Making the Grade
Whether you relish or dread this time of year, get an A+ in back-to-school shopping with our tips to help budget and buy supplies and clothes as you or your children head back to the classroom.
The best part about school returning is getting to revamp our closets and embrace our inner geek with the coolest supplies and gadgets around. Back-to-school shopping is one of those pasttimes that we’ve always been excited to look forward to … for the young ones, that is.
However, for those of us who spend our own money on back-to-school gear for either ourselves or children, it can be a stressful time of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $673.57 on apparel and accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies adding up to $27.3 billion.
College students and families with children in college plan to spend an average of $888.71. Whether it’s laptops for class or mini-fridges for the dorm, college simply costs more than the lower grades. Some of these big-ticket items can last all four years, but when they need to be replaced, it’s a bigger investment than pencils and lunchboxes.
Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a struggle, and you most certainly do not have to break the bank. Many parents are taking advantage of shopping early, scouring ads and websites for the best deals, and taking advantage of free shipping with online purchases. From nonprofits, timing, coupons, prioritizing, making lists, utilizing your resources and choosing wisely where to shop, we’ve got the best tricks and local deals that’ll make back-to-school shopping a breeze.
Timing is key
Don’t get too eager. Planning your shopping at just the right time could save you hundreds on school supplies and clothes. This year, the tax-free weekend is scheduled for Aug. 4-6. Qualifying shoes and clothing will be exempt from state, county, city and local sales tax starting at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 4 until midnight Aug. 6. You can purchase an unlimited number of qualifying tax-free items during this time.
Also, try to stay informed on all of your favorite stores’ daily deals as well, making sure to drop in on select days when the materials you need drop in price. Hold on to all receipts and keep checking prices on the items you’ve purchased — some stores will reimburse you if the price drops after you’ve purchased an item.
Make a list
Never go into a store empty handed. Heading to your local Walmart or Target without a list could be a sure path to disaster. Try to wait until your school supply list is out so that you don’t overdo it with extra items you don’t necessarily need. Rather than ending up with five extra binders and notebooks, and endless boxes of pens that may never be opened, set your list in stone and check off the materials you already have at home. When you go into the store, you’ll have a clear vision of what you do and don’t absolutely need, making more room for the extra items you really just want.
Have a try-on day
The children may not be too excited, but have them try on everything in their drawers and closet to take stock of what’s actually needed. Make a pile of keepers and one for the outgrown stuff. This is a great place to start because you’ll need to know what size they’re in before you head out to shop. And it will also give you and your child an opportunity to talk about what styles they no longer love, so you can avoid those if you’re shopping without them.
Choose your market
Be skeptical of where you do your shopping. Places like Target, Walgreens and CVS tend to run a bit higher than Walmart, which now has a price-matching system. Check the ads and compare prices before you head into the war zone and be sure to check online retailers like eBay and Amazon. You can also find most of the supplies at a Dollar General or Dollar Tree.
Almost every major store these days offers a rewards program. Sign up and do most of your shopping at one store to maximize your rewards. For more savings opportunities, follow your favorite stores on Facebook and Twitter.
Find the deals
You can locate all kinds of coupons and specific deals in print ads and online at websites like savings.com and coupons.com. Some websites even offer cash back on certain products, like apps such as Ibotta, Shopmium, Checkout 51 and Receipt Hog. Save even more money on expensive items like laptops, printers, backpacks, shoes and clothing by browsing through Craigslist and Groupon.
Swap with friends
If you have a group of friends with children of different ages and sizes, a clothing swap can help you stock up on gently-used clothes for free. Clothing swaps work especially well if your children attend the same school and wear uniforms.
Buy in bulk
You know you’ll need paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks. Many stores and outlet malls are great sources for buying these and other basics in bulk. You and a group of other parents might be able to negotiate a group discount as well. This strategy will often help you avoid late-night shopping trips to buy notebook paper when you run out.
One of the most beneficial resources to have for back-to-school shopping is a school ID. More stores than most people realize offer student discounts on retail, technology, books and other products. Retailers like Sam’s Club, Amazon, Champ and Sally’s Beauty Supply offer student discounts with the presentation of an ID; and you can get discounted technology and gadgets as a student from Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, HP and Dell. Students can also get discounts on insurance with Farmers, State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Travelers and Nationwide.
Support the support
There are a ton of nonprofits and other organizations dedicated to ensuring all students have the supplies, clothing and shoes necessary to go back to school. Just Between Friends plans to take over the Tulsa Fairgrounds Aug. 20-26 with a local charity expo meant to help parents save money on gently used items. More organizations to aid you with back-to-school shopping include Broken Arrow Neighbors, Operation School Bell, Restore Hope, Cherokee Nation Human Services, Neighbor for Neighbor and many more that you can find online at tulsalibrary.org.
Wait for September
A month after children go back to school, clearance bins will be all over your favorite stores. Keep your list with you and grab any items you still need.
Revitalize the classroom
It’s no secret that most teachers end up paying for many (if not most) of their classroom needs out-of-pocket. So, this year, maybe use some of the money you saved using our tips to help underpaid teachers get their years off to a promising start.
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