Can you feel the excitement in the air? It is almost time for many kids to head back to school. Okay, so maybe it is us parents who are most excited! As a kid I remember feeling equal parts excitement and dread about the upcoming school year. One of my least favorite parts of this time of year was the back to school shopping. I guess some things never change, but I have managed to compile a lost of back to school tips and shopping strategies.
Fortunately, my wife is an excellent back to school shopper, and over the years we have improved on our bargain hunting prowess while managing to fully equip our kids for the next school year. It takes a little planning, but the savings make it well worth it to work out a strategy before blindly walking into the mall with store credit cards primed.
Frugal Tips For Back to School Shopping
1. Shop consignment stores in your area. Over the years, many quality consignment stores have cropped up that offer cash or store credits in exchange for gently used clothing. Not only are these great places to generate some quick cash for cleaning out a closet before school starts, they are also a good place to look for deals on designer clothing, if that is something you’re after. Think of it as shopping for a used car – someone else paid for most of the depreciation.
2. Buy articles of clothing that go with (almost) anything. Unless you have an unlimited supply of money, you will discover quickly that coordinating outfits do not have a lot of room in the average kids’ closet. Instead of buying a coordinating shirt, pants, and shoes that go with nothing else, opt for versatile articles of clothing that work well with each other, multiplying the number of potential “outfits” available.
3. Shop for off-season, clearance items. When it is 97 degrees outside it is hard to think about shopping for long-sleeve shirts and coats. However, it’s a great time to pick up clearance deals on these winter items as stores will practically give them away to make room for fall arrivals.
4. Look for bargains on Thursday nights. Many department store sales run Thursday thru Sunday. Most of us who work Monday thru Friday save shopping for the weekends, meaning a Thursday night trip to a department store could yield big savings and plenty of options. By Sunday night all that remains are leftovers, as popular sizes and styles are the first to go.
5. Watch the Sunday paper for store sales and coupons. This past weekend, a department store in our area offered two coupons–one flat percentage off your total bill, and the other offering $15 off if you bought $75 worth of merchandise. My wife and I split our transactions so that each of us could use a coupon to realize maximum savings.
6. Forget about designer labels. Most stores now have their own label that competes with larger, name-brand designer labels. I have found that in most cases the quality of clothing is comparable, and the premium for designer labels just isn’t worth it. That’s especially true when you consider how quickly kids outgrow, or wear out, their clothing.
7. Buy school supplies in 3’s. My wife is a master at shopping for back-to-school supplies. One strategy she uses is when she finds a great deal on basic supplies such as paper, pencils, crayons, binders, etc, she stocks up with at least three of each item. The kids are well-stocked for the first day of school, and we can restock at least twice later in the school year.
8. Shop on sales tax holidays, if you dare. Many states offer sales tax holidays, usually lasting an entire weekend near the end of July or early August. On these days a number of items are exempt from sales tax. The list varies from state to state, but if you have large-ticket items (such as computers) that are included, it might be worth it to fight the crowds.
9. Start a “Back To School” fund. Much like we’ve done for other once-a-year-expenses, we recently started a back-to-school shopping fund at a good online bank. Consider your most recent school shopping experience to set a budget for next year. Divide that number by 12 (monthly), or by the number of paychecks you expect next year. Deposit that amount each month (or payday) into a designated back-to-school at an online savings account. When next summer arrives you’ll have the cash available and a pre-determined budget to limit your spending.
Back to school shopping can be a stressful time for both kids and parents. Make it a happier experience (or at least less painful) by implementing a few of the tips above. Since we have a little shopping left to do, I’m interested to hear your favorite back to school shopping tips in the comments below.