How to Shop Smart for Back-to-School

How much have you budgeted for back-to-school shopping? For nearly eight in 10 parents, the answer is up to $500 for each child, according to a recent survey by online coupon site RetailMeNot. But back-to-school shopping doesn't have to be such a drain on your wallet. Cheapism talked to Trae Bodge, senior editor of The RetailMeNot Insider, to get some strategies for acquiring all the necessary supplies for less.

If your kids just have to have brand-name clothes, look for sales, discounts, and coupon codes well in advance of your back-to-school shopping trip. Bodge suggests trying to teach children how to maximize a budget by pointing out items that look a lot like what they'd find at their favorite stores but cost much less.

'The Sweet Spot'

While the RetailMeNot survey found that some parents prefer to do their back-to-school shopping at the end of the previous school year, that might be premature. Stores generally aren't offering discounts yet to get consumers through their doors. Prices are typically lowest in September, once school has already started, but the problem then is the selection likely will be limited. "The sweet spot is July and August, as the bulk of customers are shopping," Bodge says. "All the great styles are out and there are lots of discounts to be found." Perhaps the best money-saving strategy is to look for deals on must-have, brand-specific items now and wait to buy more generic, less necessary items during September sales.


Starting at Home.

Looking for more ways to trim costs? Among other tips, Parenting magazine advises making a list before you head out -- and keeping unlisted items out of your cart. If kids beg for a bunch of extras, allow one per child and tell children they're welcome to buy anything above and beyond that; they just have to pay for it themselves.

Before you go back-to-school shopping, do a quick sweep of the house and look for items on your checklist that you may already have at home. This includes backpacks (last year's may still be in good condition), clothes, and office supplies.

Bodge's parting advice: Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about budgeting, shopping smart, and balancing wants against needs. Only one in five parents views back-to-school shopping as an opportunity to connect with kids, according to the RetailMeNot survey. Try to see this as a chance to spend time with your children before you find yourselves wrapped up in the new school year.