Saturday, August 7, 2010

How to Save Money on School Supplies

This time of year can be very stressful.  Not only is our beloved summer coming to an end, but then you get that daunting list of school supplies and can picture your hard earned money slipping out of your hands.....even more so when you have 2 or 3 (or 5!) to buy supplies for!  I read today in the newspaper that the average U.S. family will spend just over $600 on Back-to-School supplies for kids in K-12!  Well, there's no reason you should have to spend that much, so here are some ways to bring that number down.......WAY down!

#1 - Start Shopping Early
Waiting until the last minute (like some of us are prone to do...ahem) forces you to buy whatever supplies are available - often at full price.  When you start early and take your time, you have options and can buy as you come across deals and get what you need for so much less.  If you plan ahead and keep your eyes open you can score great clearance deals, pick things up at thrift stores, and even get things for pennies at yard sales.

#2 - Shop at Home
Don't believe all the marketing hype that you need all new supplies!  Take a look around the house and see what you find - you may be surprised.  Check out the kids art supplies or your home office and see if you've got crayons, markers, or colored pencils with little use, or maybe there are pencil boxes, calculators or rulers in good shape from last year.  Shop without spending a dime!  It's also a great way to teach your kids not to be wasteful.

#3 - Shop Loss Leaders
This time of year one of my favorites for sales!  The competition for the "back-to-school" shoppers bring out some amazing deals!  Each week, get the Sunday paper and look through all the ads - grocery stores, office supply stores, even home improvement stores like Menards get in on the action.....offering school essentials for dirt cheap!  Loss leaders are products that stores sell at or below cost to get you in the door, and hopefully keep you there to do the rest of your shopping.  Stay focused, get what you need and get out.  It may take a little more time to go to different stores, but try to plan your shopping so that you can go a few stores in the same area to reduce driving around.  Also, when possible, take your ads in to stores that offer price matching, like Wal-Mart and Target.  By sticking to the loss leaders, you'll save big bucks!
**Check out this awesome "School Supply Deal Comparison" by Save at Home Mommy I just came across!  It compiles all the best prices of the week for the major stores.  It only goes through today, but I'm hoping she might do one for next week.

#4 - Stock Up
Glue sticks for 1¢, pencils for 5¢, notebooks for 10¢, backpacks for 99¢ or even Free!.....prices like this only come around once a year, so stock up!!  Not only is this a good time for school shopping, but it's also an excellent time for buying what you need for your home office. 
Also, remember.....
~ teachers who need supplies for their classrooms (and often buy them themselves)
~ busy friends with children who may not have time to shop around
~ single moms trying to make ends meet
~ church or community backpack giveaways that need donations
~ birthday presents or goodie bags
~ planning ahead for Christmas Shoeboxes
~ stocking stuffers
~ activity bags in the car
~ Sunday school supplies

#5 - Choose Function, Not Fashion
Does your child "have to have" the latest Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana, 'Superhero of the moment' backpack? (who may or may not be "so over" by the end of the school year)
By not limiting yourself to certain characters or brands, you may find things much more affordable.  I've found that supplies with the latest "Disney star" or cartoon character plastered on them often are cheaply made and you're just paying for the character.  The same amount of money could buy something of better quality that will last the school year (or beyond) and not go out of style so quickly.

#6 - Keep an Eye on Quality
Do keep in mind that most of the kids supplies will be used on a daily basis - and quality is a factor.  Decide which things will matter as far as construction goes - save where it doesn't matter and maybe spend a little more where it counts to have things hold up better in the long run. Getting a "great deal" on a backpack that falls apart in the first month or two and having to replace it, isn't such a bargain.  Think of who's using the items - is it a child who's generally rough on their belongings or more gentle?  Are you buying a backpack for a 1st grader who'll primarily be using it for a folder and lunch, or an older child who needs it to withstand the weight of heavy books?

Don't stress out - make a plan and remember these tips to save money and your sanity when shopping for back to school!

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