Financial Fitness


Ace back-to-school shopping with 6 smart moves

Posted at 10:53 PM, Aug 02, 2018

Back-to-school shopping is an expensive chore. And if you shop local sales, it’s a chore you’ll share with thousands of other parents in the vicinity. If it’s big savings you’re after when you brave the crowds, sales flyers won’t cut it. You’ve got to get creative.

“Back-to-school shopping can put a big strain on family budgets, but planning ahead to take advantage of discounts, setting a budget, and only buying what your child actually needs helps your dollar go a lot farther,” says NerdWallet personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer.

Going beyond the sales flyers in your savings efforts may take a bit more work, but it can pay off for your pocketbook and peace of mind.

»More: How to save money: short and long term strategies

1. Splurge strategically

Two-thirds (66%) of parents admit to splurging on clothing during back-to-school shopping and 50% on classroom supplies, according to a recent NerdWallet survey. But busting your budget on gel pens or the latest teen fashions doesn’t make financial sense. Instead, spend where it counts — on the things that last for years. For example, a high quality backpack or laptop can last your high-schooler into college. Splurge where you’ll truly get your money’s worth, and bargain shop on classroom supplies and fad items.

2. Take advantage of credit card rewards

Putting your back-to-school expenses on a cash-back credit card could put your money to work for you. Putting all of your expenses on one may reap enough to cover next year’s back-to-school expenses entirely. Just make sure you’re able to pay off the balance each cycle, as interest could negate any benefits.

3. Price match before and after shopping

Price matching involves comparing identical items at other stores and asking a retailer to match any lower price, and 10% of parents never do it, according to that NerdWallet survey. The trick may not make sense for a package of pencils, but for clothing, electronics, bookbags and other more expensive items, a successful price match could save you tens of dollars, if not more.

Check a retailer’s website or ask in store for its price matching policy. Many will also refund the price difference if you spot a cheaper price within a certain time frame after the purchase.

4. Team up to buy in bulk

Those classroom supply lists can get pretty long, and with roughly 25 students in your child’s classroom, many other parents are looking at the same list. By teaming up with other parents, you can purchase all of the supplies for homework and note-taking in bulk. If your child’s teacher is reluctant to give out parent contact information, ask if they would send yours out in a group email, allowing other parents to reach you if they’re interested in group savings.

»Read: More back-to-school shopping tips

5. Shop on tax-free holidays

Fourteen states are having sales tax holidays in August 2018. Most of them last through a full weekend, and some even longer. The specifics of each state’s holiday vary but generally allow you to purchase certain back-to-school items without paying sales tax.

6. Wait to buy some items

Your child doesn’t need a brand new wardrobe or the entire year’s worth of classroom supplies on the first day. By postponing some purchases, you can spread the costs across several months and possibly hit better prices. For example, fall apparel tends to drop in price after the initial back-to-school rush.

“Being strategic about your spending now will also make it easier to manage when other school-related expenses, for field trips or after-school activities, pop up as the year continues. Back-to-school spending shouldn’t stress your budget before the school year has even begun, and with a few smart moves, it doesn’t have to,” Palmer adds.

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