Back-to-school time is right around the corner, and you've probably already noticed backpacks and school supplies dotting the shelves of your favorite stores. Before diving head-first into a whirlwind shopping trip, we've pulled together five key tips sure to help you save money along the way.
Make a smart, streamlined list
Instead of heading out and buying what you think your kid will need, check with your child's school first. A school supply list is often available from the school's office or their website. Local stores may have printouts of school supply lists right there at the store, but you'll get a more accurate read on what's really important from your child's teacher. Keep in mind that some schools don't hand out supply lists until right before school starts, which means that the supply sections in stores may be crowded when you finally purchase your items — but at least won't be buying things your child doesn't need.
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Check out the superstores and megamarts
Megastores like Walmart and Target often a nice discount on basic school supplies like crayons, paper, pens, and markers during the weeks before school starts — and shopping there is a good alternative to pricier office supply stores. These big box stores also often have popular brands, like Post-It and Crayola, marked down too.
Only buy the clothing your child needs now
It's tempting to buy an entire school year's worth of clothing before school starts, but unless your child doesn't have anything from the summer break or the last school year he or she can still wear, you can get away with buying what you need only when you need it. Keep in mind that kids grow at a fast clip, so those jeans purchased in August may not fit all that well in November — so waiting to buy is a practical move, too. And this way, clothing expenses are spread throughout the school year.
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Stock up on writing and art supplies for the rest of the year
Another way to make your overall annual school supply budget stretch a little further? Buy art and writing supplies in bulk, to beef up your home stash. Kids don't use crayons, glue, scissors, pencils, and paper at school only — they love to express themselves artistically at home as well. And while buying new materials any time a creative urge hits your child can get spendy fast, so buying in bulk can ease the financial burden over the rest of the year.
Take advantage of sales tax holidays
While sales tax is little more than an annoyance for small purchases, it can still add up to a big chunk o' change with larger ones. Keep an eye out for various stores' "sales tax holidays," where, for a limited period of time, what you buy doesn't include sales tax. Items included are usually restricted to school supplies, clothing, computers, software, backpacks, and the like, but be sure to check out local stores to see what qualifies and what doesn't. If you're looking to make a large purchase, such as a laptop, shopping during these special days may save you some serious dough.
Back-to-school time is always a combination of anticipation, nerves, and excitement, so keeping these tips in mind can keep your budget in check before your kids board that yellow school bus for the first time this fall...and ultimately come home needing 10 other things you hadn't thought to buy in advance.
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Tell us in the comments: What are your best back-to-school money saving tips?