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Back to School Shopping Tips

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This past weekend, my daughter and I went back-to-school shopping. I consider her lucky in that her school requires uniforms, so the clothes shopping part of it is pretty easy for us. We picked up a couple of the mandatory shirts to supplement the ones she had from last year, a couple of new uniform pants from Aero, and we were set.

But she did have a fairly extensive list of supplies she has to bring to school. Fortunately, her good friend had already scoped out the sales and was happy to accompany us to Walgreens to point out the best bargains. Still, it cost about $85 to load up on everything on her back-to-school shopping list: index cards, pencils, rulers and even paper towels. (Remember when schools used to supply those things?) I found myself wondering how much my friends with three or four children—and no school uniforms—must spend on back-to-school shopping.

[Related article: Credit Cards that Help You Save on Back-to-School Expenses]

Given my relatively easy task of shopping for one child, I won’t pretend to be the expert here, but I will share some tips I’ve gathered. I welcome you to contribute your own suggestions as well.

Shop Tax-Free: Florida’s tax-free weekend was this past weekend, and if the crowd at the mall was an indicator, a lot of shoppers were trying to take advantage of it. If your state offers a tax-free holiday, you’ll save around 6-8%, depending on your state’s sale tax rate. Find a list of sales tax holidays here.

Reuse, Recycle: At my daughter’s school, students can donate gently used uniforms they’ve outgrown. Likewise, they can shop from this inventory for uniforms they need. We’ll be donating a couple items my daughter has outgrown since last year, and hopefully some other students will be able to save some money by purchasing them. While your kids may balk at hand-me-downs, I find that most of my daughter’s friends are highly motivated when it comes to doing things that help the environment. The recycling message can be the key here.

Garage sales are another place to get some amazing bargains if you have the time and energy for them. I don’t, but I have a sister and a couple of friends who do. If I tell them what I need, they magically seem to find it for me.

[Resource: Tips to Improve and Rebuild Your Credit]

Clip coupons: I haven’t mastered the art of extreme couponing, but the back-to-school season is one time where I do clip coupons. The sales can be amazing. Just read the fine print carefully. At the cash register at Walgreen’s, we discovered that we had picked up the wrong notebooks for the “Buy one, get one” sale. (The cashier kindly gave us one free anyway. Doesn’t hurt to ask.)

Backpacks: My friend Belinda told me that she always buys JanSport backpacks, as they carry a lifetime repair or replace warranty. Frugalista Carrie Kirby posted a pretty amazing story about how JanSport has honored the warranty for her husband’s backpacks—twice.

Give Your Kids a Budget—and Some Freedom: Teresa Randall wrote a story for Stretcher.com about how she gives her kids a spending limit and some freedom to spend more on the items that are most important to them. You know your kids best, so you’ll have to decide how much say you can give them, and where you need to draw the line. But this can be one of those great opportunities for a lesson in Real Life Budgets 101.

Use a Rewards Credit Card: If you aren’t carrying a balance on the card, and you’re confident you can pay the bill in full when it comes, then use a rewards card. My colleague Beverly Harzog says, ”Right now, there are several credit cards that offer cash back bonuses to new cardholders. If you’re in the market for a new card, this is a good opportunity to not only get the rewards for your back-to-school purchases, but to also get cash back to help offset the cost.” Whatever reward your card gives, feel free to keep it all to yourself. If you’ve survived another year of back-to-school madness, then you’ve earned it!

What are your best back to school savings tips? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!

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