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Back-to-school time is upon us once again. Each year, readers ask for my best back-to-school savings tips, and each year I’m more than happy to provide them. Here are a few of my favorites.
School Supplies: Stagger your purchases and buy only loss leaders. Each week, look at your area stores’ ads for the best, lowest-priced deals. I’m talking about 25-cent school glue, rulers for a penny, 10-cent spiral notebooks and the like. I’ll buy only these loss leaders from the stores, and then wait for another set of sales next the week. I’m usually able to complete the majority of my children’s lists with this method, buying just the “cheapies!” Then, a few days before the kids are due to go back to school I’ll purchase the remaining items on their lists – the ones that may not have gone on sale. Don’t be tempted to purchase the pre-packaged kit of supplies from your school, as you’ll be grossly overpaying for your child’s basic school supplies.
Clothing: Yes, your children would probably love to have a new outfit for the first day of school, and I’m all for letting them pick out something that’s in your price range. I like stores that offer clothing at a significant discount, like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less. These stores can often offer better prices on the same brands and styles as competing department stores carry, as they purchase overstock clothing and shoes directly from manufacturers, then pass the savings on to you. But I’d hesitate to purchase an entire wardrobe right now, as we’re also just a few weeks away from Labor Day sales, when prices will take another drop.
Another clothing tip – dump the drawers! Each year, we have a ritual in our house. All three children empty everything (everything!) from their dresser drawers and closets. We go through all of the clothes and take out anything that they’ve outgrown, and then put the clothes away. It helps me to know exactly what they already have that still fits them and what, if anything, we will need to buy. And, it’s got another added benefit — the kids usually discover some items that they haven’t worn in a while.
A new survey from Deloitte states that parents will spend an average of $428 on back-to-school expenses, down from 2012’s average of $600. I think that both of these totals are extremely high estimates, though they include college students in their surveys too. Naturally, a college student will need different gear than a kindergartener. And, while I don’t often discuss the topic of credit in my column, I’m aware that some families may not be able to pay for all of their back-to-school expenses at once. If you’re shopping on credit, keep the following things in mind:
Don’t fall prey to opening new credit cards at the register. We’ve all been in the checkout lane and heard offers like, “Open a store card today and you can save $25 off your purchase!” While these offers may seem tempting, they affect your credit score by opening an inquiry. These cards often have extremely high interest rates too. While I don’t carry a balance on my credit cards, if you do, you’ll feel the sting of interest to the tune of 20 percent or more. This quickly eats up the “large” savings you enjoyed when you got your free $25.
Don’t “max out” your card. Make sure you know your balance and how much you can spend, as maxing out your card impacts your credit score. According to CreditSesame.com, even going above 30 percent of your available credit can negatively affect your credit score. They have a great list of more tips for using credit cards wisely at http://www.creditsesame.com/blog/back-to-school-credit-cards-tips/
Smart Living Tip: Not everything your child needs for back-to-school has to be new. My son has used the same pair of scissors each year for three years now, and he’s also reusing last year’s binder for the new school year. Reusing items helps keep costs down too!
Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three.
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