With the constant changes we’ve endured the past eighteen months or so, back-to-school shopping can seem like a refreshingly normal, time-honored tradition — or another endless task that, depending on your situation, may leave you feeling financially squeezed. But with some planning, patience and savvy use of money-saving tools, outfitting your kids with all the essentials that help set them up for a successful academic term needn’t drain your household budget or sap your energy. Throw in a few old-fashioned phone calls to compare prices from those retailers vying for a chunk of your back-to-school funds, and you’re likely to see the savings add up fast. What’s more, the best bargains of the season are still up for grabs, with late summer and early fall an ideal time to get the most for your money on your kids’ school-related needs. Put a plan into action with these pointers:
First, take stock of what you already have
While everyday items like notebooks, binders and highlighters are probably not your biggest back-to-school expenses, it’s incredibly easy to overspend on these items. Avoid this trap by taking a quick inventory of supplies you already own before you start shopping. To make it simple, just grab a bin and go through your home to collect what you have on hand. But it’s best not to skip this step, or you may find yourself buying duplicates of what you don’t need, which can eat away at funds for the larger purchases. Once you’ve created an updated list, you may be able to find most of what you still need at a dollar store, where you can often find the same quality and brands available at the drugstore chains and office supply stores. Alternatively, you might consider getting supplies with a friend at a membership-based warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s Club, where you can buy in bulk and split the costs.
Resist the urge to get everything at once
It takes some planning, but you’ll get much more for your money and may find it easier to budget if you stagger your spending to take advantage of seasonal sales. Before you buy higher-priced items, it can be helpful to check the school’s website for a list of what they recommend, or even contact your kids’ teachers directly to ask what they will need, and when. If you hold off just a bit on buying those items that you won’t need right away, you can often save a bundle with the price cuts that typically occur in the weeks following the start of the fall school term.
Strategic timing can also pay off in your back-to-school clothing budget. For instance, Erika Hanson from the financial advice outlet PayPath suggests that you buy kids one new outfit for their first day, and wait to fulfill more of their wardrobe-related needs (or requests) when retailers slash their prices on fall and winter clothing— generally from late September to early October. And as money-saving expert Andrea Woroch explains at Working Mother, Labor Day clearance sales are a great time to pick up summer basics like T-shirts and tank tops, which are useful year-round layering pieces. Also remember that you’ll find some of the best deals of the year on electronics like laptops and smartphones during Black Friday sales around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Plan ahead and compare pricing:
For larger purchases like clothing, electronics and backpacks, it’s a good idea to check prices against competing retailers online before heading out to do any shopping. This will also give you a chance to find any coupons and special offers that might not be available in the store. To compare prices on specific items across various retailers, try an app like ShopSavvy or Honey, which provide the added bonus of allowing you to earn cash-back or gift cards on your purchases. For recommendations on various shopping comparison sites, check Online Tech Tips here. If you plan to buy on Amazon, the price tracker Camelcamelcamel can help you determine a good time to buy based on price trends, and will alert you when prices drop.
Go for the loss leaders
Big box retailers, office supply stores and drug stores typically offer what are referred to as “loss leaders” each week during the back-to-school shopping season. These are products that are priced at a deep discount well below market in order to bring people into the store, and attract sales on the more profitable goods. You’ll find these bargains on the front and back pages of weekly circular ads which you can access online, or in their store flyers, which. While these promotions often require a minimum purchase, the amount you’ll need to spend to take advantage of a store’s loss leaders is generally quite low.
Not interested in spending time pouring over newspaper and magazine ads every week? Try an app like Flipp, which aggregates digital versions of the major circulars in one place. Efficient and easy-to-use, this tool allows you to clip the items you want, create shopping lists, and combine your local flyer deals with brand coupons for stackable savings.
The lowest possible price may not be found online — beware of MAPs
Keep in mind that there are times when the advertised price is not actually the lowest price that a retailer may offer on a particular item. This is not due to haggling, but to a practice called MAPs, or “minimum advertised price” policies, which are used to reduce price competition. Under these agreements, retailers are prohibited from promoting certain products for less than a set price minimum, even though they may sell these items for less than the publicized price. Furthermore, internet search engines may not reveal these rock-bottom prices, instead returning results that favor those businesses that pay advertising fees or commissions. How can you get around this? To find a store’s best price on big-ticket products like laptops or bikes, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Consumers’ Checkbook suggests calling or emailing multiple stores to ask them directly for a price quote.
Stay open to gently-used clothing and/or refurbished electronics
For amazing deals on electronics and stylish clothing, buying second-hand can be viable option to explore. If your kids balk, you can assure them that no one need know the difference, but many teenagers are actually quite open to the trend of buying used clothing, especially with the availability of eBay and fashion resale sites like Poshmark, The RealReal and thredUp. For pre-owned electronics like tablets, smartphone and laptops, Paypath suggests checking out Amazon Renewed, Apple, Best Buy and Overstock.
Looking for more ways to make your back-to-school shopping lists easier to tackle, but have a temporary financial situation that’s been holding you up? The Police Credit Union can help with a personal loan that allows qualified members to borrow up to $50,000 for any purpose. Featuring a low, competitive fixed rate and terms available for up to 60 months, our personal loan is an excellent option to turn to when you incur expenses beyond your current means. For details, restrictions and to apply, contact us online here, or visit us at a branch.