Back to School Shopping Secrets

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backtoschoolshoppingIf you’ve got children, then you’ve got two very expensive times of year where shopping feels like it gets a little out of control: the winter holiday season and everyone’s favorite fall shopping madness: back-to-school season. Back-to-school is one time of year in particular that can bring out the worst in frantic families trying to prepare their kids for school – and it can be a serious drain on the wallet.

While it’s hard to avoid the crowds of children and parents at the mall searching for the right first-day outfit or loading up the cart at Target with binders and pens, it’s easier to avoid overspending. That’s right, it’s totally possible to save money while getting ready for the upcoming school year. So while you gear up the kids for the new year, here are a few secrets to keep your back to school shopping sane and help you save a little money in the process.

Decide on your wants and needs and take inventory. As the new school year approaches, it’s easy for both you and your child to get carried away when it comes to what you want to buy versus what you need. Before you head off to the store to buy everything you think you or your child want, take a moment to think about what’s really necessary. Even though your child wants a new coat in this season’s style, has he or she really outgrown last year’s coat? Do you need to buy another notebook when there’s a perfectly good one leftover from last year? Take stock of what really matters (and what you already have on-hand) before you head off to the store.

Ask your child to help you make a list – and stick to it. Your child’s teacher probably gave you a list of recommended supplies for the year. Take a moment to read over the list with your son or daughter and make sure you both agree what’s on the list (this should be in line with your wants and needs list from before). Reviewing the list can save you from arguments when you’re already at the store and a new backpack that wasn’t on the list catches your child’s eye. Take a moment to also create a list for any back-to-school clothing that needs to be purchased. Again, this will help you avoid any impulse requests when you’re at the mall.

Spread your shopping throughout the summer. Spreading your shopping out across a couple weeks or even a couple days means you’re much more likely to be able to take advantage of deals as they come up. Keep your list handy as you visit different stores to compare prices and scoop up bargains when they appear.

Buy in bulk or used when possible. Not sure what you’d do with all those boxes of pens from that buy 5 get 1 free sale? Consider partnering up with another family to buy supplies in bulk purchases. Another tip to save money? Consider browsing on Craigslist for used items, like gently used backpacks or winter coats.

Ask for discounts on recently purchased merchandise. Many big-brand chains will honor new discounts on recently purchased clothing. If you see something that you bought in the past two weeks that’s just gone on sale, you can get the difference refunded by bringing your receipt into the store.