Although I don’t have kids, I subject myself to the back-to-school shopping madness anyway—for a good cause! This year, it started with my husband Bill coming home and declaring that we have “Jayla” and “Jerry.” Bill signs up at work to donate backpacks full of supplies for needy kids every year. And it’s an interesting challenge given our conflicting shopping styles.
Bill just wants to get it done—he calls himself a "guerilla shopper." This year, he secretly tossed armloads of full-priced school supplies into our cart during our weekly supermarket food shop. When we got to the checkout line, I caught on and shouted, “You’re paying WHAT for glue sticks?!” As a savings expert, I could not let that stand! I calmly removed the offending items from our cart, then went to work and got some amazing deals.
So how does a savings expert shop for back-to-school supplies? Here are a few very important strategies. First, don’t shop with your partner or your kids if you can help it! They will sidetrack you—and get you to overspend or just drive you crazy. Second, remember that no one store has the best deals so the only way to maximize your savings is to shop in at least two places, checking prices online and in stores. Finally, and most important, have a strategy of where you’re going to buy the bulk of your supplies, starting with the big stuff like the backpack, computer, or other high-ticket item. Here are 10 strategies to get the most for your BTS dollar:
Cherry-pick the flyers every week—but don’t let those doorbusters bust your budget. National retailers like Staples, Target, and Walmart have doorbuster weekly deals for as little as 25 or 50 cents for things like notebooks and pencils. But many of these doorbusters are in-store only. That means you have to use all of your willpower not to start with the doorbusters and finish with the overpriced Disney character pens. You can slash your school spending by trying to limit your purchases to the best deals and then moving on. An app called Flipp makes it super easy to keep on top of the sales at different retailers because you can make a list in the app and it will automatically check prices from dozens of flyers so you can quickly see which stores have the best deals.
Hit the right dollar stores! If you’re in a rush and just want to get it done and not spend a ton, this is the place! This year, I started at Five Below, a national dollar-store chain, because it was advertising $5 backpacks. And they’re nice ones! Also, be sure to download dollar-store apps if you’re shopping at Family Dollar and Dollar General. The apps have coupons and flyers that can save you even more, especially if you can combine them with manufacturer coupons! Dollar General even has handy shopping lists from local schools like Target and other stores. Hollar.com, an online dollar store, is featuring adorable $10 backpacks and other super-cheap supplies. Just keep in mind that some stuff is actually a better deal at Staples or Target than it is at the dollars stores. Pencils, notebooks, and other items that are $1 at the dollar store can be had for half that price if you shop around.
Download coupon apps like Coupon Sherpa and Retailmenot. No matter where you’re shopping, check these apps for coupons while you’re on the go. You can find coupons for stores ranging from Macy’s and Dick’s to Michael’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Use cash-back apps and credit cards. In addition to paying with your rewards credit card, use cash-back apps like Honey, eBates, Piggy, and Retailmenot when you shop online. You can get up to 10% or more cash back on top of discounts. And eBates and Retailmenot’s program now work in walk-in stores too! Just download the apps and connect them to a credit card.
Be a smart hoarder. If you belong to Costco or Sam’s Club, pair up with other parents and buy things in bulk that you can split, like pencils, notebooks, and snacks for lunches. If you need art supplies, check Michaels.com for bulk buys.
Price match! If you’re shopping at one store, see if it will match other stores’ prices, including Amazon’s, so you can get the best deals all at the same place! Walmart, Target, Michael’s, and many other stores have price-matching policies. Just be prepared to bring your phone or paper ads showing the lower prices.
Track prices. Using apps like Honey and Slice you can keep track of prices and if they drop you might be able to pocket the difference. Find out what the store policies are—especially if you’re buying expensive items like computers. You typically have a limited time period for price adjustments. Your credit card might also provide price protection so if the price drops you can get a credit. Just be sure to read the fine print for deadlines and other details. You can also use apps like Paribus and Earny to do the work for you, but you’ll have to give them access to your credit card and email.
Check out Amazon Basics office products. Amazon’s private label products like notebooks and pencils can save you a bundle. I found a 30-pack of No. 2 Ticonderga pencils at Target.com for $5.99 vs. $4.99 at Amazon.
Wait until last minute to buy clothing. If you can hold out, Labor Day or even later is a great time to catch end-of-season sales. And then just buy seasonal items. You can start buying fall and winter clothing during the President’s Day holiday sales.
Buy refurbs! If you need computers and other electronics for your kids, check Blinq.com, Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, and other sites for refurb deals, which can save you hundreds of dollars!