4 mistakes not to make when back-to-school shopping if you want to save money


If you have school-bound children, this time of year can get expensive. The average American household will spend almost $700 on back-to-school shopping in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. Luckily, there are ways to make your kids happy, and get them what they need, while still keeping costs down.

Here are four mistakes not to make when buying folders, pencils, and everything you need for school, if you want to save money:

1. Don't buy everything in one store

"It's an overwhelming time," consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch says. "You're coming off the summer, trying to get everyone back on schedule, and you get this supply list and have to go shopping with your kids."

Because back-to-school shopping can be so stressful, many parents want to buy everything in one place. But if you resist that temptation, Woroch says, you'll find better deals.

For example, as of August 7, Target is selling $7 lunchboxes, but Crayola products are not on sale. If you go to Office Depot, meanwhile, you can get a 12-pack of Crayola colored pencils for $1 and two 24-packs of Crayola crayons for $1, but lunchboxes range roughly from $16 to $20.

Trying different stores may be less convenient than one-stop shopping, but it can help you save money.

2. Don't forget some stores will match prices

On a related note: Keep an eye on all sales at major retailers, as many stores will match a lower price found elsewhere. For example, if you buy an iPad at Target, you'll spend $329.99 as of August 8. The same iPad is retailing for $249 on Amazon. If you show someone at Target the price on Amazon within the next 14 days, you will be refunded the difference.

Best Buy and Walmart also sometimes match prices. Just be sure you're comparing identical products and read each store's respective "exclusions."

Price-comparisons websites and apps can help you keep track of deals. The app Yroo allows you to search for a product and then see, side by side, the price of the product at different retailers. You can also use Camelcamelcamel.com, which shows Amazon price histories and lets you set alerts for future price drops.

3. Don't buy fall clothing

"Wait on fall clothing," Kristin McGrath of Offers.com says. "Even with back-to-school sales in full force, you'll find jackets and transitional fall items for much less when stores start stocking winter stuff."

Besides, Woroch says, you don't need fall clothing right now. In many parts of the country, the first few weeks of September are still warm. Labor Day or Columbus Day sales may offer better discounts on fall clothing as stores make room for winter attire.

Even with back-to-school sales in full force, you'll find jackets and transitional fall items for much less when stores start stocking winter stuff.
Kristin McGrath

"What I do is shop some of the clearance racks," Woroch says. "They have tank tops and T-shirts, and you can layer it if it gets cold."

For example, girls' dresses are $8 right now at Old Navy. You could pair one of those with a jacket you already have and wait until shops offer better prices on long pants and outerwear.

4. Don't ignore sales tax holidays

Five states have sales tax holidays between now and September. If you happen to live in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, or Texas, you can net additional savings by shopping during your sales tax holiday.

For example, if you're outfitting a dorm room at The Container Store through August 18, you can use this coupon to get 20% off your entire purchase. If you buy a shower caddy ($6.99), shoe rack ($15.99), and plastic under-bed storage bin ($14.99) during a regular week with a 7% tax, the total cost would be $40.63. But, if you use your 20% off coupon during your state's sales tax holiday, you'd only pay $30.38.

If you shop at the right stores and focus on what's on sale, you can lower your back-to-school shopping costs. And if the savings are especially good at any particular store, don't hesitate to stock up for the future. "School supplies are nonperishable," McGrath points out. "And if you have multiple kids and enough storage space, you can really strategize to complete part of next year's school shopping this year."

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