For anyone with school-aged children and anyone in school themselves, the end of summer means back-to-school shopping. It can mean spending a paycheck or more on new clothes, uniforms and school supplies for each student in the family. And back-to-school shopping for a college student means even more purchases — you could find yourself buying housewares, linens, costly textbooks and even new electronics.
But you can spend less on your children’s or your own back-to-school shopping without having to buy less. Check out these easy money-saving tips to cut down bills and stick to your budget without compromising your purchases.
Take Advantage of Back-to-School Sales
During the back-to-school season of late summer and early autumn, you can find just about anything you need on sale. Keep an eye out for commercials and print advertisements about upcoming sales. Office and school supply stores will have deals on all the usual school materials like notebooks and backpacks, while department stores can cover the rest of your needs. Department stores often have back-to-school sales on clothing, bedding, furniture and other school and college necessities.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk isn’t just for grocery items. Stock up on binders, paper, pens and other school supplies. You can store these items until you need them for future school years. Buying in bulk like this will often cut per-unit prices, meaning you’ll pay less in the long run. It will also cut down on your hassle, since you’ll have to purchase fewer items next year.
If you know exactly what you need and don’t need to browse through aisles of a store, turn to your computer. Shopping online allows you to compare prices at several different stores without making trips out. That way, you know you’re buying items at the best price possible.
You may also be able to find online-only discounts before you check out. Look around for online coupons by performing a search of the store name with a phrase like “coupon code” or “promotional code.” Common online offers include free shipping and 10 percent off your total.
Buy Used Items
If you need to buy your own textbooks, check your school’s bookstores and online marketplaces like Amazon and Half.com for inexpensive used books.
Don’t forget you can buy other items used, too. You can use the Internet to track down deals on used furniture for dorm rooms, and browse local thrift stores for back-to-school clothing.
You’ll likely be able to find an abundance of coupons for various types of stores right before a new school year begins. Look through circulars, and check store websites to find coupons and offers. If you’re planning on doing most of your shopping at just a few stores, join their mailing lists. This can give you access to exclusive savings offers.
Open Store Credit Cards
Like joining a mailing list, opening a store credit card is most useful when you visit a store frequently or plan to spend a lot of money at that store. When you open a new card, you might receive a special one-time discount, regular offers or cash back on every purchase. Find out if your favorite store for back-to-school gear offers a charge card. If so, be sure to read all the details before signing up.
Remember that a store card is like a normal credit card. Your eligibility will depend on your credit history. You’ll also have to pay down your balance each month and keep the card in good standing. If you miss payments or make late payments, it will affect your credit rating.
This is a tried and true alternative to credit cards. Cards allow you to ignore price tags until you open your monthly bill. For many people, cards make it difficult to keep track of spending habits and stay within a budget. If you don’t trust yourself to stick to your budget, start your shopping with a limited amount of cash. That way you’re guaranteed not to go over your limit.
Reuse school supplies from previous years to cut down your purchases. Rather than throwing away barely-used notebooks and binders from the previous year, save them for the new school year.
You can also make creative substitutions for some supplies. For example, rather than buying textbook covers, you can make your own from paper shopping bags.
All of these techniques are sure to help you stay within your budget during your back-to-school shopping. Utilize whichever ones you please to start racking up savings.
Elina Smith writes about issues related to credit, debt and personal finance for Debt.org, America’s Debt Help Organization.