It's back-to-school time, which can get expensive fast for parents. A friend of mine was helping compile her sons' teachers' supplies list for a Staples-PTA online fund-raising effort and discovered one fourth grade teacher's list alone added up to $85. One class, one child. And that's before you even hit the clothing stores.
So while gathering the kids in the car and heading out to buy pens and notebooks and new shoes is billed as a fun, American back-to-school ritual, it can lead to some pretty hefty bills sandwiched between summer vacations and holiday spending. We're all looking for ways to save this year, so with that in mind, here are some ideas to cut your back-to-school shopping bill in half. Please add your own ways to save in the comments below!
Don't shop in one place. I know we need to save on gas, so I'm not advocating driving to 10 different stores. You can do some of this online, too. But you need to shop sales and know prices. Buying all of your supplies in one office supply store can result in a big bill for many small things. When you're at the grocery store, check out the school supplies displays there. You may find the notebooks and folders your kid's teacher is looking for for half the price as a big-box store. Go online before piling into the car to find discounts and shipping deals at web sites like Target and Discount School Supply.
Shop at home first. And I don't mean online. Not yet. Look through desk drawers and closets. You may be pleasantly surprised that the kids only used two of the pack of four notebooks you bought last year. Same goes for markers and colored pencils. You may have them and they may still be in plenty good shape to be used again.
Shop in bulk with another family (or families). You need three double-ruled, spiral notebooks with perforated pages but it only comes in a pack of six. Split the cost with another classmate's family, and you can get the supplies you need without spending double what you want.
Leave the kids home. At least for a bulk of the shopping. Go out for a few key items so they can help pick them out, if you'd like, but this will help avoid a cart-filling frenzy that only leads to sticker shock at the cash register.
Time your shopping well. Start early or wait. If you live in one of the 13 states (and the District of Columbia) which set aside one weekend in August as a tax-free weekend for all school-related supplies, by all means wait for it. You probably know if you're in one of these states already, but you'll find more details here. Whether the supplies and clothes you buy are tax free or not, buy what your kids absolutely need for the start of school, then wait for the sales to hit to buy the rest. For clothes, I've always bought each of my three kids a (discounted) summer outfit and a few fresh shirts for the first few back-to-school weeks, then waited for the sales that arrive promptly to buy what else they need.