(Updated 8/08/17) Pencils, crayons, glue sticks, shoes, uniforms, binders, maybe even a new laptop. It may seem early to start thinking about the things on your kid’s back-to-school shopping list, but if you start early and keep an eye out for certain things, you can save a ton of money. Here are eleven tips that’ll not only save you money, but’ll keep you sane as you try to figure out the best back-to-school shopping strategy this year.
Shop Your Closet & Kid’s Backpack First
Before you go buying a single back-to-school item check out what you already got. My 3 kids typically have a backpack thrown in the corner chalked full of pencils, markers, pair of scissors, ruler, etc. All stuff you won’t need to replenish this Fall.
Also, be sure to take a look at what might be stored in the closet. There is a great chance you already have a decent amount of school supplies on hand. This is especially true if you are like me and stock up when you find a screaming deal.
NEVER Buy Everything From a Single Store
The absolute worst, and most expensive, way to do your back to school shopping is to go into one store and knock it all out at once. Why? Well because while you might find a few items on sale, you’re going to have to pay full price for a lot of other stuff and as you know, there is nothing I hate worse than paying full price.
Instead, what you want to do is start watching the sales flyers right now and when you see great deals on items on your kid’s back-to-school list, go in and make the purchase. By starting early you’ll have plenty of time to make purchases ONLY when the price is right.
Price Match Sold-Out Items
Let’s say you’re shopping at Office Max and they are completely sold out of their 25 cent boxes of crayons. All hope is not lost. Just take their ad to your local Walmart or Target and as long as it’s a brand they also carry, they will happily price match the screaming deal on crayons, or whatever it might be. Never assume that since a store is sold-out you’re flat out of luck.
Here is an article I wrote a while back talking about which stores will price match that will guide you through the different retailers price match policies, both online and in-store.
Buy Only On a Tax-Free Day
If you can wait until your state is offering a tax free weekend in August to make significant back-to-school purchases, you can easily save 6-9%, depending on your state’s tax rate. Here is a list of participating states and their corresponding dates in 2017:
- Arkansas: Aug. 5-6
- Florida: August 4-6
- Iowa: Aug. 4-5
- Louisiana: Aug. 4-5 and Sept 1-3
- Missouri: Aug. 4-6
- New Mexico: Aug. 4-6
- Ohio: Aug. 4-6
- Oklahoma: Aug. 4-6
- South Carolina: Aug. 4-6
- Virginia: Aug. 4-6
- Connecticut: Aug. 20-26
- Maryland: Aug. 13-19
- Texas: Aug 11-13
Look for tax-free days every year in early August.
Shop Around for School Uniforms
If you buy your child’s school uniform from a “Uniform Store”, you’re almost definitely over-spending. Many retailers like Lands’ End, Old Navy, and Gap now offer school uniform pants, polos, skirts, and shorts, and they’re all typically priced much lower than uniform-specific stores. Also, remember that kids grow A LOT, so buy the largest size possible that your child can reasonably wear without swimming in.
It’s also worth your while to be conservative in the items you buy. Don’t buy everything in August, instead, wait and see what your child likes wearing and what their specific needs are. You may actually find better prices as the school year progresses and retailers try to clear out school uniform items.
Always Wait to Buy Non-Essentials to Score BIG Deals
I’d classify “non-essentials” as items your child won’t need during the first few weeks of school. Think items like calculators, Kleenex, protractors, and science project supplies.
If you can wait to buy these items, you’ll be able to take advantage of back-to-school clearance deals that happen every September. I’m talking like 75% to 90% off items that retailers desperately need to clear out to make room for Halloween candy and costumes.
Printable Coupons at Target
Were you aware that Target heavily entered the coupon game last year during the back-to-school shopping season? Some good news for you, they will be doing it again this year. You are going to find all of their back-to-school coupon offers on this page.
Bookmark it and check it often as you’ll get some fantastic coupons to print on apparel, school supplies, electronics, and more. Do NOT shop at Target this year without a coupon in hand.
Check Office Supply Stores
Some of the absolute best back-to-school deals you’re going to find this Summer are not going to be at the Walmart and Targets of the world. Instead, keep a close eye on sales flyers from office supply stores like Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max. Last year they had some absolutely amazing deals and this year will be more of the same.
We saw things like penny pencils, 25 cent glue sticks, dime folders, and 25 cent crayon boxes. But the one catch is that they sold out pretty quickly so be sure to always check the sales flyers in your local newspaper so you can jump on the deals as they come out.
Tech Deals for College Students
Do you have a kids in high school or college who needs a new laptop for school this year? If so, you need to look into education and college discounts provided by many stores and companies. Here are 5 education discounts you need to be aware of.
- Never buy a new Apple MacBook or iPad without checking this Apple Education Pricing page.
- Best Buy has a cool webpage that lists all of their College Student Deals – couple that caught my eye include $100 off all Apple MacBooks and $150 off select Lenovo and HP laptops.
- Also be sure to check out Dell University which details student specific deals on new laptops, notebook, and desktop system.
Note: Be prepared to provide proof of your student eligibility with a student ID card or college transcript.
Smart Backpack Shopping
One of the biggest expenses on any child back-to-school shopping list is always the backpack. What is the best way to save on a new backpack? Always avoid the big name brands and more importantly always avoid the character themed backpacks. Those are always quite overpriced and simply not worth extra money.
My girls will survive without a Hello Kitty backpack and my son can live without a new Nike backpack every Fall. You still want to look for quality backpacks that will actually last the entire school year. Brands that jump to mind that are of high quality and not incredibly expensive include Timberland, Rockland, and Embark. Also, keep an eye out for deals for up to 25% off backpacks from JanSport and NorthFace.
Leave The Kids at Home
I realize some parents like to take their kids back-to-school shopping as it makes them feel a part of the process. But I’m here to tell you that it’s typically not a good idea to haul them along, especially young kids. Kids are gonna throw off your money-saving mojo because they are going to want the expensive Hello Kitty backpack and they are going to want the G.I. Joe pencils that cost 5 times what they should. Your #1 goal has to be to shop the deals and save the most money.
Kids are going to use the good ol’ fashioned yellow pencils that you buy because, guess what, they have to! That’s the way it works, always has, always will. Heck, I’d rather buy them some cheap stickers and let them decorate their back-to-school items until their heart is content.
Ask the Reader: What tips do you have for saving money on back-to-school supplies? I look forward to your comments.
By Kyle James