If you’re about to send the little ones off to school for another year, you’re probably knee deep in the process of shopping for their supplies by now. Outfitting your children with backpacks, lunchboxes, binders and more can be a costly venture, and every parent undertakes it when autumn rolls around. With a little research and planning, however, you can find plenty of ways to reduce the financial burden of back-to-school shopping.
1. Check Your Current Inventory
Before you head out on your first shopping trip, get the kids involved and ask them to round up everything they have left from last year. If they dig deep, you might be surprised by what’s still on-hand. If those backpacks and jackets are still just as good as they were last year, have your children reuse them. If you get some pushback, just placate them with another smaller purchase.
2. Create a Shopping List
Gather supplies lists from each of your kids’ classes and mark off any items you already have on-hand. Once you’ve done that, be sure to bring the list with you when you shop — forgetting it could mean a lot of money spent on unnecessary purchases. If any of the items on your children’s lists are optional, just don’t buy them. If you change your mind down the road, you can always purchase them later — usually after they’ve gone on sale.
3. Get Free Supplies
Sign up for the rewards program at your preferred office-supplies store, and stay on top of your emails. You can generally opt to receive notifications when school supplies are available at a discount, or possibly for free after a 100% cash-back rebate. You usually have to pay full price for items, but at the beginning of the following quarter you’re going to be issued a rewards certificate. Most websites post these offers online, so be sure to remember your username and password for each so you can easily access them once they’re ready.
4. Never Pay Full Price
The retailer’s strategy behind most cash-back rewards programs is to get you to pay full price for other supplies during your shopping excursions. Be patient and wait for the rest of the items on your list to go on sale. If it’s down to the last minute, check out your local dollar store. For things like backpacks and lunch boxes, wait a few weeks and you may be able to score a deal from the clearance section.
5. Stock Up When You See a Deal
If you see a 10-pack of pens for 50 cents, buy as many as you can. Do the same for notebooks, pencils and any other items you see at a bargain. Even if you end up overbuying, it just means next year’s shopping trips are going to be that much easier — and less expensive.
6. Use Your Cash-Back Rewards Wisely
If you find yourself with a pile of rewards certificates, be sure to write down all expiration dates so you don’t miss out on any savings. Better yet, set a notification on your calendar for about two weeks before each one expires so you’ve got some leeway to go out and use them. If worse comes to worst and you don’t see anything you need, ask if the retailer is willing to let you use the certificates to buy gift cards in the store — or try getting them online, as these typically have no expiration date.
Unless that summer vacation you just took is completely paid off and you have a healthy holiday shopping fund ready to go this winter, it’s important to save money however you can. Remember, back-to-school shopping is not necessarily a one-off event. Other obligations — such as sports uniforms, school play costumes, and field trip expenses — are going to pop up as the year progresses. Cut your back-to-school costs now and you’ll be that much closer to staying on track throughout the year.