Deal Finder: Cut costs during Back-to-School, Back-to-College shopping

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By LaTina Emerson, The Shopper Deal Finder

As summer vacation winds down, families are gearing up for the excitement and expense of back-to-school shopping. Anyone who has browsed the aisles of retail stores during the weeks before school is back in session understands that back-to-school costs definitely add up.

Getting all of the recommended items on your child’s school supply list and managing your child’s expectations on items such as shoes, clothing, backpacks and lunchboxes can be pricey, even for those with the financial means to do so. The costs are even higher for college students.

Last school year, the National Retail Federation estimated that total spending on back-to-school (K-12) and back-to-college shopping would reach $82.8 billion. This is more than consumers spend on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day combined. Families were expected to spend $55.3 billion on back-to-college shopping, the majority of the spending.

Back-to-school shoppers planned to spend an average of $684.79, devoting the most money to clothing ($236.90), followed by $187.10 on electronics such as computers, calculators or phones, $138.66 on shoes and $122.13 on supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes. Youth heading to college, along with current college and graduate students, planned to spend an average of $942.17, with electronics listed as the biggest expense.

Don’t let your hard-earned money go down the school supply drain. Here are some ways to save on back-to-school and back-to-college shopping:

Find School Supply Giveaways
Many churches and nonprofit organizations offer school supply giveaways in the weeks leading up to the start of school. It can be challenging to find out the dates of these giveaways far in advance, so stay on the lookout for church signs or announcements in the local newspaper. Also, ask around and see if friends and family have heard about any giveaways. While each giveaway is different, families can often walk away with backpacks, pencils, notebooks and more.

Make a List
Have a plan when you go to the store or you might be tempted to buy all sorts of items that you don’t really need. Make a list of the essential items, particularly when back-to-college shopping. Stick to your list and your budget. If you’re low on funds, determine which items you definitely need to purchase now and which ones can wait until later.

Look for Deals
Monitor weekly sales ads, either print or online, and compare prices. Shoppers can find deals on back-to-school items at grocery stores, discount retailers, office supply stores and department stores. They can also learn about upcoming sales on retailers’ social media accounts. Don’t forget about discount stores such as Dollar Tree, Big Lots, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Roses that regularly offer low prices. In addition, don’t underestimate thrift and secondhand stores, such as Goodwill, and yard sales, which often have new and gently used children’s shoes and clothing at great prices.

Stock Up
This is a great time of year to find deals on school supplies, so stock up while items are on sale. However, make sure you’re not buying items that your child won’t need.

Recycle Past Items
Recycle past school supplies, if possible. Take inventory of items purchased last year and reuse the ones that are in good condition.

Trade with Friends
If you find leftover items from last year that your child won’t need to use this school term, ask other parents who have school-aged children if they have extra school supplies and would like to make a trade. Maybe you have extra notebook paper and can swap it for another family’s pencils.

Wait to Buy New Clothing
The back-to-school shopping season isn’t the best time to save on your child’s wardrobe, according to Consumer Reports. Clothing prices typically fall in September after the big shopping rush. To save money on clothing, buy your child a new outfit or two and wait until prices are reduced. Parents can also save on clothing by shopping at resale or secondhand clothing stores, such as Plato’s Closet.

Plato’s Closet offers a wide selection of trendy, designer styles and basic items at up to 70 percent off mall retail prices. The store buys gently used teen and young adult clothing and accessories that are name brands and styles that are usually still in the mall. Shoppers can trade in their own clothing items and receive cash to make new purchases.

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