It's that time of year again. summer vacation is coming to an end and children will be starting back to school soon. I guess you could say bargain hunting for the best price (and value) on school supplies and children's clothing has become an annual ritual for our family, but with four school-aged children we generally have to do whatever we can to keep costs down.
The bargains to be had during this back-to-school shopping season have been incredible, at least here in North Carolina. I applaud the national chain stores for offering huge sales and additional rebates to offset the expense of getting children ready for school, and hope that these special offers have been available for everyone. In particular, Office Depot, Staples, Kohl's, Goody's and Best Buys have been amazing. With a little planning (and a lot of patience) we've been able to save hundreds of dollars on the children's fall/winter school clothes and supplies, and even pick up an additional backup computer for our office--with a $350 rebate!
Here's some great strategies for saving money on school supplies...
Each year, before the school year begins, I spend some time sorting through our children's school clothes to decide what additional items they might need. Clothes that are too small are packed up for a younger sibling, a friend with younger aged children, or one of our local charities. Having just gone through practically every item of clothing they own, it really helps me have a clear idea of what items our children need when the back-to-school sales begin, and maybe more importantly, what they do not need!
Know Your Budget
Decide how much money you can spend on school supplies, clothing and other needed items before you do anything else. Make a list of the general items your children need and roughly how much they will cost (hopefully you'll find them on sale for an even better price, but just give your best estimate here). Then, every time you shop for back-to-school items keep a running total of your purchases so you don't overspend your budget.
Some Simple Ways to Track Your Spending
One great way to keep track of your school supply budget is to do all your shopping at once, or at least within a short period of time--such as one week or less, then you'll know exactly how much you're spending and when it's
time to stop. (Whereas, when you shop a little here and there this week, a little here and there next week, and so on, you'll be more likely to lose track of how much you've spent and will overspend your budget.)
Another great way to keep track of your spending is to keep your receipts in a visible place such as your wallet or even the kitchen counter. Then, as you continue to shop through the month keep a running total of your receipts by reviewing them after each trip. This not only works great when shopping for school supplies each fall but also for other common monthly expenditures such as groceries, clothing, gifts and eating out. When you've reached your budgeted amount, stop shopping!
You can also keep your receipts in an envelope or tucked away in a file, but if you're likely to forget about them (you know. "out of site - out of mind") just keep them more visible and that should do the trick. You could even tape them to the fridge if necessary.
Shop the Best Sales and Price Match School Supplies
This is not a time for timidity, it's okay to ask for price matching! And though many stores are smart enough to offer price matching to get more of our business, Office Depot has been particularly great for school supplies this year.
A sales associate standing at the front door watched as I walked in to the store and immediately passed right over one of their 'big sale' items, while mentioning to my mom, "No, these are cheaper at another store." Then the very courteous (and well trained) sales lady quickly said to me, with a big smile, "we price match!"
I thanked her and proceeded to shop for the best priced school items that I had written down on my list for that store and then picked up several more items that they would be able to price match. (When price matching, items usually have to be the same brand and size as advertised at the other stores, so since they all carry various items it doesn't apply to everything. However, I did manage to save about $50 on that trip alone!)
Tax Free Shopping Days
Many states are also offering tax-free days or weekends to help families with back-to-school shopping this year (if your state has already had one and you missed it be sure to plan your shopping around this great opportunity next year--since they will likely offer it again). Consumers who can combine a tax free weekend with the best sales will often net the biggest savings, especially if your state is generous enough to include clothing, school supplies and computers, as North Carolina did.
Don't forget to look for additional money-saving department store coupons in special mailings and the weekly newspaper, common offers include:
- a percentage off of your total purchase (usually 10-30%)
- buy 1 get 1 free
- buy 1 get one for 50% off
- save 50% off one selected item
- save $10 on a $50 purchase or $15 on a $75 purchase
- early bird preview sales, with an additional 10-15% off
- special 1-day only sales, or even 3-4 hour sales
You may not be able to use every special coupon that comes your way, but even taking advantage of one or two can really help.
Our children started back to school last week and our tax-free weekend ran several weeks ago. (Our sales tax is 7% here in NC.) Since all 4 of our children needed some new clothes for the fall/winter months we saved a fortune combining sales and a special 1-day only coupon, DURING the tax-free weekend. By combining sale prices, the extra 7% tax-free savings and the 15% off coupon, I saved 40%-70% off all of their new clothes!
Copyright 2005 by Michelle Jones. All rights reserved.
Michelle Jones is a frugal mom of 4 and the publishing editor of Living a Better Life: The Free Money-Saving Tips Ezine. Visit her Web site at www.BetterBudgeting.com for more information!
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