6 Back-to-School Shopping Hacks for Big Savings


Back-to-school season has many parents pulling out their child's school supply list and dreading the impending costs. But never fear: whether it's the simple pack of pencils, or the expensive laptop computer, here are six shopping tips to help you maximize your savings.

1. Avoid Cartoon Characters

When shopping for your child's backpack, binder, and accessories, avoid items with a cartoon character plastered on them. This includes Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network characters of all shapes and sizes. They're almost always 25%–30% more expensive than products without any characters or themes on them. If this is a big deal for your child, simply buy some cheap stickers of their favorite characters and let them decorate their stuff to their heart's content. When it comes to backpacks, look for quality "character-free" brands like Timberland, JanSport, Rockland, and Embark that will easily last the entire school year, and often many more.

2. Always Shop Your Backpack First

Before you visit any store or website, consider "shopping" your backpack, closet, and desk for school supplies. Take your child's back-to-school shopping list and look for items you already own which still have shelf-life remaining. You'll often be amazed at the items you can cross off your list without spending a cent. Items to look for include things like pencils, pens, markers, notebooks, and rulers. My wife and I often stock up on school supplies when we find deals and forget that we buried them in the desk drawer or stashed them away in a closet somewhere. If this sounds like something you'd do as well, be sure to check what you have at home before you head to the store.

3. Get a Price Match if an Item Is Sold Out

The last few back-to-school shopping seasons have shown terrific deals from office supply stores like Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax. This year will be no different. For example, Staples is already advertising $.50 bottles of glue and $.68 for a dozen pencils. But the rub on these deals is they are often of very limited in quantity, and sell out quickly, as they're nothing more than loss-leaders designed to get you in the doors. So if you walk into an office supply store and the deal you're looking for is already gone, take advantage of the price match policy at Walmart and Target and get the same low price. You can also bypass the office supply store altogether and take the ad directly to Walmart or Target for your price match. Here is what you need to know:

Walmart Price Match Policy

While you're not required to take the office supply ad into Walmart for verification, it will greatly speed up the process if you do. Walmart will match the lower price as long as the item is identical to what they stock. This includes size, quantity, brand, and color. If the price match reduces the Walmart price by more than 50%, it will require a supervisor's approval.

Target Price Match Policy

Simply take your office supply store ad to the Target "Guest Services" desk and they'll help you with your price match. Item must be identical and the price must be clearly stated on the competitor's print ad.

4. Look for Tech Discounts for Students

If you're in high school or college, and shopping for a laptop or tablet for school, be sure you take advantage of student-specific tech discounts. Here are a few to be aware of.

Best Buy College Student Deals

College students can sign-up for free and get exclusive Best Buy deals and coupons. Expect student discounts on laptops, MacBooks, backpacks, and even dorm room stuff like microwaves and coffee makers. Best Buy reserves the right to require documentation showing that you're a current college student. Tip: Having a .edu email address always gets you in the program.

Dell University

Get exclusive student deals on new laptops, desktops, and electronics through Dell University. Savings are typically in the 15%–20% off range compared to the price of not being in the program.

Apple Store for Education

Apple education pricing is available to college students, parents buying for college students, faculty, homeschool teachers, and staff at all grade levels. You can currently get $200 off a new Mac and up to $20 off a new iPad.

5. Shop Alone If Possible

This tip is not very popular with many kids. But if you're back-to-school shopping for younger kids, you'll often be better off doing it alone. Keep in mind that your goal is to get in and get out of the store and pay the least amount possible on quality products. Kids can often throw you off your money-saving mojo and talk you into the Disney Frozen binder or the LeBron James Nike backpack that'll be marked way up. Having three kids of my own, I speak from experience on this one. Leave them at home and maximize your savings. Let them organize and decorate the back-to-school items once you get home and they'll still feel a part of the process.

6. Never Buy Everything From a Single Store

The single best way to make sure you pay more than you should on back-to-school supplies is to stroll into one store and buy everything on your list. Doesn't matter what store it is. The fact of the matter is that you might get some deals, but you'll inevitably pay full-price on quite a bit of stuff. Instead, I recommend perusing the sales flyers as they come out and buy only when you find a deal on something you need.

With a little bit of planning and smart shopping you can save a good chunk of change on your back-to-school shopping this year. This is especially true if you can hold retailers to their price match policies and take advantage of student discounts when buying tech. Happy savings.

How do you save money when stocking up for the new school year?

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