Earn an A+ in bargain hunting with these top tactics designed to give you the most bang for your buck.
Get ready—it's that time again! Shelves are stocked with everything from crayons to calculators, and just like every other year, you don't need top marks in math to realize those scholar dollars can add up quickly. In fact, last year the back-to-school buying period for K-12 and college combined was the second biggest consumer spending season after the winter holidays—with sales calculated at $68.8 billion, says the National Retail Federation. Your homework this fall: keep more money in your wallet by shopping wisely.
It's tough to resist the allure of bargain-basement deals that abound at this time of year. But the crowds that those cut-rate prices draw mean you spend more time digging through ransacked bins and waiting in the checkout line, which equals more opportunity to stray from your list and pick up unnecessary items. Avoid that trap—and the masses—by collecting circulars and checking the websites of stores in your area, then shopping only at ones that price-match, like Target and Walmart. And stick to your list. Nothing's a bargain if you don't really need it.
Just as you would for grocery coupons, keep an eye out for special offers on clothes and supplies. Use mobile apps, like RedLaser or Eyeona, to compare prices and track sales, and never be afraid to negotiate—wherever you are. Always ask if there are student discounts available (you might need to show your child's school ID to get such deals).
On average, back-to-school items emblazoned with licensed cartoon characters, logos and photos of celebrities can cost up to 30 percent more than basic buys. If your children are yearning for specific styles and brands, show them how they personalize plain items to make them special. Who needs a pricey Justin Bieber pocket folder when kids can have fun making their own with photos found in a magazine or online and printed at home? And don't forget: Clothes can be embellished, too.
Ask yourself, "Will this last the year?" Skip folders and notebooks with seasonal designs (fall leaves, for example, or flip-flops) and go with basic prints that will seem current from August to June. When it comes to products used every day, choose quality items such as backpacks with a lifetime warranty and notebooks with heavy plastic covers. You also can save by opting for reusable goods such as BPA-free washable snack bags rather than disposable sandwich bags.
Write up a budget and stick to it. Divide your shopping list into must-haves and nice-to-haves, and don't fill your cart with items from the second column until you've completed the first with money to spare. Leaving credit cards at home can help, too: Research shows that shoppers who pay with $10 and $20 bills generally spend up to 15 percent less than those who use plastic. Why? Seeing your cash dwindle makes you less likely to make frivolous expenditures and more apt to follow your list.
Before you click "buy," answer these questions for more savings.