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Ways to save at back-to-school sales

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As the lazy days of summer dwindle and the first day of school looms on the horizon, parents everywhere are gearing up for the (often dreaded) back-to-school supplies shopping trip.

Despite the fact that we know it's coming each year — in fact, many elementary schools send home school supply lists with the year-end report card — we still find ourselves scrambling to get the various correctly-colored folders, notebooks, pencils, pens and boxes of tissue our children need.

Ideally, we would hit the early summer sales to get the shopping out of the way. But if you haven't started shopping yet, fear not. There are still ways to ensure your school supply shopping spree doesn't make you crazy or break the bank.

Reuse what you can. Sure, our kids like to have shiny new school supplies each fall. But there are some items that can — and should — be reused from year to year including scissors, rulers and binders. As your older children transition to middle school, pass down supplies to younger siblings.
Buy only what's on the list — at least for now. Teachers typically have organizational reasons for requesting specific school supplies — particularly various colored folders and matching spiral notebooks. When given a choice, our young students can be tempted to pick out the notebook with the hip design on front, but the cost may double that of a plain notebook. Suggest that your child go with the more economical supplies and perhaps let her choose one special notebook.

When possible, opt for function over fashion, so to speak. That superhero folder made of cardboard? Chances are it will be sporting tears by the end of September, if not before. Consider purchasing a sturdier plastic folder and let your child dress it up with stickers.

Shop now for your high schooler's supplies. It's tempting to wait until you know exactly what your child needs before hitting the supply aisle at your local store. But there's a good chance pickings will be slim by the first day of school. Select several spiral notebooks and binders, and save your receipts in case you need to return/exchange. If your child knows who their teachers will be, look for a link to the teachers' websites on the school's web page. Chances are if teachers have a web page, they'll list the supplies needed for their specific classes.

Buy in bulk when possible. Stock up on lined paper now, when it's on sale. Many stores still have decent sales, so if you've been through a few years of school and find yourself restocking items midyear, purchase extras now.
Set a total dollar limit for all back-to-school expenses. This way, if your teen really wants to splurge on a $7 spiral notebook, he will have to find ways to economize on something else to stay within budget.
Shop around. All sales are not created equal. The basics can be found at dollar stores as easily as at higher-end retailers. Don't pay more than you have to for generic supplies.

Check for warranties. While these are typically found for bigger-ticket items, some stores promote satisfaction guaranteed, so if you're not happy with the way a particular mechanical pencil or binder performs, you can return it to the store. As always, save receipts as that makes it easier to return.

Make back-to-school shopping more enjoyable by involving your children in the process. You'll be able to teach them about looking for a sale and other ways to save money. And, maybe they'll get excited about the return to school in the process.

Copyright ©2013 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission. Reprint permission granted to subscribing school districts only. For additional rights, please contact Parent Today at parenttodayinfo@neric.org.

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