8 secrets to scoring cheap back-to-school items

If you have school-age children, you are probably well aware of what lurks just around the corner: shopping for back-to-school supplies. And whether this task is one that you relish or dread, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best deals on the back-to-school items that your kids need.

According to a 2015 survey on back-to-school spending by the National Retail Federation, the average family with children in grades K through 12 expected to spend $630.36 on electronics, apparel and other school supplies last year. This sum can take a toll on any budget.

Here are eight tips designed to cut your back-to-school shopping burden.

1. Check Your Inventory

Before you hit the shops this season, take inventory of your existing school supplies; you might already have some of the items you need. For example, a thorough washing might make last year’s backpack look new again. Similarly, those water bottles are probably holding up just fine. And, of course, younger kids can benefit from older siblings’ gently used clothing from the previous year.

Regina Conway, consumer expert with coupon and deals site Slickdeals said, “Before you hit the stores, do an inventory to see what you truly need before you make a shopping list. By doing this, you won’t get swept up by the deals and end up buying things you may not need.”

2. Time Your Purchases

A well-timed purchase can mean the difference between scoring a deep discount and paying full price. Choose what to buy — and when to buy it — based on the current deals, rather than buying everything you need in one trip.

Author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column and video series, “Super-Couponing Tips,” Jill Cataldo said, “Look for school supply sales to begin around July, and focus primarily on office supply stores and drugstores for ‘crazy cheap’ deals like penny rulers and folders, 10-cent spiral notebooks and 25-cent scissors.”

Cataldo also advised shoppers to keep their kids’ supply lists on them at all times and pick up items as they go on sale. By the end of the summer, you’ll likely have all the supplies crossed over your shopping list.

3. Employ Savings Resources

There are countless savings sites and apps out there. But which ones are worth your time — and the space on your smartphone?

Flipp and Slickdeals offer unique features that set them apart from the pack. Offering a built-in shopping list, Flipp delivers circulars from local retailers straight to your mobile device and features in-app coupon match-ups, so you can pick the best back-to-school discounts.

On the other hand, Slickdeals boasts millions of users who vote on the value of different deals. The most popular offers becomes “featured deals” on the main page. You can also use Slickdeals to see historical pricing and set deal alerts.

4. Use Your Student Status

A student ID might just be worth its weight in gold — at least when it comes to back-to-school shopping. In fact, many retailers offer special savings for those who are headed back to the classroom.

“Before making any purchase, be sure to inquire about specialty discounts for students,” said Conway. “For example, Apple boasts Apple Education Pricing, which includes various incentives, like free wireless Beats headphones with the purchase of an eligible Mac, iPad or iPhone for college. And the savings extend across retail categories. J.Crew offers a 15 percent discount on most in-store purchases. Similarly, Amazon offers a Prime membership designed specifically to help college students save cash.”

5. Hold Off on the Hobbies

If you have kids, then you probably know how fickle they can be when it comes to their hobbies.

“Even though your kids might be excited about a new activity, hold off on investing too many funds until you know this is something with which they plan to stick,” said Conway. “Very often things can be rented in the meantime or borrowed from another parent whose child might have outgrown theirs.”

The last thing you want to do is end up with another abandoned drum kit or discarded hockey stick in your basement.

6. Choose Used

You can save a bundle by buying gently used items from sites like eBay and Craigslist or by shopping at local resale stores.

Jeanette Pavini, savings expert for Coupons.com, said, “Look for a used sporting goods store in your area. You’ll find big discounts on balls, bats, protective gear, cleats and even uniforms. Musical instruments are also available at resale shops. While you’re at it, cash in on your kids’ old gear. Use your store credit toward what your child needs now.”

Parents can also save by purchasing gently used clothing from online consignment shops like thredUP.

Said Conway, “Parents can find all of their favorite kids’ brands, like Gap Kids, Mini Boden and Crewcuts on thredUP. These outfits are a 67 percent savings over what you would have paid at retail, and everything on the site is in ‘like-new’ condition.”

7. Let the Kids Do the Shopping

Can’t face another trip to the mall? Consider letting your kids take over the responsibility of back-to-school shopping.

“Older kids often spend less if they’re handed cash to spend themselves,” said Pavini. “Give them a budget for school clothes and let them decide how they want to spend it.”

Having a limited amount of cash can spur your kids to make savvy purchasing decisions. On the other hand, kids who shop with their parents often assume Mom and Dad will keep opening their wallets at every store.

8. Spend Now to Save Later

Sometimes, spending a little more now can pay off down the line. Backpacks and calculators are two items for which buyers can’t afford to cut corners.

“Eddie Bauer offers a lifetime guarantee on their backpacks. Opt for spending a bit more upfront and saving in the long run,” said Pavini. “Also, often times each math class requires a new calculator. If you know your child will be continuing on to higher math classes, buy a more advanced calculator they will be able to use for all classes. It may be more expensive than the others, but it will save you a lot of money in the long run.”

From GoBankingRates.com: 8 secrets to scoring cheap-back-to-school items

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