8 Ways Everybody Saves During Back-to-School


One day after Independence Day, retailers made way for back-to-school items in their aisles. It's kind of annoying, in my opinion, because many kids just got out for the summer a week or two beforehand. I mean, let the dust settle first, right? But I digress. These early installments of supplies can also mean big savings for you, even if you're not a student or don't have children of your own. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Back to School Shopping)

1. Treat School Supplies Like Office Supplies

Need pens, pencils, and paper? Hit your local big-box retailer — like Wal-Mart, Target, and Staples — to take advantage of their discounted "school" supplies that coincidentally are the same things you use in your own office. At Target, look for additional savings on its Cartwheel app before checking out; check the clearance section at Wal-Mart and take try to score Bluebird savings on the back end; and checkout with your loyalty card at Staples to get a small kickback in the form of future monetary rewards for everything you buy there.

2. Raid Your Kids' Stash From Last Year

Your kids probably didn't use everything you bought them when they went back to school 12 months earlier. Chances are they still have at least a few leftovers, like binders, folders, dividers and more, that you can claim as your own and put to use. Lord knows they're not going to use something from last year — what will people say!? So whatever remains might as well go the extra mile for you.

3. Browse Local School's Social Media for Deals

Both big-box and local businesses are attracted to schools this time of year, so adding your local schools on Facebook and other social media may score you insider deals that won't be posted elsewhere.

"Similarly, if you live in or near a college town, check Yelp with the keyword 'school' and 'coupon' (or deal/offer) to find a slew of coupons that are intended to attract college students but can be used by anyone," suggests money-saving expert Mike Catania, whose own site PromotionCode.org also is a good resource.

4. Take Advantage of Price Matching

Spotted a better deal at a retailer at which you don't normally shop? You don't have to go out of your way to get it.

"Many back-to-school retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, and Office Depot will price match competitor's offers, so it pays to compare prices and circulars so you don't have to run around town to hunt down the best bargains," says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

In fact, Staples is going a step further and offering a price-match guarantee of 110% with an extra 10% off identical products. Use tools like the ShopSavvy app or the Invisible Hand browser add-on to simplify this task while shopping in store and online.

"Circulars are your best tool in comparing offers for back-to-school," Woroch adds. "In addition to browsing weekly ads found in Sunday newspapers, apps like Retale and Flipp offer a digital means of finding top discounts while you're out and about shopping."

5. Visit Trade-In Sites for Savings Upon Savings

Trade-in sites — those online outlets that offer refurbished electronics at discounted prices — are often overlooked when people are shopping for the latest and greatest gadgets. But checking in may yield big savings on just what you're looking for. For instance, Gazelle.com is offering up to 30% off on back-to-school gadgets for everyone, with new items added daily. Gazelle sells certified, pre-owned devices that must pass a 30-point quality inspection and everything comes with a 30-day risk-free return policy; payment plans also are available. Don't overlook the brick-and-mortars though: Apple, Newegg, Best Buy, and even warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam's Club offer refurbished or open-box laptops, tablets, computers, smartphones, and the like for up to 75% off.

This strategy applies to clothing, too.

"Thrift store, consignment shops, and online resellers, including Poshmark and ThredUp, are top resources for gently used clothing," explains Woroch.

6. Clip, Print, Tap, or Paste Coupons

The best way to quickly access store coupons is through a coupon app like Coupon Sherpa, which features savings at national chain stores like Staples as well as local shops. When shopping online, it's important to search for coupon codes to save money, like a Target promo code for $5 off $50 orders, or 25% off a Disney Store purchase. Otherwise, register for a retailer's online newsletter to receive a new subscriber coupon for savings from 10% to 20% off your first purchase.

7. Opt for Generic Over Name-Brand Supplies

Can you really tell the difference between a national brand-name notebook and the off-name or store brand? Probably not enough to pay more.

"You're better off sticking with the generic or store brand options to save money, especially since there is little difference between brand names and generic versions," Woroch says. "On the flip side, however, backpacks, electronics, art supplies, and even sneakers are better brand-name buys because they're often higher quality and last longer, reducing the need to replace them."

8. Show Those Summer Clearance Racks Who's Boss

While parents are shopping for fall clothing for kids, you can cop the remnants of the summer clothing in the clearance section for yourself. Sure, the summer is winding down, but all is not for naught: You can use the lighter pieces for layering during the colder months, and there will likely be fall-perfect clothing among the summer clothes as well. I recently visited J. Crew Factory's clearance section, which had racks of button-downs, long-sleeve polos, and pants for 50% off already very reduced prices. These kind of deals exist elsewhere — and they're all in one place at outlet malls — which makes a visit worth it if you're in need of a wardrobe refresh.

Do you have more back-to-school shopping tips? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

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