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Back to Savings: Smart Shopping for Back to School

If you’re looking to save on back-to-school shopping, you’re in good company. Parents everywhere are feeling the pinch of the economy, and four out of five have reduced their school-related spending.

The National Retail Federation reports that 56.2 per cent of back-to-school shoppers are looking for discounts, 41.7 per cent are ditching brand-names in favor of generics, and 40 per cent are using more coupons.

Welcome the new school year in frugal fashion with these tips for back-to-school saving.

Start at the Beginning

Get organized, and get ‘the list.’ Review your child’s list of required supplies and take inventory of what you’ll need. If you don’t have a list, contact your child’s school or friends with older children.

Aim to be thorough in your shopping. Forget a few items, and you’ll find yourself fighting with the masses - and paying full price - for picked-over supplies at the last minute. Instead, save money and hassle by checking everything off the list.

Make it a Family Affair

Back-to-school season is a great time to teach kids valuable lessons in budgeting and prioritization. Together, set a budget for supplies and separate needs from wants. If your child is set on a pricey item that isn’t in the budget, have them cover the difference out of their allowance.

Never Stop Shopping

Buy the basics on sale year-round and squirrel them away for back to school. According to Jonni McCoy, author of Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy, shopping over time spreads out the expenditures and maximizes your purchasing power.

“Don't try to get it all done in one day,” says McCoy. “Not everything is on sale on one day. Every week, check what school items are on sale and get those. Then do the same the next week, and the next.”

Surf the Savings

Sites like and offer everything from computers to graphing calculators to brand-name backpacks at huge discounts. While you’re at it, why not unload things your kids have outgrown? Last year’s trendy outfit, bike or winter coat can yield cash to put toward this year’s list.

Join the Club

Register to get exclusive discounts, deluxe coupons and other perks delivered to your inbox from major retailers, like Old Navy. Sign up online or in store. If you don’t want to clog your personal account with marketing email, snag a free email account just for promotional signups.

Dollars and Sense

You local dollar store is a great place to find basic supplies for less. McCoy recommends shopping for supplies at discount stores and taking advantage of sales to stretch your dollar even further. Staples and Walmart, for example, host well-known sales offering back-to-school supplies for pennies. Mark your calendar for sale days and scoop up the savings.

Swap to Save

Score some new-to-your-kids clothing by hosting a swap. Lay down a few ground rules: clothing should be free of stains and rips, and no payment or bartering is allowed. People take what they want, and leave what they don’t. Afterward, leftover items can be donated to charity.

Say Yes to Yard Sales

Binders, notebooks, pencil cases, scissors, staplers, loose-leaf paper and more are yours for the finding. Bring small bills and change and don’t be afraid to haggle. Carry a reusable bag to tote home your treasures.

Bulk up Your Budget

Big-box discounters and warehouse stores sell high-quality office and school supplies in bulk. If you have a large family, the super-sized packages of pens, highlighters, binders, tape and folders make sense.

You can take advantage of bulk deals even if you don’t have a large brood. Gather a group of moms, divide the list and pool the savings.

Grab Some Inspiration

Creativity is in. Spice up a plain or hand-me-down binder with a digital photo collage. Protect school books with covers made from gift wrap or newspaper. Refresh last year’s backpack with new buttons and iron-on patches. The possibilities for inspiration - and savings - are endless.

Malia is a freelance writer and mom of two.


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