14 back-to-school shopping hacks

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Back-to-School Shopping Is in Full Swing

Back-to-school shopping is serious business: The National Retail Federation reports that this year, parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grade plan to spend $630.36 on average. Over the last decade, that number has climbed from $443.80.

"We're seeing a consistently more confident consumer ... fewer people are saying they're shopping for sales," says Stacie Severs Nelson, client services and marketing director of Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the survey for NRF.

Parents said they would spend an average of $217.82 on new clothes, $117.56 on new shoes and just under $100 on school supplies. Electronics, including computers and tablets, are another big expense, with 58.3 percent of parents saying they would purchase electronics for an average cost of $197.24.

Despite their long shopping lists, many of the 6,500 survey respondents report they aren't in a big hurry to get their shopping done early. "Consumers are planning to make back-to-school purchases a little later, with 30 percent planning to wait one to two weeks before school starts," Nelson says. "They're hoping for sales later in the season."

If back-to-school shopping is on your to-do list, here are some of the best hacks to keep in mind:

1. Get a little at a time. Carrie Rocha, founder of PocketYourDollars.com, says many retailers rotate through deals every week: One week might feature discounts on pens and the next week notebooks – so smart shoppers can maximize their savings by purchasing the highlighted item that week. By the end of the summer, you'll have purchased almost everything on your list at a reduced price.

2. Mail in those rebates. Rebates, which typically give money back to shoppers who mail in paperwork after making purchases, often offer the best deal, but you have to put the effort into completing that paperwork, Rocha says. "You have to be honest with yourself about whether you'll mail it in," she warns.

3. Wait to buy clothes. Some of the best deals on clothing will come after the first day of school. Consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch points out that denim, boots and light jackets have bigger discounts later on in the fall, which means waiting to buy can pay off.

4. Take advantage of gift card sites. Sites like GiftCards.com make it easy to purchase gift cards at a reduced price, often allowing shoppers to save 5 to 10 percent. "Layer that with your sales, and you'll get another 5 to 10 percent off everything," Rocha suggests.

5. Review what you have before shopping. "We go into each of my kids' rooms and go through their closets. We pull out clothes that don't fit and take inventory of what we need to buy," says Tracie Fobes, ​owner of PennyPinchinMom.com. That way, she avoids doubling up on items that her three elementary-school aged children don't really need.

6. Take advantage of tax-free holidays. Many states offer tax-free shopping days in August; if your area participates, then it can be a great time to make your school supply purchases.

7. Get the teacher-approved list. Many teachers send lists that specify the items they want their students to have. Fobes says paying attention to details can prevent you from making purchases that your child won't end up using. Some schools, for example, specify that they don't want television or movie characters on notebooks.

Another benefit to sticking with non-themed supplies is that your child might not outgrow them as quickly, says Laura Harders, ​contributor to the U.S. News Frugal Shopper blog and founder of ​BeltwayBargainMom.com. Your 5-year-old might love "Frozen" this year but might move on to a different favorite movie by next year, she warns.

8. Share your budget with your child. You can incorporate budgeting lessons into your shopping trips by letting your children know how much you're willing to spend. If they want more expensive shoes than your limit, they can opt to pay the difference, Fobes suggests. "It helps them to see the cost and know that mom is not a money tree," she says.

9. Buy extra for others. When Fobes sees big sales, she stocks up on extra supplies so she can donate them to the classroom. A group in your area might help organize this effort; the Kids in Need Foundation is a national nonprofit that facilitates donations. Last year, it distributed $117 million worth of supplies to​ over 4 million children.

10. Take advantage of price matching. Some retailers offer to match lower prices you find elsewhere; Staples is offering a 110 percent​ guarantee, which means customers get an additional 10 percent off the price​, during the back-to-school shopping season. Price-matching programs can help take some of the pressure off parents to run around to different stories. You can focus your efforts on one store and still be sure you're getting the lowest price, Fobes says.

On the same note, comparing prices online before you leave home can also save you cash, Woroch points out. Using PriceGrabber.com or the ShopSavvy app can help you nab the lowest price. If you're already at the store, she suggests using the CouponSherpa or RedLaser apps on your phone to compare prices.

