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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Back-to-school shopping is more expensive than ever. Here's how to save on everything from pencils to laptops.

back to school shopping

Consumers are expected to spend a record amount of money on school supplies this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The average family with children in elementary through high school plan to spend roughly $850 on back-to-school shopping. College students, meanwhile, will rack up north of $1,200 in expenses.

Needless to say, families could use any savings on back-to-school shopping that they can find. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get discounts on everything from calculators and highlighters to backpacks and sneakers. Here are a few helpful tips on lowering your back-to-school shopping bill.

Take Inventory

School supply lists typically don’t change that much from year to year, so your child likely already has most of the things they need already. But the only way to know is to take stock. Do an inventory of all the school supplies you already have and are useable. Then cross those items off your shopping list so it only includes the items your child needs.

Do the same for new school clothing. A growing teenager may not fit into last year’s clothes, but younger children likely don’t need a full wardrobe swap. Go through their clothing to see what still fits, is in good condition and can last for another season.

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Make a Shopping List

It’s easy to get caught up in the retail madness of back-to-school shopping and wind up buying things you child doesn’t need and won’t ever use. To help yourself stay focused and prevent overspending, make a list of the essential items before leaving your house.

Many schools send out a list of supplies students need. If this is the case with your child, make sure to wait until you have the list before compiling your own. This will also help ensure you only buy the things you need.

Buy Refurbished Electronics

As students get into high school, more expensive supplies are needed. Instead of spending big money on new items like computers and graphing calculators, try buying them used. Sites such as Amazon and Newegg sell refurbished electronics for a fraction of the price. You can also often go directly to the manufacturer. For instance, you can purchase a refurbished laptop from Apple for hundreds of dollars less than a new model.

Use College Discounts

The average cost of college in the United States is upwards of $35,000 per student per year, triple what it was just 20 years ago. So if you’re a college student, you could use any cost savings you can get. A great place to start is by utilizing your college student status. Many major retailers, including Apple, Dell and Microsoft offer college students discounts on expensive electronics such as laptops, tablets, smartphones and calculators.

back to school

Compare Prices

Like with any other type of shopping, you want to do your homework when buying back-to-school goods to ensure you’re getting the best deal. It’s tempting to try to save time and energy by doing all your shopping at one or two stores. But you can often find cheaper prices for different items at competing stores.

Check to see if your preferred store offers price matching — many competing outlets will. This offers you the best of both worlds as you’ll get the lowest price without having to make multiple shopping trips.

Shop Thrifty

Some thrifty shopping techniques can add up to big savings by the time your child walks back into the classroom. For example, many back-to-school items, like pens, pencils and highlighters, can be purchased at dollar stores. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have more than one child, buying supplies in bulk from a wholesale outlet could save you some money.

When it comes to clothing, thrift stores, consignment shops and other secondhand outlets can be goldmines. Here, you’ll be able to find gently used items for just a fraction of the price.

Learn about all the ways AAA and Discover can help you save money and handle your financial needs.


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