7 Ways to Save Money & Avoid Scams When Back to School Shopping

According to a recent article by CNBC, Americans are expected to spend a total of $74.9 billion on back to school items this year, which includes classroom supplies, clothing, and education-related electronics. Overall, this means that the average family will spend nearly $670 to equip their children with the things they’ll need in order to begin the 2014 school year. In fact, back to school shopping represents the second most lucrative time of the year for retailers, outpaced only by the Winter Holidays.

When compared to previous years though, the National Retail Federation (NRF) claims that back to school shoppers can expect to spend an average of $101 on supplies alone, which represents a 12 percent increase over 2013. This may primarily be due to the fact that supply lists are now including items that were once provided by schools, such as tissues, hand wipes, and even hair nets/shower caps to avoid spreading lice with shared sports helmets.

But it doesn’t stop there: Electronics are increasingly becoming a key component in the learning environment, and their share of the back to school supplies market continues to grow. As such, parents can expect to spend an average of $212 on their children’s learning-related electronics, which is $13 more than in 2013. And if your child will be attending college this year, electronics play an even bigger role, with smartphone and tablet usage increasing a whopping 30% over the past four years alone among university students.

Because of the immense outlay of money that back to school shopping represents, we here at HighYa felt that it would be a good idea to take a step back and provide some actionable, real-world tips you can use to save money this year. In addition, we’ve included some of the most popular back to school scams and outlined ways that you can avoid falling victim.

How to Save Money on Back to School Supplies

Because back to school time can involve a lot of running around between stores, while still trying to maintain your regular schedule, most experts strongly recommend that parents create a checklist and stick to a budget before they ever set foot inside a store. This is because, whether you’re shopping online or off; for school supplies, clothing or electronics; you need to know exactly which items you need, and how much you can afford to spend on them. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of buying items that you child doesn’t require, and spending too much on them in the process.

With this said, what are some of the best ways that you can save more of your hard-earned money on your children’s back to school supplies?

Wait for Sales

The NRF article referenced above noted that about 1 out of every 4 American families will wait until 1-2 weeks prior to the first day of school to begin their shopping in 2014, as this represents the period of time when most retailers will begin their back to school sales. During this time, you’ll likely be able to find outstanding deals on basic necessities such as pens, pencils, notebooks, and paper, as retailers draw you in with loss leaders in the hopes that you’ll pay full price on other items such as binders and electronics.

Speaking of electronics: August is by far the most popular month for savings on back to school computers and tablets. This not only includes steep discounts on retail prices, but also may even include much-needed freebies like printers or word processing software.

Looking to boost your back to school savings even further? Try shopping for back to school sales during sales tax holidays. Although these vary by state (click here to check your state’s sales tax holiday schedule), many occur toward the end of the summer or at the beginning of the school year.

Shop Online

While brick-and-mortar retail is still the lifeblood of most back to school shoppers, with 64 percent saying they’ll do most of their shopping in person, a full 36 percent will do most of their shopping online. And even among those who do shop retail, 49 percent will still use their smartphones to access online store coupons, which is something that we highly recommend after creating your budget. On top of this, smartphone access also gives you the opportunity to compare prices with other well-known, budget-friendly retailers such as Amazon.com.

Have Your Child’s School Supplies List Handy

While this may seem like a no-brainer, with all of the last minute excitement surrounding back to school time, it can be easy to forget that your children’s teachers have likely prepared a detailed list of the supplies they’ll need for the upcoming school year. After checking to see if any of their supplies from last year can meet their needs for this one—or raiding your in-home office—keep in mind that “close enough” often isn’t good enough. This is because teachers often have specific reasons for choosing the supplies on their lists, and they should normally be followed to the letter.

If you don’t, you might find yourself with a variety of school supplies that your child can’t use, which, at the very least will add one more thing to your to-do list when you have to return them.

Everyone Needs a Little Help Sometimes

If you’re on an extremely tight budget and find that you won’t be able to purchase all of your child’s necessary school supplies, there are a wide variety of organizations that provide no-cost options, including the Kids in Need Foundation. In addition, there are numerous local options that you can check out for free school supplies, including your local school district or county, places of worship, and even the chamber of commerce.

How to Save Money on Back to School Clothing

While many of the money saving methods for back to school supplies can be used for clothing as well, there are some important distinctions that you should keep in mind. These include:

Check the Closet First

As any parent knows, your child’s closet can quickly spill over with accumulated clothing, some of which can be reused for the upcoming school year, while others will need to be given away or thrown out.

However, checking your children’s wardrobes will give you a much better idea of what they need, which items can be worn for another few months, and which they already have plenty of. In addition, reorganizing your child’s closet can give you an opportunity to identify which clothing can perform “double duty” for different seasons: e.g. a flowery summer dress that can also be used during the Fall with the addition of some leggings, a light sweater, and closed toe shoes.

Sell Old Clothing

Although you probably won’t recoup anywhere close to what you originally paid for last year’s back to school clothing, you might be able to offset some of your costs for this year by selling your children’s gently used clothes on popular websites such as Craigslist or Ebay, or even by selling them to a local consignment shop.

Another increasingly popular way to get rid of old clothes and obtain new ones is by attending a clothes swap, which might event allow you to stock up your child’s back to school clothes without spending a penny.

Need Uniforms?

If you children plan to attend a school where uniforms are mandatory, keep in mind that the uniform supply store they recommend is likely going to be the most expensive option. Instead, if your child’s uniform is very basic (e.g. no school insignia stitched on shirts, etc.), you’ll often be able to find plain polo shirts, button down shirts, and khaki pants and skirts at your local big box store, such as Children’s Place, Target, and Old Navy.

On the other hand, if your child’s uniforms are very specific, you might consider contacting the school about hosting a uniform swap, similar to the clothes swap noted above.

Popular Back to School Scams

Now that you’re armed with the information necessary to save time and money on your children’s school supplies and clothing, keep a sharp eye out for some of these popular back to school scams.

Truth in Advertising

Because parents all over the nation are looking to save as much money as possible during the back to school season, you’ll probably notice a slew of “too good to be true” advertisements all over the web, many of which promise “one little trick to get free school supplies for life,” to sell you an iPad for some ridiculously low price, or some other type of nonsense.

While it can definitely be tempting to click on these ads, the old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” should be at the forefront of your mind. This is because many of the advertisements might install malware onto your computer, or act as a means of luring you in to signing up for a penny auction website.

Identity Theft

Did you know that 20 percent of all identity theft reports are made by college students? This is because many scammers understand that college students don’t have a lot of life experience and may be more vulnerable to falling for scams, in addition to the fact that they’re often strapped for cash. Because of this, some of the most popular back to school scams are related to scholarships and financial aid, while others such as cell phone credit muling are on the rise as well.

For a complete rundown on how to protect yourself and your college-aged children from falling victim to identity theft, be sure to read through our recent article titled The Plague of Identity Theft & How You Can Immunize Yourself.

Do You Have Recommendations About Saving Money or Avoiding Scams During the Back to School Season?

Are you a veteran of back to school shopping? Do you have tips or tricks you’d like to share about saving money and/or avoiding scams with your fellow consumers? If so, with just a click of your mouse you can leave a comment below and spread your knowledge around the globe!

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