Your Back-to-School Shopping Game Plan
Make a list and get your child involved. Use the recommended or required supplies from your child's school or teacher as a starting point. Sit down with your child and go over your list together. You'll be teaching your child how to get organized, a skill that applies to more than shopping.
Take inventory. Once your list is complete, take some time to search your home office for items you already have. Take an inventory of the supplies you have on hand, and plan to reuse items that are still in good condition. Check those items off your list.
Determine a budget and separate wants from needs. Most school supplies don't go out of style -- but as any parent with last year's superhero notebook knows, beware of the power of trends. Rather than just trying to talk your child out of the more expensive items, set an overall budget for supplies and help your child figure out how to fit items in. It will help him or her set priorities, learn how to manage money and start saving allowance for the items your budget won't allow.
Buy basics in bulk. Basic items such as paper, pencils, glue sticks and notebooks are often sold in bulk at discounted prices. Consider going in with a group of other parents to split the cost and divide up the items. Or, if you have items left over, set up a supply shelf or storage container at home that can be used all year to avoid late-night shopping trips to buy notebook paper when your child runs out. Plus, you'll know where to find unused items when it comes time to shop for supplies next year.
Search for quality used items. You may be able to find great deals on clothing items, backpacks and other supplies at consignment stores or garage sales. Taking time to find quality used items can pay off when you find the items you need at a fraction of the price.
Watch for savings. Some discount office supply stores offer free shipping on online orders. Scour the weekly ads to find the best prices on supplies. If the store where you're shopping charges more, ask the sales clerks to match its competitor. Some stores that don't advertise price matching will still do it.
Shop end-of-summer sales. Kids wear some clothes, such as short-sleeve polo shirts, all year long. Hit the big end-of-summer sales, and snatch up discounted items that can be worn well into fall.
Figure out when quality counts. Leaky pens will cost you more in ruined clothes than some more expensive varieties. In the event that a strap or zipper breaks, a backpack with a warranty might be a good investment, even if it costs more. Read online reviews to determine when it's worth paying a little extra.
Plan now for next year. Some schools send a back-to-school list home with kids on the last day of school so parents can shop for the best bargains. If your school doesn't do this, get together with other parents or your parent organization and talk to administrators about how you can help your school put together a list earlier next year.