Summer break never feels long enough for parents who have already started prepping for the upcoming school year. According to data collected by the Rubicon Project, 40% of parents with children in grade K-12 are getting a head start on back-to-school shopping two months before the first day of class. With school shopping lists getting longer and supplies getting pricier, it's no surprise families have spent over 40% more on back-to-school products over the last decade.
Though your son or daughter's education is priceless, there's no need to blow your money on school supplies. Study these 9 smart shopping strategies to save time and money on back-to-school lists.
1. Shop at home.
When you go grocery shopping, you generally have a good idea of what's filling your 'fridge and pantry. Take the same approach with back-to-school shopping and search around the house for any supplies you already have or can reuse. If there are optional items on the supply list, hold off on buying those until you're absolutely sure your student needs them.
2. Know what to buy in-store & what to order online.
The customer-service firm StellaService has reported that the average cost of purchasing a typical list of school supplies in a store was 41 percent cheaper than buying those same items online, as reported by Consumer Reports. Though it's wise to stick to traditional retailers for notebooks and pencils, you should research deals online for backpacks, sporting goods and sneakers since you have a wider selection of products and prices available at your fingertips.
3. Compare prices on the fly.
Who has time to drive from store to store to compare prices? Luckily, the ShopSavvy app provides instant price comparison by snapping a picture of the barcode so you know the cheapest price on any good across retailers, both in store and online. If you're shopping online, use the Invisible Hand browser extension to get price alerts in case what you're shopping for is sold elsewhere for less.
4. Time your purchase.
They say timing is everything, and that's especially true for back-to-school shopping. Those living in or near states offering tax-free holidays should shop these days to save on sales tax. Since summer clothes are on clearance, it's best to load up on tee shirts and shorts and hold off until September and October for fall apparel, including denim. If you're unsure of the best time to buy items, use tools like TrackIf.com or the SnapUp app to track prices for you. Finally, continue tracking prices even after you make your purchase, since stores including Kohl's and Target will offer price adjustments.
5. Buy second-hand clothes.
As all parents know, kids grow out of clothing so quickly that it doesn't make sense (or cents!) to purchase full-priced garments. Instead, shop second-hand at local thrift or consignment shops, or online at websites like thredUp.com. In addition to buying clothing for less, you can sell items your kids have outgrown for credit toward the upcoming season's purchase. Otherwise, consider hosting a swap with family and friends who have school-aged children. Everything from unused notebooks and crayons to sneakers and clothes can be traded to help each other save big bucks.
6. Shop smart for sports and other activities.
In addition to school clothing and classroom supplies, many parents have to buying sporting equipment and musical instruments to support their kids' activities. Shopping smart for these pricey items can help you save big bucks. For example, Play It Again Sportsoffers gently-used sporting equipment for up to 90% savings compared to department stores. You can also shop online for musical instruments and save with coupon codes. For example, CouponSherpa.com currently has a promo code for 10% off American Musical Supply, where acoustic guitars start at $199.
7. Know where to find coupons.
Retailers will release store-wide and sitewide sales during back-to-school, but you can often find coupons and promo codes to save even more. Scour your favorite deal site for extra 10 to 30% savings, plus special deals on specific back-to-school products. Also, sign up for retail newsletters to receive a first-time subscriber coupon. For instance, GAP offers 25% off to new e-newsletter subscribers. Deal bloggers like TheKrazyCouponLady.com will help match coupons with store sales, saving you time in the hunt for the best bargains.
8. Use social media.
Stores reward customers who like, follow, post, tag, pin, tweet and retweet, offering social media fans exclusive coupons codes and special savings. Like a brand on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for a chance of unlocking special savings. Create retail lists for easy-to-browse sales and instant offers. Check in to a retail location on Foursquare for freebies and coupons and track prices with Pinterest. Ultimately, it pays to be social!
9. Look for last year's model.
More grade-school kids are carrying smartphones and are required to have tablets or laptops. Unfortunately, these devices are quite expensive. To save big bucks, opt for last year's models or consider refurbished. A previously-owned and certified laptop, tablet or smartphone from Apple, Samsung, AT&T or Verizon comes with a warranty and can save you anywhere from 20 to 40%. You can also trade in old gadgets and smartphones at such sites as NextWorth.com or to retail stores including Target and Best Buy for cash or store credit.
Guest post by: Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Huffington Post, Forbes and many more. For more information, visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.