American families plan to spend an average of about $630 this year on back-to-school expenses for kindergarten through high school kids, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation. Lump in college students, and total spending is projected to reach $68 billion. Cheapism.com has compiled a list of top savings tips to help shave some expenses in the months ahead.
50 Tips for Back-to-School Savings
Try to buy supplies that can last children longer than a single school year, such as a good-quality backpack.
Check out FreeShipping.org, search online for free shipping codes, and check for special offers in RetailMeNot's free shipping section. Avoid small online purchases that don't reach the minimum threshold for free shipping on sites such as Amazon.
As the weather gets cooler, resist the urge to crank up the thermostat. Lower the temperature at night, when everyone's snug under the covers, or install a programmable thermostat so no one has to remember to do it manually.
Don't get too excited -- the idea here is to do a few large loads of laundry instead of many smaller ones, as clothes come in sweaty and grass-stained from recess and sports team practices. And skimp on detergent, even for those larger loads. People tend to use more than they need.
Many schools enumerate all the supplies recommended for the year. Stick to that list in the store to avoid buying things children don't need or going over budget. (Shopping without the kids can help.)
There are open-source alternatives to many expensive software programs, including Gimp, a capable substitute for Adobe Photoshop.
Don't diffuse your earning and spending power across several cards. Focusing on one cash-back or rewards card is more likely to add up to meaningful rewards and make it easier to cash them in.
Savvy shoppers can negotiate the price of some high-cost goods such as electronics, furniture, appliances, jewelry, and cars. Visit a store during non-peak hours when seeking to negotiate the best deal. Ask for better rates on monthly contracts such as gym memberships and phone service, as well.
In the age of mobile coupon apps, the newspaper circular is hardly the only place to look for bargains. Consumers can print online coupons, or show them on a phone at some stores. Look for coupons on the back of ticket stubs, packaging, and receipts, especially grocery store receipts, and in mailers that appear to be junk. Throw away coupons for items you don't need, though, and avoid temptation.
A teen with a new license can drive up rates, but many providers offer auto insurance discounts up to 20 percent for academic achievements such as a spot on the dean's list or even a B average. Companies including Allstate and Liberty Mutual also reduce premiums for students who complete the TeenSmart crash reduction program.
Kids outgrow and lose interest in these quickly, and adults often find it hard to stick with a workout routine. It doesn't make sense to go all out for new models when used equipment is in plentiful supply.
Some items are a good deal at the dollar store and others are not. Dry-erase boards, storage containers, hangers, and plastic utensils are all good buys. Steer clear of dollar-store batteries, power cords, power strips, and anything else with a plug. Don't waste money on goods that just won't last or are woefully inferior.
More than a dozen states collect no sales tax on select merchandise on certain days in August, most commonly over the weekend of Aug. 7-9. The eligible items almost always include clothing and school supplies.
Don't wait until cold and flu season. A well check-up now can help stave off costly ailments down the road.
Sell unused gift cards on websites such as Gift Card Granny, Giftcard Zen, GiftCardRescue, and ABC Gift Cards. Buy gift cards at a discount and use the full value at stores you plan to frequent for school shopping.
Open enrollment will begin before you know it. For Americans buying through the federal health insurance marketplace, the date is Nov. 1.