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Back-to-School Shopping: Six ways to save

It might seem like summer vacation began just the other day, but, believe it or not, those school bells will start ringing sooner than later. And that means, for many families, it’s time for back-to-school shopping.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in kindergarten to grade 12 spend more than $600 on electronics, apparel and other school needs with total spending reaching nearly $25 billion. While the total has seesawed in recent years, families generally have spent 42 percent more on school items over the past decade, the federation reports.

Here are six simple steps to cut your costs during this annual shopping bonanza.

  1. Assess your actual needs: Sometimes the lure of those back-to-school shopping advertisements are hard to resist, but do your children really need new stuff? Is last year’s backpack just fine? Does the lunchbox just need a really good cleaning? Can’t she just wear the clothes she’s worn all summer? Do you have a closet already overflowing with pencils, binders, and paper? Take stock of everything you have to make sure you’re only buying what you need.
  2. Search for sales: The back-to-school fliers start coming out in early July, but you can stock up any time of the year. If facial tissues and hand sanitizer are regulars on your child’s school supply list, look out for coupons and sales to nab deals on those items whenever you see them. Once the sales do start, don’t buy all of your supplies in one place. You might find a box of pencils for $1 at a big box store; 25 cent crayons at the grocery store; and a ream of paper for just a penny, after rebate, at an office supply store. Shop around.
  3. Shop on tax-free days: Some states offer tax-free holidays during the summer so families can save at least a little money on school needs. To get the tax break, you must purchase items that qualify for the deal. That might be, for instance, clothing that costs $100 or less or single purchases of computers at $750 or less. Laws vary from state to state.
  4. Set up a swap: Do your kids wear uniforms? Is their backpack just fine, but they’d like a new one? Consider setting up a swap with friends, classmates and neighbors to trade gently used items that your kids have grown out of, but would be just right for somebody else.
  5. Save your money on trendy items … for now: Maybe your son is eyeing a new pair of basketball ball shoes. It might be that perfect cardigan for your daughter. It’s OK to splurge from time to time if your budget allows. Hold off, however, on buying an entire wardrobe of trendy items. Let your kids see what their classmates are wearing and then let them come up with a list of things they need and want. After all, Christmas gift giving is right around the corner.
  6. Put the kids in charge … with a limit: Before you even leave your house to shop, set a limit and don’t waver. If $100 is in the budget for new clothes, let your kids make the hard decisions between that pair of shoes and those new jeans. It will be an important lesson for them in spending and budgeting.

Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. It happens at home, too. Making your kids part of the conversation as you shop at the start of each school year will ensure they understand the hard choices that come with living within your means.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today

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Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.


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