is the second-biggest shopping event of the year for
retailers, but paying full retail prices in the typical
"mall haul" is for suckers, say expert
shoppers and cheapskates.
will spend $68 billion during this year’s
back-to-school season, including back-to-college,
according to the National Retail Federation. That’s an
average of $630 per family for school-age kids and $899
for families with college-bound students.
say back-to-school costs are about $600; I think that’s
bogus," said Steve Economides, who with wife
Annette heads "America’s cheapest family,"
operates moneysmartfamily.com and has written books
including "The MoneySmart Family System."
you’re a smart shopper, you can do it for $60 to
$75," he said.
searched high and low for the best ninja tactics for
back-to-school shoppers’ two main categories: school
supplies and clothing. We’re betting you’ll find
lots of advice you’ve never heard before. We’ve also
included some hassle-free strategies for those who find
that time is more valuable than saving a few bucks.
you do, don’t buy school supplies online if the goal
is to save money. Pens, notebooks, folders and related
supplies fall in one of the few product categories that
is cheaper to buy in person.
service firm StellaService reported that the average
cost of a typical list of school supplies in a store was
41 percent less than buying them online, according to
they’re not cheap. Consumers will spend a C-note, an
average of $97.74, on school supplies, according to the
retail federation. A survey commissioned by office
supply store Staples found that price was the top
consideration for 86 percent of parents when buying
back-to-school is one season when retail prices are low
just when consumers need them to be.
tactic 1: Inventory analysis. School shopping shouldn’t
begin at the mall; it should start with a plan. You don’t
know what to shop for until you know what you need. With
supplies, that starts with the teacher’s list of
required paraphernalia, often posted online and
sometimes listed in major retail stores.
know it sounds boring, but inventory what you’ve
already got," Annette Economides said. "It’s
time to clean out the kids’ backpacks and desks at
home." If you have multiple kids, assemble the
school supplies and reallocate them to avoid overbuying
don’t necessarily need new backpacks, binders and
lunchboxes every year. What can be repurposed from
previous years or older siblings? Parents who work in
offices might reuse folders and binders that would
otherwise be tossed by covering corporate logos.
listing fad items, like "Minions" backpacks
that might not be cool a few months from now.
tactic 2: Ruthlessly target loss leaders. Loss leaders
are items retailers sell below cost to entice customers
into the store, hoping they’ll buy higher profit items
know how to play that game.
weekly circulars of office supply and chain drugstores
for the best deals. You’re likely to find folders,
highlighters and crayons for a quarter and penny deals
on rulers and index cards. If the ad limits how many you
buy, that’s a tipoff that it’s a great sale.
office supply stores are going to have the kick-butt
loss leaders," Annette Economides said.
Elledge, chief executive "angel" of coupon and
savings site SavingsAngel.com, said to hit those chain
stores hard each week in August. "Don’t wait
until the week before school," he said. "If
you cherry-pick the best deals weekly and apply some
high-value coupons, you’ll be well stocked up for
school and your home office for the next year."
Cataldo, a shopping expert who runs supercouponing.com
and teaches couponing classes locally, said she’s
always prepared for back-to-school season.
keep my children’s lists with me when I go shopping,
and I just purchase these low-priced items each week and
try to cross off as much of their shopping lists as I
can," she said. "This saves a lot of money,
especially when some of the school lists are requiring
larger quantities of supplies."
an eye on ads from nontraditional stores for school
supplies. Home center Menards, for example, recently
advertised 10-packs of ballpoint pens and one-subject
spiral notebooks completely free after rebate, with a
limit of 10, Cataldo said.
10 of each free covered all three of my kids’ needs
for these items," she said.
tactic 3: Be social. Facebook pages of major retailers
often promote sales. Sign up for retailer emails,
perhaps to a secondary (and free) Gmail or Yahoo account
so ads don’t clog your primary inbox.
retailers reward customers who like, follow, post, tag,
pin, tweet and retweet, offering social media followers
exclusive coupon codes and special savings, said Andrea
Woroch of Kinoli, which manages money-saving websites.
