean, Lands’ End and REI are among the companies that will fix or replace worn merchandise for the entire life of a product. So if a backpack gives out in a year, or even 10 years from now, you can pick out a replacement for free.