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How To Cut Costs On Back-To-School Shopping

When shopping for school supplies, today’s parents can’t simply hit up the dollar store for No. 2 pencils, three-ring binders, and other basics. Student must-haves now include everything from neon backpacks and coordinated pencil cases to pricey laptops and tablets.

If it feels like retailers are hyping back-to-school shopping more than ever before, it’s because they are. Local and digital stores have targeted parents with preview ads for supplies and apparel since before the Fourth of July fireworks fizzled.

In fact, 2019 is on track to become a record year when it comes to spending on supplies for students in elementary school through college, according to survey data from the National Retail Federation.

So how can you cut costs when you’re expected to spend more than ever?

The best tactic for spending less is to shop around and compare prices. Even a little legwork can add up to serious savings.

Earlier this month, personal finance comparison site Finder compared the cost of sticking with one store for stationery versus shopping around competitors. We learned that you can save up to $59 by strategically choosing the cheapest store for each item. And that was by price comparing among three retailers only: Walmart, Staples and Amazon. You may find deeper discounts by shopping local.

Interestingly, the same National Retail Federation report claims the majority of K–12 families plan to do most of their shopping at department stores — possibly a result of their convenience or big-brand names foremost in our minds. But these retailers are unlikely to offer the best value. In general, using promo codes online and checking prices across discount and general office supply stores can keep more money in your wallet.

Tips to save on back-to-school shopping

  • Spread out shopping. It may pay to wait until Labor Day or even Columbus Day for stronger deals if you can hold off. Early September and into October sees the lowest prices on back-to-school clothing, shoes and big-ticket electronics.
  • Take inventory. You might be surprised to find leftover notebooks from last year or a fresh box of crayons shoved in the back of a drawer. Check what supplies you already have to avoid buying unnecessary duplicates.
  • Leverage price-matching. Know which retailers are willing to adjust prices to their competitors’. If you find that Spider-Man backpack for less elsewhere, you just might get a refund for the difference.
  • Go off-brand. You don’t need brand names for basic items like dry erase markers or disinfecting wipes. Buy a store’s generic-brand to spend less overall.
  • Share Information. If you find a good deal, share the information on the school’s Facebook page or social media for other parents to find. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Cheryl Wagemann

Shopping Editor at finder.com

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