"Ultimately, it pays to be social," she said.
tactic 4: Compare on the fly. Standing in a store
wondering if the listed price is a good one? Check your
smartphone. Apps like ShopSavvy and Amazon Price Check
use the phone’s camera to check the bar code to
compile competing prices. If you’re shopping online,
use the InvisibleHand browser extension to get price
alerts in case what you’re shopping for is sold
elsewhere for less, Woroch said.
tactic 1: Boxed supplies. Some schools, perhaps as a
parent-teacher organization fundraiser, offer supply
bundles that require no shopping and might cost about
$50. Just realize, Cataldo said, you may be able to use
loss-leader shopping to get the same things for about
time versus money," Annette Economides said.
"If you have less time and more money, go for
tactic 2: Exploit the price match. Avoid store hopping
by taking advantage of the price-matching policies at
stores like Staples, Wal-Mart and Target, which will
match advertised prices on brand-name products.
"You have a likelihood of being able to shop at
only one store and still get the 19-cent folders,"
Steve Economides said.
tactic 3: Shop online. While online shopping isn’t the
cheapest way to buy school supplies, it might be quicker
than visiting stores. At least be sure to do a quick
Internet search for free shipping offers. "Free
shipping is not just a want of shoppers but an
expectation," said Stacie Severs Nelson, client
services and managing director of Prosper Insights,
which supplies the National Retail Federation with
survey data about back-to-school shopping.
free shipping, you might find discount codes as well.
Use your favorite search engine with keywords including
the retailer’s name plus "coupon code." Or,
for more reliable leads on coupon codes, search such
aggregators as retailmenot.com, promotionalcodes.com and
couponsherpa.com. Some deal aggregators, like
FatWallet.com, highlight back-to-school bargains.
tip: No kids, no problem. If you have a home office —
or just need to resupply the kitchen junk drawer with
household pens and paper clips — back-to-school time
is the best time to do it.
will spend even more on clothes than school supplies.
About 93 percent of families will buy new apparel,
spending an average of $218 on clothes and an additional
$118 on new shoes, according to the retail federation.
tactic 1: Fake fashion show. As with school supplies,
know what’s missing before you shop. Have your student
put on a fashion show to figure out what fits, what
doesn’t and what they need for school.
it comes to wants versus needs, talk about the
difference and what you’re willing to spend. That will
cut down on drama and overspending at the store.
younger children balk at hand-me-downs, rename the
process. "First-grade clothes" sounds less
like clothes that were handed down and more like the
child was promoted.
tactic 2: Pillage pre-owned piles. "When it comes
to clothing kids, I always recommend buying gently used
wherever possible," Elledge said.
secondhand is especially good for kids at the ends of
the spectrum, from youngsters who quickly outgrow
clothes to older kids who crave pricey brand names and
can get more for their money used.
at local thrift or consignment shops, or online at
websites like thredUp.com, Woroch suggests. Garage sales
and rummage sales are great for infant and toddler
clothes, but more hassle than they’re worth to try to
outfit school-age kids, Steve Economides said.
did thrift stores for everything except for socks,
underwear and shoes," Steve Economides said of
outfitting his own kids, adding that you can get
name-brand jeans for $10 or $15.
said his favorite website for kids’ clothes is
Schoola.com. "Not only are the prices and selection
great, they donate 40 percent of your purchase to
schools," he said.
tactic 3: Slow your roll. You don’t need a child’s
full school-year wardrobe on the first day of classes,
when weather in most regions is too warm for
back-to-school fall fashions anyway. By the time your
child needs fall clothes, they’ll be on clearance.
also spreads out clothing spending, creating less of a
sudden impact on your wallet.
benefit is not making a fashion faux pas. Waiting until
several weeks into the school year allows teens to
discover which fashions are — and are not — cool
anymore, avoiding purchases of clothes that go unworn.
tactic 4: Buy shoes in the evening, or Wednesday. Go
shoe shopping in the evening because children’s feet
can swell half a size from morning, perhaps nudging them
into a larger size that will last them longer. And Mark
Di Vincenzo, author of "Buy Shoes on Wednesday and
Tweet at 4" says if you’ll buy shoes online —
only a good idea if you’re certain of shoe size —
sales data show Wednesdays feature the best prices.
tactic 1: If your student is a teen, set a budget and
let them do the hard work of shopping for clothes. They
might just learn a few money lessons along the way.