How to save on your kid’s back-to-school needs
You’ve seen back-to-school ads and window displays for much of the summer…and you’ve made the (no-brainer) decision to hit the beach instead of the mall. But it’s time for Mom and Dad to face the facts. Like it or not, school could be starting any day now, depending on where you live. Between the long list of supplies, textbooks, new clothes, and dorm room decor, you have some shopping to do. Thankfully, there are many ways to save on just about everything on your list. Here’s a breakdown, whether your kid is a grade schooler or a dorm rat:
Before you toss the seemingly self-replicating circulars that are jammed into your mailbox, screen door, or Sunday paper, take a peek. Big-box and office-supply retailers offer deep back-to-school discounts on things like clothing, shoes, school supplies, and dorm furniture. And the sales are often short-lived; so grab those 25-cent composition notebooks while you can.
If you’re planning a big shopping trip to a handful of stores, see what incentives they offer if you download their apps or sign up for their email lists. You might score a big discount or a freebie (and you can always unsubscribe later if the correspondence starts jamming up your digital mailbox). Download a free savings app like Slickdeals or DealNews to grab offers that could knock down those price tags even further.
If you’d rather order in, the best—and easiest—way to save online on those twin XL sheets or that scientific calculator is to install a free browser extension like Honey or Wikibuy. As you browse, the extensions will find (and test) available coupons for you. On Amazon, Wikibuy will also let you know if you’re getting the best price, or if a better deal lies elsewhere. An alternative tool, Gumdrop by Goodshop, has a charity component that lets you donate a portion of your purchase to a nonprofit of your choice.
If you must have books that are crisp and clean, head to the campus bookstore—but prepare to pay full price. If you don’t mind a little wear and tear, websites like CheapestTextbooks and BooksPrice will help you find the best online sources to rent or purchase used books cheaper than brand-new ones. And many schools have digital message boards where you can post items that you’re looking to buy or sell. When classes are over—if you’re not sentimental—you can sell your books to make some cash for next semester. Don’t forget the library, either.
Paper towels and toilet paper?
You might wonder why your local public school is asking parents to donate such items. The answer for many school systems is the same: budget cuts. (Keep in mind that teachers themselves spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets for classroom supplies each year.) A good way to save on household goods like these is to buy them in bulk. (After all, you’re stocking up on the same stuff at home, too.) Whether you shop at a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s Club, or big-box stores like Walmart and Target, or Amazon, make sure to compare the unit price online before you close the deal. Just because you’re buying in bulk doesn’t always mean it’s the best buy.
Does your school offer a prepackaged kit of school supplies? While you can’t use these savings strategies on a kit like this, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration not running around looking for the exact calculator the school requires. Do a quick online price search anyway to make sure that the tradeoff (kit vs. doing it yourself) is really worth it. Time is money, after all.
Several states offer sales tax holidays during August, when tax is waived on categories like clothing and school supplies. Because of a recent Supreme Court ruling that requires online merchants to charge sales tax, shopping tax-free in-store could save you cash. Restrictions and dates vary per state. Check the Federation of Tax Administrators for a comprehensive list and links with more details.
Whether you’re shopping for one kid or five, braving back-to-school season is no easy task. And it can be expensive! So take a deep breath, make your list, do a little bargain hunting, and you’ll be loading up your kid’s backpack before you know it.