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Tips for Back to School Shopping: How to Find the Best Deals

While the kids are swimming in the pool or building sandcastles on the beach, you could be filling your shopping cart with deeply discounted back to school merchandise. I know it’s the last thing on your mind, but the early bird gets the deal! If you get a sense of accomplishment when you score a big discount, this list of back to school shopping tips is for you.

Locate your school supply list before you do anything else. To find your list, visit your school’s website and select the link provided for your child’s specific grade. I copy and paste all of the items into my phone so that I have the information when I need it. We have 43 different schools listed on the St. Johns County school district website, so be sure you have the exact list for your child.

Use What You Have

Take inventory of all your old school supplies and sort through your child’s clothing. You will be surprised at what you can reuse. Rip used pages out of barely touched notebooks and use sturdy three-ring binders again. Even if you would rather not use your old supplies, it’s good to know what you can use if you don’t find the right deal. You will have time to purchase items later if you don’t get around to it before the first day of school.

As for clothing, kids don’t need a completely new wardrobe at the beginning of the school year. Our family purchases one new outfit for the first day and then adds to their regular wardrobe as necessary. When children are young they outgrow their clothing very quickly. It would be unrealistic to expect their wardrobe to last an entire school year. If your kids are in elementary or middle school, you are purchasing for a matter of months. Don’t over purchase items in hopes that they will be used long term.

Buy Your Summer Clothing Now, Buy Fall Clothing Later

We live in sunny Florida and have the privilege of wearing flip flops year round. We need a light coat and sweater for the winter. If you wait until the stores are filled with Fall styles in August, you won’t have the t-shirts and shorts that most children desire. Your favorite stores have clearance racks full of Summer merchandise right now so that they can make room for the Fall clothing. Yes, it is picked over. Yes, they may not have your kid’s size in the shirt you like the best. But if you visit several of your favorite stores you are bound to locate clothing that will make your kid and your pocketbook happy. At the end of September, the Fall styles will be on sale to make room for winter fashion. Buy the Fall clothes then.

Don’t Wait For the Week Before School to Start Shopping

Buy supplies throughout the summer. Starting this week there will be sales on select items at local retail chains. Crayons, markers, paper, and pencils will be on sale during the weeks leading up to the first day of school. You can purchase select items for as little as a penny if you shop wisely.  These steeply discounted items are “loss leaders.” The big box store is offering these products at a loss in hopes that you will purchase full price items once they have you in the store. Their ploy is that you come to purchase a pack of pencils and leave with a new laptop. Purchase only what is on sale at each store and shop at competitors for other items to amplify your savings. Stick to your list and don’t fall prey to the allure of shiny packaging on items that you don’t need.

Purchase Quality Products Above Trendy Items

My kids want this month’s popular cartoon character on their backpack, lunchbox, and thermos. Retailers know that a brand name or a well-known character is enough to sell a product. We want our kids to have the most coveted new items and certainly don’t want them to suffer embarrassment because they have a backpack with an “uncool” character from last year. This creates the perfect storm for impulse buying and submission to my children’s tantrums. Unfortunately, many of the branded items can be of inferior quality. All branded items include royalty costs. To make these items attractive to consumers and in line with the price of non-branded items, quality is often sacrificed. Be careful to examine the craftsmanship on the products you are purchasing. The seams should be strong and the material not easily damaged so that it can last the school year.

We purchase name brands (like Jansen or North Face) in a favorite color and add key chains or patches to personalize them according to their current likes and dislikes. They will get a new backpack clip, patch, or pin for customization in their Christmas stocking and again in their Easter basket. It makes a plain backpack or lunch box exciting and fun to use. Alternatively, you could wait until September and buy them the exact trendy backpack they want off the clearance rack.

Shop the Florida Tax-Free weekend on August 3-5, 2018



You will automatically save 6.5% on all of your purchases August 3-5 during Florida’s sales tax holiday. You can make tax-free purchases on clothing, accessories, and shoes up to $60, Computer and Computer related accessories up to $750, and select office supplies up to $15 (note that computer paper, staplers, correction fluid and books are not tax-free during this time). Many parents don’t want to worry about coupons or visiting multiple stores. With this weekend of tax savings, they can be assured of a discount without a lot of effort. Store inventory can run low during this time and aisles can get pretty crowded. Shopping online can solve many of these issues and the discount will still apply.

Do Price Comparison

Make sure you are getting a good deal on your purchases. A product may not be a good price even if it is on sale. Look at advertisements before you decide which stores to visit. There are many apps available that will help you shop back to school sales. If I see something that seems like a good deal while in the store that I haven’t researched, I search google to determine the manufacturer’s retail price. This helps me to determine if an item is available elsewhere at a lesser price and if it’s worth the gas to drive there or the shipping costs to have it delivered.

Do Not Purchase Items With a Rebate Unless You Immediately Submit It

Items with a rebate are generally attractive to consumers because they come with a significant monetary return. Companies use rebates rather than sales on larger purchases for many reasons. The most obvious reason companies offer a rebate is that they hope to profit on customers who do not fill out the paperwork or who do not submit it properly. A rebate allows a company to encourage a purchase with the idea of savings, knowing that around half of all rebate paperwork will not be returned. If you can not commit to submitting paperwork within the next two days, do not purchase the item. The longer you wait, the more unlikely it becomes that you will remember to file the rebate and receive your cash.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can save a significant amount of money if you have multiple children, can share the cost with other mom friends, or plan to donate items to school drives. Amazon, Sams Club, Office Warehouse stores, and Costco have great deals on large quantities.

Shop Outside of the Superstores

Walmart and Target are great for one-stop shopping, but there are lots of deals available in less obvious places. Craft stores, drug stores, home good stores, and even grocery stores hope to attract customers with sales on school supplies. Dollar stores have many of the items on elementary supply lists at a fraction of the cost. If you are willing to shop around, you can find great discounts. One year, I purchased everything on our school list at a discount in a single day by visiting multiple stores. If you don’t have time to shop slowly throughout the summer, this is the route I suggest.

Wait Until the End of September for the Deepest Discounts

After school begins many stores clear their shelves to make room for Halloween merchandise.If you wait until the last week of September steep discounts on the remaining stock will be available. This includes all back to school paraphernalia. If your student can make it through the first few weeks without clothing or large ticket items on their supply list you can save an enormous amount of money.

I hope you have a jingle in your pocket and a smile on your face after fulfilling your school supply lists this year. Let us know if you have any other great tips for back to school shopping. We could all use an extra dollar or two as we send our children off to school this Fall.

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