12 Back-to-School Shopping Tips for the Busy Parent
Shopping for everything on the back-to-school list can be a real pain. Not only do those $0.75 highlighters add up (especially if you have several children), but it's easy to feel overwhelmed when you're adding that shopping on top of everything else you have to do to prepare for the coming season. (See also: Back-to-School: Saving on College Textbooks)
While there's usually not one place where you can consistently go to get the best deals, it is possible to make the whole back-to-school shopping process easier. Here are some ideas that should help you lift the overwhelm and even enjoy the chance to spend some time with your kids.
1. Take Your Kids One at a Time
Instead of hauling everyone on a massive back-to-school shopping trip, try taking each of your kids separately. This isn't the most efficient way to do things, but it almost always makes for a more peaceful, enjoyable experience. If you don't have someone who can watch the ones who aren't going with you, see if you can drop them off at a pay-by-the hour daycare for a little while.
2. Break It Up
The shopping feels overwhelming when you try to do it all at once, so why not purchase things as you see them on sale. This requires you to keep an eye on where you might get the best prices for different items, but it often saves you money and stress. Just carry a copy of the list with you and cross off the items as you buy them.
3. Price Match for the Best Deal
If you only want to visit one store, choose one with a good price matching policy. Most office supply stores, drug stores, and stores like Target and Walmart will match a competitor's deals, but some of them are stricter with these policies than others, and these policies can vary by location. In general, you will need proof of a lower price elsewhere, and that deal will need to be current when you shop.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Insane Deals
There are usually one or two extremely good deals every year. For instance, one year OfficeMax sold backpacks for a penny. To find these deals, read the ads that show up in your mailbox, buy a Sunday paper, and search online for "back-to-school" deals. Be ready to jump on a deal as soon as you see it, though, because supplies don't usually last very long.
5. Find Coupons Online
Websites like Coupons.com often collect as many back-to-school deals as they can find, all in one place. While these often won't apply to classroom items (though some sales do!), they will help you figure out where to shop for school clothes in a way that doesn't break the bank.
6. Start Early
Back-to-school shopping tends to get put off simply because it feels like such a frustrating and expensive task. However, many of the best discounts start as early as mid-July, so find out what you need (or make an educated guess) so that you can take advantage of these deals. It's an awesome feeling to be done before everyone else has started.
7. Shop Your Home
Even if you don't think you have much in the way of school supplies at your house, check anyway. You may have a spare eraser sitting around, and maybe a tissue box and some glue. If you are extra motivated, start storing the school supplies that come your way. If you buy a bottle of glue for a project and use two dabs, you can store it and send it with your kid in the fall. This can be an easy way to collect things like pens and pencils, too, which always seem to be appearing and disappearing.
8. Compare Prices While Shopping
If you have a smartphone, apps like ShopSavvy can help you make sure you're getting the best deal. Just scan the barcode of the item you're looking at, and the app will tell you if you can find it cheaper somewhere else. This isn't foolproof, but it does work the majority of the time and it can help you feel confident about the purchases you're making.
9. Consider the Warranty
If you're purchasing a large item like a backpack or winter snow gear, think about the warranty. It's probably worth spending a bit more at a store that offers a lifetime warranty, rather than purchasing a cheap item and then having to buy another new one next year. If your child is helping to choose the item, make sure he or she knows that this is intended to last for years.
10. Track How Much You Spend
There's no doubt that back-to-school shopping is expensive, but you will feel better about it if you know that your spending this year is comparable to what you spent last year, or that you spent more but it was because you had to replace a major item (like a backpack). Note how much you spend on your phone or in a notebook, then tally the amount when you're done and put it in a place where you'll be able to find it next year.
11. Buy In Bulk
If you know that your kids will need to replace certain items throughout the year, or you know that they will need the same items from year to year, consider buying those things in bulk. Do make sure that the bulk price is lower than the sale price at a regular store. This also means that you won't end up running to the store at 10 p.m. because your child forgot she needs more pens or paper or whatever.
12. Take a List
This may seem obvious, but it's important to know what you need and how many. If your child wants more of a certain item and doesn't have a good reason for that, you'll be able to say, "No" because you'll know, absolutely for certain, how many of the item the schools says they need. If you have more than one child and you're doing all the shopping together, tally the lists before you leave. That way, you'll be able to buy pencils for Sally and Joe together, instead of chasing them down twice.
Have you finished your back-to-school shopping? What did you do to make the process easier this year?
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