6 Smart Strategies for Minimizing School Supply Costs

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The back-to-school season is just around the corner. For many families, that means expensive trips to the store to buy school supplies, clothes and other items. While many stores offer sales, which can help with the cost of supply shopping, it still adds up to a serious expense in the late summer months.

As with many expenses, however, there are strategies that smart shoppers can employ to cut back on some of those costs. Here are six strategies that savvy parents use to keep school supply costs low without skimping on back-to-school necessities.

Take advantage of tax-free holidays. Many states have tax-free holidays during August and early September. These holidays enable shoppers to buy various types of goods without the burden of state sales tax. Retailers also jump on board, typically offering sales during those tax-free holidays to attract bargain hunters.

Many states actually use tax-free holidays to reduce the burden on back-to-school shoppers, offering tax-free days on items such as school supplies and clothing. Along with that, those states often see lots of sales during those holidays to further increase savings. Schedule your back-to-school shopping during those periods.

Let your children choose limited “upgrades.” Rather than allowing your kids to choose every school supply and clothing item they want, start by buying everything they absolutely need at minimal cost and then give them a small “upgrade” budget. They can use the money in this budget to upgrade certain items of their choice. Perhaps they want a new backpack or nicer shoes, or maybe they prefer to replace a couple of shirts with versions closer to their tastes. Leave it up to them.

Not only does this save a great deal of money on back-to-school shopping, it also gives children the freedom to choose, which they value deeply. They still have the ability to choose some items that are important to them, which alleviates many conflicts when it comes to school shopping.

Buy items in neutral colors and reuse them. Choose clothing items and reusable school supplies in neutral colors with minimal branding and characters. Why? Those items are the easiest to continue to use from year to year and easiest to pass down to younger siblings or sell at yard sales.

If your children want something different, pair this idea with the above idea of using an “allowance” that they can spend on “upgrades” of their choice. That way, they can get some clothing that they specifically choose, but the backbone of their wardrobe is made of items that are inexpensive, flexible and easy to hand down or sell later.

Shop for reusable items first at secondhand stores. Rather than heading out to expensive stores to buy new items, start your back-to-school shopping at secondhand stores. Look for reusable items such as pencil cases, rulers and clothing secondhand before moving on to other stores where you’ll likely be paying far more.

You shouldn’t expect to fulfill all of your needs at a thrift store, but if you can find many of the items you need secondhand at a very low price, you’re saving money.

Stock up on exceptional deals. During back-to-school shopping, many stores carry a loss leader, which is an item sold cheaply in order to attract shoppers. Perhaps they offer pencils at a steep discount or sell composition notebooks for a nickel. If you have multiple children, or you know that your child will use those supplies in multiple years, stock up on those doorbuster deals and put them aside for the future.

For example, let’s say you have a kindergartner who has glue on his shopping list. You peek at the first and second and third grade lists at his school, and they also require glue. You find bottles of glue as a loss leader for 10 cents each. Why not buy four of them? Even better, what if you have some younger children on the way? Buy 10 of them. Just put them in a closet somewhere out of the way, and then start each year by “school supply shopping” in that closet.

Buy school supplies without children in tow. One final strategy is to take care of most of the shopping without your children at all. That way, you can focus exclusively on prices, not the desires of your children.

If you want to pair this with the “allowance” strategy, combine school supply shopping on your own with an additional narrowly focused trip where your children have input, such as a clothes shopping trip, where they can choose one or two items, or backpack shopping.

Using these strategies in concert can save you a great deal of money during the back-to-school shopping season.