As school districts cut teacher budgets, parents are expected to foot the bill for an increasing amount of classroom supplies above and beyond typical notebooks and pencils. With the recession causing many Americans to cut back, family budgets are getting smaller while school supply quantities and costs are increasing.
Recently PriceGrabber, part of Experian, released a Back-to-School Shopping Forecast survey confirming that 35% of shoppers say they will spend less than they did last year, and 90% of shoppers will be using money saving techniques. Since school supplies are an area that can’t be cut out of the budget completely, be prepared before you shop in order to keep your costs as low as possible.
1. Pull, Print, and Pay Attention to Ads
According to Savings.com, over 40% of back-to-school shoppers plan on printing and cutting coupons.
Newspaper inserts usually include promotional material, making it easy for parents to compare prices at different stores. These inserts often include discount coupons. Even if you don’t have a subscription to the paper, see if you can get the inserts from a neighbor, friend or even a newsstand.
Great way to save money (and some time) is to sign up for discount email alerts. One word of advice: To avoid flooding your inbox with offers, set up a special email address for this specific purpose.
2. Prioritize Your Spending
Compare your school supply list to existing school supplies at home. Check and see if your older child has anything to pass down their younger siblings. You’ll be surprised how many school supplies are lying around in a junk drawer and perfectly usable; school supplies don't have to be brand new for every child.
Now make a new list of items that your child really needs, not just wants. You can prioritize which items are needed immediately, and which items can wait till the middle or end of the year. Spreading out costs throughout the year can really avoid breaking the bank in August.
3. Use Your Smartphone to Comparison Shop
Smartphones like the iPhone have programs available like the RedLaser app that allow you to scan the barcode of an item at the store and compares prices offered on the same item at other stores and online retailers. The app also lets you read reviews of the product to help you judge whether you should buy the item at all.
4. Price Match at One-Stop-Shops
Some one-stop-shops like Target have price matching programs. Not only can you get nearly everything you need from that one department store, you can also be sure you’re getting the best price on everything you buy.
All you need to do is bring the promotional ads that list the lower price of any given item at a competing store and show them to the customer service desk. The store will match the competing offer or beat it.
#-ad_banner_2-# 5. Think Quality, Not Quantity
Buying a box of cheap pens for the school year may be easy on the budget now but include "hidden" costs over time. For example, if the pens fall apart easily, function poorly or leak, they could actually cost more in the long run.
As a rule of thumb, generic versions of paper products, rulers, tape and staples are all sufficient. For all writing utensils, lunch boxes and back packs however, splurge for the better quality to last all year round. Save where you can, but remember that all brands are not created equal.
The Investing Answer: Even with a longer-than-usual list of back-to-school necessities, shopping-savvy families can still save money. Want to stretch your dollar even further? Use these shopping tips during your state's tax-free holiday.