11. Coordinate with other parents. Woroch suggests getting together with neighbors who have school-age children to trade gently used clothes, shoes, school supplies and sports gear. Buying secondhand clothes at thrift stores or online consignment stores like ThredUp.com is also a less expensive option than purchasing new clothes, she adds. "I find parents overlook the opportunity to purchase gently used kids clothing, but considering children grow so quickly, it seems like a waste of money to buy new clothes," she says.

12. Look for refurbished electronics. The secondhand approach applies to electronics, too. If you buy previously owned laptops, smartphones and desktops, you can save up to 40 percent, and most come with a warranty​, Woroch says.

13. Don't forget dinner. As the new school year begins and your family settles into a routine, Harders recommends planning on making homemade meals. "Another big way to save is to eat out less ... challenge yourself to make more homemade lunches for your kids and yourself," she says.

14. Consider the rest of your shopping needs, too. Since back-to-school deals often include household items such as bedspreads and comforters for college students, Rocha recommends buying those items now if you have a spare bedroom that needs to be furnished. Even those who aren't prepping for going back to school can benefit from the discounts.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

Click through the slideshow below to see some great back-to-school items from Target:

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Our favorite back to school items from Target
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14 back-to-school shopping hacks

You can't lose a pencil case when it's this cute! 

Get it here: Orla Kiely Garden Pencil Case      

Image Credit: Target.com

Even if penmanship isn't perfect, school notes are guaranteed to look good with these metallic-accented notebooks. 

Get it here: Greenroom Metallic Pattern Notebook

Image Credit: Target.com

This alarm clocks simulates a sunrise to wake you up. The light gradually gets brighter up to an hour before the set alarm time.

Get it here: Natural Wake up Alarm Clock      

Image Credit: Target.com

It's hard not to get excited for lunch with this adorable yellow-polka-dot lunch box.

Get it here: JWorld Corey Lunch Bag with Front Pocket

Image Credit: Target.com

Double check your calculations in style!

Get it here: Inkology Glam Rocks Rhinestone Calculator

Image Credit: Target.com

Personalize your tablet with fun cases like this freestanding tablet case for Apple's iPad.

Get it here: Speck Products iGuy Freestanding Case for iPad

Image Credit: Target.com

This lunch box is a must-have for "Despicable Me" fans.

Get it here: Despicable Me Minion Lights and Sound Insulated Lunch Bag      

Image Credit: Target.com

This water bottle has a replaceable carbon filter to remove contaminants from tap water faucets. It meets the NSG International Standard 42 for taste and odor reduction. 

Get it here: Bobble Water Bottle

Image Credit: Target.com  

These cheetah print shoes are easy to slip on and out of, so the kids can get out to recess even faster.

Get it here: Girl's Circo Hollie Sneaker

Image Credit: Target.com

This backpack is both cute and functional. This style comes in a variety of fun colors and patterns!

Get it Here: Mossimo Supply Co. Backpack Handbag 

Image Credit: Target.com     

Listen to study music in style with these colorful and bold headphones.

Get it here: Beats by Dre Solo™ HD

Image Credit: Target.com

These sneakers from Olympic and X-Game athlete Shaun White's collection are sure to be a hit on the playground.

Get it Here: Boy's Shaun White Marmont High Top Sneakers

Image Credit: Target.com

Don't lose any important notes with this Zip binder. 

Get it here: Mead Sewn Zip Binder with Handle  

Image Credit: Target.com

These pencils are amazing because for every Yoobi item you buy, Yoobi will donate that same item to a classroom in need in the US. These pre-sharpened pencils come in a variety of fun colors. 

Get it here: Yoobi 24ct No.2 Pencils

Image Credit: Target.com

This patterned planner is sure to be a hit in the classroom.

Get it here: Mead 8.5x11 Clear Poly Planner      

Image Credit: Target.com

Post-it's are always good to have on hand!

Get it here: Post-it Sticky Notes  

Image Credit: Target.com

With its bright color and bold pattern, these scissors make the cut.

Get it here: Scotch Scissors

Image Credit: Target.com

Note-taking is more fun when you have all the colors you could ever want!

Get it here: PaperMate Inkjoy 18ct Asst. Ballpoint Stick Pen    

Image Credit: Target.com

Little guys can stay active with bright sneaker options. 

Get it here: Boy's C9 by Champion® Blaze Sneaker

Image Credit: Target.com

For the artistically-inclined, this calligraphy pen set is a must-have for fancy handwritten script.

