6 Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

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Back To School Supplies At A Target Corp. Store Ahead Of The  School Year Starting
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesYou can get your student ready without breaking your budget.
By Karen Cordaway

According to the National Retail Federation, the average family will spend roughly $630 on kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and $899 for college students. If you're looking to slash these costs or get more for your money, here are some tips to do so.

1. Spend less out of the gate. If you're looking to get a head start on stretching your dollars before you even begin to shop, Shelley Hunter of Giftcards.com recommends purchasing discounted gift cards in advance and explains how it's one of the easiest ways to guarantee savings on your back-to-school expenses.

"Consumers can slash their bill and save anywhere from 2 or 3 percent to significant double-digit discounts," she says. If you're flexible with where you shop, Hunter suggests letting the discount lead the way. Items like school supplies can be purchased at a variety of stores; look for the savings before you pick the destination.

2. Don't compete with the pack for uniforms. If you purchase school uniforms from retail stores, consider stocking up when items are discounted. I recently bought some uniforms before the actual back-to-school rush. You can avoid crowds and shopping at other times of the year when items are harder to find or may cost more.

My daughters prefer the skinny cut when it comes to shorts and pants over Bermuda shorts and the standard uniform pants. If you wait for "the big sale" or when everyone else is shopping, you might not get what you're looking for before the school year starts.

Consider the same strategy for certain must-have fits, cuts, styles or coveted brands, especially for pants. While clearance can be king for steep discounts, it can be a gamble on what ends up in your wardrobe. On a recent trip to what I consider an overpriced store, my daughter made a dash for the jean area. We found jeggings and other jeans she liked. They fit her well and were on sale.

3. Run to the deals. Mary Hoover from MissionToSave.com likes to approach back-to-school shopping as a marathon and not a sprint. She enjoys shopping the weekly advertised sales for the best back-to-school supply deals. This strategy means staying on top of the ads and shopping multiple times to get the lowest prices on each item.

If you don't have the time or endurance to do this footwork on your own, Hoover shares her wallet-friendly finds on her site each week. She provides readers with a list of the best current deals so shoppers can mimic the same smart spending strategies. She adds that she's on the lookout all year for great back-to-school deals, including during post-season clearance sales.

4. Work as a team. For Ashley Barnett, a contributor for MoneyUnder30.com, shopping tasks are split between the parents. She and her husband go through all of their kids' clothes first to get a sense of what is needed. Then, they plot out what to buy with a set dollar amount in mind. When they actually shop in person, they divide and conquer to get the shopping done. Each parent takes one of the children and gets what's on the list. This works well for their family and gets the shopping done in half the time.

Linsey Knerl of 1099Mom.com explains how she and her family plan one big shopping trip about a month before school starts with the whole family. Then her husband, Samuel Knerl, later goes back to the store to fill in any gaps that they may have missed the first time around.

They prefer in-store shopping for back to school. "When you're dealing with clothes and electronics for five kids, it's important that we can touch and feel the merchandise," she says. They also take advantage of the opportunity costs of stocking up on loss-leaders such as notebooks and socks. They can use the supplies later and shop less often, especially since they live in a rural area and get to the store less than once a week.

5. Make a dash for secondhand. The recent NRF survey reports that the average family with college students will spend $126 to furnish dorm rooms. If you're looking to slash this expense, consider getting items secondhand.

Doug Nordman of the TheMilitaryGuide.com explains that your back-to-school shopping is a lot cheaper when it's done at Goodwill and garage sales. Be on alert during spring cleaning and summer moving season, he suggests. People are looking to offload their stuff and that can work to your wallet's advantage.

6. Relay your wish list to friends. You can always send out a social media search party to potentially get your furniture needs met. If you're brave enough to ask on Facebook, you might be one status update away from getting a freebie or low-cost piece from local friends or family. You can offer to pick up furniture they might be looking to ditch.

When you're running around to find good deals on back-to-school shopping list, use the tips mentioned to spend less and get the items needed on your list.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving tips on her website, MoneySavingEnthusiast.com.
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