7 Smart Ways to Save Big on Back to School Shopping


An average family with children in grades K-12 will spend about $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics and $916.48 for college students. That’s five percent more than last year according to the National Retail Federation. And, that can compound quickly the more children you have.

Want to buck that trend? Take the time to shop more strategically to cut the cost of every single item on your back to school shopping list:

1. Start early.

If you wait to do all your back to school shopping on one randomly chosen day, you’ll end up paying more for everything. If you spread it out over many weeks, you can take full advantage of sales and coupons. Especially useful are those 1-cent, 10-cent and 50-cent deals on notebooks, paper, pencils, crayons and folders at stores like Walgreens, Walmart, Office Depot, Target, Office Max and Staples. Wait for the sale, then swoop in early before deal supplies are sold out so you can stock up on year-long basics for a fraction of their regular price.

2. Always shop with a coupon.

“Shopping without a coupon is like purposely paying more,” says Andrea Woroch, savings expert for Kinoli, Inc. Most stores, from Macy’s and JCPenney to Sports Authority and Target, have some sort of coupon at any given time for at least 20 percent off an entire purchase. These coupons arrive in the Sunday newspaper circulars or via email or text. Many retailers, such as Old Navy and Pac Sun, will even send you a welcome coupon just for subscribing to their email list.

For specific items such as brand name pens, mechanical pencils and notebook binders, school supply coupons in the Smartsource and Red Plum free standing inserts (and online) abound in August. Clip them out and save them to use when you see a store sale such as a BOGO (Buy-One-get-One-Free) or a 10 for $10 promotion, for example.

3. Check apps before checking out.

Tap your Retailmenot or Couponsherpa app to see coupons or savings at your favorite store, the store you are in and surrounding stores. If making a big ticket purchase of a name brand item such as a laptop or pair of sneakers, price-check items with the Price Grabber or Red Laser app before paying.

4. Find social media only sales.

Whether you’re heading to one store or the whole mall, check in to your favorite retailer’s social media sites (and the mall’s social media sites, too). You’ll be privy to any flash sales or “today-only” coupons you wouldn’t know about otherwise.

5. Take advantage of tax-free.

If you are planning bigger ticket or multiple purchases including back packs, footwear and electronics, it pays to shop on the tax-free holiday, if your state has one. Also, check prices online where you don’t pay sales tax.

6. Stock up on basics with online-only “flash” discounts.

Many retailers offer online-only and one-day only discounts. American Eagle’s additional 50 percent off an AEO Factory purchase or Old Navy’s additional 20 percent off online only purchase allow you to stock up on basics like T-shirts, jeans and sweaters. Always check freeshipping.org for  coupon codes to avoid shipping charges.

7. Shop when you earn cash back.

Take advantage of stores offering “cash” back such as Old Navy, Tilly’s and Kohl’s. This way, you earn store “cash” for a future shopping trip for any fashion items kids may want after they’ve gone back to school. Ditto for cash back credit card rewards, as long as you don’t carry a balance.

The number one way to chisel down the cost of every item on your back to school shopping list is to combine all of the above:  Stack a coupon on top of a store sale or promotion or clearance on top of store loyalty rewards on top of cash back credit card rewards. Why pay more?

What’s your best savings tip or favorite shopping app?


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Published August 6, 2014 Updated: August 5, 2014
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