Get it here: Calligraphy Pen 33 Piece Set      

Image Credit: Target.com

This Android, designed specifically for kids, delivers a fun and interactive experience. 

Get it here: Nabi 7" Kids Android Tablet

Image Credit: Target.com

Stock up on e-books without crowding the bookshelves! The Nook is perfect for the avid reader. The Glowlight has built in Wi-Fi, illuminated pages and battery life of up to eight weeks.

Get it here: NOOK Glowlight

Image Credit: Target.com

This lightweight and durable laptop has a bright and crisp touchscreen.

Get it here: Acer® Aspire 15.6" Touchscreen Laptop PC

Image Credit: Target.com

These straight fit, dark wash jeans make for a versatile wardrobe staple for the boys. 

Get it here: Boys' Straight Jean      

Image Credit: Target.com

It's easy to transfer school projects and assignments with this thumb-drive.

Get it here: Dane-Elec 8GB USB Flash Drive

Image Credit: Target.com

Button up with the perfect plaid tee.

Get it here: Boys' Plaid Button Down Shirt

Image Credit: Target.com

This dress makes for a great first-day outfit with its bold print and great silhouette.

Get it here: Girls' Chevron A Line Dress

Image Credit: Target.com 

This backpack is perfect for the tech-savvy! It comes with a pair of studio-grade earphones that work perfectly with the front media pocket.

Get it here: FAB Backpack With Earbuds      

Image Credit: Target.com

This cool hat was designed by Shaun White.

Get it here: Shaun White 4 Target® Boys' Print Flatbrim Hat     

Image Credit: Target.com

These pieces are great for a school with a strict dress code or just for a refined look.

Get it here: Cherokee® Girls' School Uniform Short-Sleeve Blouse and Jumper Set      

Image Credit: Target.com

Headbands are a quick and easy addition to a hairstyle in the morning.

Get it here: Girls' PU Bow Headband

Image Credit: Target.com

Help the kids stay organized and on top of homework and exam dates. This planner, available in a variety of patterns, will keep the days in order. 

Get it here:  Mead Arrow/Stripe Planner          

Image Credit: Target.com

This 3-piece collection is laid-back and comfortable but still great looking.

Get it here: Back to School Skateboard Chic Shaun White 3-Piece Collection

Image Credit: Target.com

Back-to-school shopping is a cinch with this brown belt for the boys.

Get it here: Boys' Wide Faux Leather Belt

Image Credit: Target.com

These silky harem pants will be a hit for the fashion forward students!

Get it here: Girls' Silky Harem Pant      

Image Credit: Target.com

This classic look makes a nice layering option for the boys.

Get it here: Boys' Varsity Jacket

Image Credit: Target.com

This black riding boot is a stylish and inexpensive investment in a classic style for the girls!

Get it here: Girl's Cherokee® Feebie Contrast Zip Riding Boots

Image Credit: Target.com

It's easy to make your mark with these colorful Sharpies.

Get it here: Sharpie 18ct Asst. Fine tip Permanent Marker      

Image Credit: Target.com

This girls' quilted sweater is stylish and comfortable. 

Get it here: Girls' Quilted Pullover Sweater      

Image Credit: Target.com

With a bit of stretch, jeggings are a great option for growing girls!

Get it here: Girls' Jeggings

Image Credit: Target.com

Keep the kids on the run in style! This pair is ventilated for cooling and has cushiony support. 

Get it here: Girl's C9 by Champion® Legend Running Shoes

Image Credit: Target.com

The kids can track how active they are in school, at recess and during gym class with this Fitbit bracelet. 

Get it here: Fitbit Flex Wireless Wristband

Image Credit: Target.com

Polos and khaki pants make for a classic combination that will be great in your son's closet.

Get it here: Cherokee® Toddler Boys' School Uniform Short

Image Credit: Target.com

Ariana Grande is one of the biggest stars on the airwaves. Pick up the deluxe version of her album, "My Everything," for two bonus songs for some after-school fun.

Get it here: Ariana Grande - My Everything

Image Credit: Target.com

These lace-up oxfords are a smart option to fit the uniform dress code.

Get it here: Boy's French Toast® Lace-up Uniform Oxford

Image Credit: Target.com

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