50 Tips for Back-to-School Savings

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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.

SHARE BACK-TO-SCHOOL EXPENSES

Go in with a classmate, neighbor, friend, or family member to share music lessons or a parking pass/permit. Sharing a cellphone plan can also be a major money saver.

BUY FOOD IN BULK

Instead of going for single-serving packaged foods designed for school lunches, buy in bulk and portion out favorite foods in reusable containers.

SHOP AT WAREHOUSE CLUBS

Whether you prefer Sam's Club or Costco, warehouse stores are the place to stock up. Although there are many perks of membership, consumers can sidestep the fee by shopping with a member as a guest and reimbursing the member for any purchases.

BUY AT THE RIGHT TIME

With retailers of all stripes advertising aggressive discounts, many supplies are at their cheapest in August. For other items, it may be worth waiting for Labor Day clearance sales in September.

SWAP INSTEAD OF BUYING

Try websites such as Swap.com and Swap Mamas to see if someone else has something your children need. The Freecycle Network claims to have 9 million members around the world interested in recycling goods.

THINK LONG TERM

Try to buy supplies that can last children longer than a single school year, such as a good-quality backpack.

NEVER PAY FOR SHIPPING

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.

BE STRATEGIC ABOUT FILLING THE TANK

Think about where to stop for gas -- the cheapest station or the closest? If the cheapest is far away, it won't necessarily save money. Download a gas app to help find the best place to top up.

UNPLUG TO SAVE ENERGY

Put the computer in "sleep" mode rather than "idle" and unplug electronics when they're not in use to save some money on the electric bill.

PUT ON A SWEATER

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.

DO LESS LAUNDRY

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.

REPLACE LIGHT BULBS

As the days get shorter and you need more artificial light in the evenings, switch out traditional light bulbs for LEDs to get 25 times the longevity.

DON'T PAY FOR KIDS' MEALS OUT

Research which area restaurants offer kids-eat-free specials. There might be a nearby special for any night of the week that's too busy for cooking dinner.

SHOP WITH A LIST

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.)

PAY WITH HARD CURRENCY

Paying with cash instead of credit can force you to stay within a spending limit.

GO GENERIC

Simply switching to store brands for school-lunch staples and other grocery-store necessities can save money. Try going generic for products such as over-the-counter medications, which experts say are just as effective as name brands.

EVALUATE YOUR TV HABITS

See if a streaming media player such as a Roku and services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime offer enough programming to justify canceling a cable or satellite subscription. If not, try to get the company to reduce the bill.

USE FREE SOFTWARE

There are open-source alternatives to many expensive software programs, including Gimp, a capable substitute for Adobe Photoshop.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SCHOLARSHIPS

Students headed to college should treat applying for scholarships as job. Hunt for college scholarships online and get advice from the school guidance counselor.

ADD AP AND IB CLASSES TO STUDENTS' SCHEDULES

Taking college-level classes in high school, through the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, can cut down on the number of classes students have to take -- and pay for -- in college.

APPLY FOR THE NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM

The federal government provides free and reduced-price lunches and after-school snacks to millions of children. This offer is extended to families with income up to 185 percent of the poverty level (just under $45,000 a year for a family of four).

BE AWARE OF YOUR BANK ACCOUNT

Before ramping up back-to-school spending, sign up to get automatic texts or emails when an account balance falls below a set amount to avoid overdraft fees. Try to get an overdraft fee refunded if you are a first-time offender.

CONSOLIDATE BACK-TO-SCHOOL SPENDING ON A SINGLE CREDIT CARD

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.

REMEMBER THE POWER OF NEGOTIATION

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.

PACK LUNCHES IN REUSABLE CONTAINERS

Go green to save money on school lunches. With lunchboxes and reusable containers, you don't have to buy plastic or brown paper bags all year.

REMEMBER WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT LATTES

After dropping off kids at school on another early, crazy morning, it's tempting to stop for a specialty coffee drink. Instead, order a small cup of regular -- or, better yet, make morning coffee at home or at work.

ELIMINATE EXCUSES TO EAT OUT

Pack a lunch the night before and let a slow cooker get dinner ready while everyone's gone for the day. If you do go out for lunch, try picking up a lunch special to stretch into a dinner. When cooking, make enough to send for lunch the next day or turn leftovers into another dinner.

PRESERVE SUMMER'S BOUNTY

While the market is still overrun with cheap, fresh fruits and vegetables, buy them in large quantities and can or freeze to save money on meals.

OBSERVE NATIONAL FOOD HOLIDAYS

Nearly every day and certainly every month marks some sort of national food celebration. Pay attention to the calendar and take advantage of promotions from food manufacturers and eateries year-round.

LOOK FOR COUPONS EVERYWHERE

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.

BUY ONLY ITEMS YOU KNOW YOUR FAMILY WILL USE

Don't buy something just because it's a good deal. Think about what's necessary for the coming year and what will turn out to be useless. Why do children need an electric pencil sharpener, for instance, when there's one in every classroom?

ASK ABOUT CAR INSURANCE DISCOUNTS

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.

DITCH BOTTLED WATER

Individual bottles of water cost more than buying gallons of water. A home filtering system may cost more up front but saves big in the long run.

CONSIDER EXTENDED PRODUCT WARRANTIES CAREFULLY

Weigh the costs and benefits of paying extra for warranties on big-ticket items before signing on the dotted line. Not all are necessary.

BUY SECONDHAND MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, BICYCLES, AND EXERCISE EQUIPMENT

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.

REPURPOSE INSTEAD OF BUYING NEW

Check the backs of closets and storage spaces before running out to the store or clicking "Add to Cart." Reusing, repurposing, and recycling are kind to the environment and consumers' wallets.

READ THE FINE PRINT ON PRICE-MATCH POLICIES

Many retailers match competitors' prices -- with a host of caveats. Still, shoppers who know the rules can save time and gas by shopping locally with ads in hand.

ASK ABOUT RETURN POLICIES

Be sure a backpack or graphing calculator bought at a discount can be returned if necessary. Check store policies to see how long you have to bring back an item and whether a receipt is required to make the return.

KNOW WHAT TO BUY AT THE DOLLAR STORE

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.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF STUDENT DISCOUNTS

Just showing a student ID can yield discounts on dinner, movie tickets, or even insurance.

SHOP ON TAX HOLIDAYS

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.

CASH IN ON BIRTHDAY SAVINGS

Is there a birthday coming up in your family? Sign up for birthday freebies and coupons everywhere from DSW to Dunkin' Donuts.

VISIT THE DOCTOR

Don't wait until cold and flu season. A well check-up now can help stave off costly ailments down the road.

LEVERAGE GIFT CARDS

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.

COMPARISON SHOP FOR TEXTBOOKS

Instead of going to the bookstore, use textbook websites and apps to get the cheapest college textbooks.

REVIEW YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN

Open enrollment will begin before you know it. For Americans buying through the federal health insurance marketplace, the date is Nov. 1.

START A COMPOST PILE

Fall delivers dry leaves (brown material) to balance out kitchen scraps and other green material in a compost heap. Careful tending can create free fertilizer by next summer.

SKIP THE GYM

Even as cold weather encourages indoor workouts, there are ways to work out at home for far less than the cost of a gym membership.

BE A FRUGAL ROLE MODEL

Teaching children about the value of money and how to save for what they want will have at least as much impact than some of the knowledge they gain in school.

TRY A NO-BUY MONTH

The idea behind a no-buy month is to commit to purchasing only what's absolutely necessary. A Cheapism writer who took the challenge saved more than $500. September might be easier than August -- one less day of scrimping.