Tips for back-to-school savings from a thrifty mom

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With back-to-school supply promotions starting soon after school lets out, and not stopping till the yellow buses start rolling again, it can be challenging figuring out where the real deals are.

Reuters asked Tara Kuczykowski, a mother of five in Columbus, Ohio, and author of the popular DealSeekingMom.com blog (dealseekingmom.com), for her best tips on shuffling through these deals, figuring out when to buy online, or when spending more could make sense.

TIMING THE DEAL SHOPPING

"The earlier you start, the more you're going to save," Kuczykowski says. "Buy a little bit here and there. Maybe you don't need as many as the limit, but if it's a deal, get it anyway. Stock up."

For instance, she notes that if you can get ten notebooks for a dollar now, it makes sense to buy as many as you can. You will always be able to use a notebook, and the extras could be donated to the school to benefit less privileged children.

FIGURING OUT THE REAL DEALS

"It really pays to look at all the ads in a given week and see who has the best prices," Kuczykowski says. "Take the ads with you. You can also check online. But get the Sunday newspaper ads."

Just sitting down for a few minutes and glancing at these will allow you to see what one store is charging for, say, pencils, compared to another. That could help you avoid paying more for a product at one store if you can get it cheaper elsewhere, she notes.

ITEMS TO FIND THE BEST PENNY DEALS FOR

"Index cards, ballpoint pens, and school glue," Kuczykowski says.

Office supply stores are the best place to find such deals, she says, and they may be priced better than online options, especially if bought in larger quantities.

"They're trying to draw the crowds in there. Buy the limit. For a penny or a few cents it makes sense," she says.

Look for big discounts as well on other items, she says, like Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, paper towels, and office supplies that would be good for anyone to stock up on, including small businesses.

ON BACKPACKS AND THE OCCASIONAL SPLURGE

"It's usually better to spend a little more on a quality backpack that's going to last, than on a very inexpensive backpack advertised to get you in the store," Kuczykowski says.

A cheap backpack she bought for one of her kids fell apart in short order, after which Kuczykowski splurged four or five times that price for Lands End backpacks that lasted through all of elementary school.

"It's one of the times that quality wins out over price."

ON CLOTHING

"Take advantage of the end-of-summer clearance sales. All the short sleeves, all the shorts," Kuczykowski says.

"It's easier to stretch those items than to buy the big fall wardrobe they're not even going to wear for a few months."

ON LUNCH KITS

"Rubbermaid LunchBlox comes with an ice pack and containers that all snap together. The ice packs are durable. You can fill the little cups," she says.

The kits sell for about $15 but can be purchased at many retailers for $10 or less. They can be configured to fit a variety of different shaped lunch bags or boxes.

For more back-to-school content, click here, and check out our #BTSselfiesweeps for the chance to win the ultimate back-to-school prize pack!

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