Back to school money-saving tips | The Frugalista

Back to school money-saving tips

by frugalista on August 12, 2008

It’s that time of year for back-to-school shopping.
Here are some tips from at least a dozen money experts and parents who are veteran back-to-school shoppers about how to save from my paper, The Miami Herald:
  • Before
    hitting the stores, take inventory of what you already have. You may
    not need as much underwear — or pens — as you thought.
  • Separate
    wants from needs. This is true year round, of course, but never more
    important than during the back-to-school crunch. Say no to the special
    pencils because they cost twice as much as the regular ones.   
  • Recycle,
    recycle, recycle. If last year’s book bag is still holding up, don’t
    buy a new one. Uniform shirts still fit? If they’re in good shape,
    don’t replace them. Don’t be sucked into the annual consumption
  • Make a list and check it twice — and we’re not
    talking about the supply list schools hand out. This is YOUR list about
    other essentials. Assign a maximum dollar figure to items so you don’t
    blow your budget. This way you’ll avoid impulse shopping.
  • Hit
    the consignment stores, thrift shops and garage sales. You’d be amazed
    at what you will find in gently worn, fashionable clothing.   
  • Check
    department store ads and Sunday newspaper advertising sections before
    hitting the stores every week. Ennen likes to stock up on Staples’
    one-cent specials every week. "For example, this week they had folders
    on sale for a penny, limit 20. If it is something that we use regularly
    with a limit, I’ll have my husband go with me so that we both can
    purchase the maximum amount.”   
  • Buy educational staples
    year around to catch the best sales — and to help distribute the
    expense over several months. From Villamizar: "I’ve got pencil boxes at
    50 cents and backpacks for $9.99 stashed away for when they’re
    needed.” She loves the clearance bins at Office Depot.   
  • If
    you shop with the kids, set the ground rules up front. Tell them what
    you’re shopping for, how much you’re willing to pay and stick to your
    guns. This might even serve as a teachable moment about budgets.   
  • Wait
    until September to buy school uniforms if you already have enough to
    get you through the first few weeks. Some stores start their deep
    discounts in September. But you risk not being able to find your
    child’s size.   
  • Look for special deals online. There are
    coupons you can print from websites to use at a bricks and mortar
    location or to apply for a web purchase. Some say online purchases have
    advantages. Ennen buys items from Wal-mart online, ships them to store
    and picks them up there. This saves her on shipping charges and time
    spent in line. It also guarantees quantity and sizes.   
  • Let
    your fingers do the comparison shopping. Instead of using gas in your
    car, click on comparison shopping sites such as Shopzilla and Bizrate
    to find the best deals. Also, lists the best weekly school supply deals.   
  • If
    you absolutely must charge it, then use a credit card that that offers
    rewards. Better yet, use one that will help you pay for college.
    Fidelity Investments partners with American Express to funnel rewards
    into a 529 college savings account. Futuretrust Mastercard deposits up
    to a 10 percent rebate into a tax-free college account as well.   
  • Ask
    around for a uniform exchange at your children’s schools. You can
    benefit from someone else’s hand-me-downs. Also, check out the
    MomsMiami Swap Your Stuff forum and other sites like, online communities that help family swap goods.   
  • If
    you’re truly strapped, ask for help at your child’s school. Many have
    gently used uniforms donated by students who have graduated. Principals
    also have other discretionary funds to help needy families. Business
    partners often contribute as well. Ibiley, for instance, donates 5
    percent of the company’s sales to its schools, supplying them with
    purchase vouchers that can be used by needy parents at its store.   
  • Keep
    your ear to the ground for special deals. J.C. Penney at Miami’s
    International Mall is having its own tax-free week — actually it’s
    offering a 7 percent discount — Aug. 2-11.   
  • Hit the street
    fair circuit for freebies. Perhaps the best one for school-oriented
    items may be The Children’s Trust Family Expo! on Saturday Sept. 13
    from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. outside Arnold Hall at the Miami-Dade County
    Fair and Expo. In addition to the goodies handed out at booths, the
    Expo will provide 1,000 book bags with some school supplies to the
    first 1,000 school-age children. Other community organizations will
    also be handing out book bags and supplies to needy children.   
  • If
    your kid is headed for college, take an active role in textbook
    shopping. It’s an enormous expense that shocks most parents. Check out
    the used-textbook sites, but also try places like,
    which sells furniture and dorm room supplies. StudentMarket provides a
    free service that compares new and used textbook prices among competing
    online bookstores.

How are you saving money on back-to-school items?

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