The back-to-school shopping season is in full swing. The National Retail Federation reports that shoppers will be spending an average of $688 for back-to-school supplies this year. This can be a significant sum for most families, but there are ways to cut costs. Whether you decide to shop online or head to your nearest big box store for those much-needed school supplies, you can save some money on this annual expense with a few smart shopping strategies--even if you've waited until the last minute to stock up on all of the essentials.
Here are five ways to save money on back-to-school expenses:
1. Shop online for bulk items.
If you have a large family and need to stock up on multiple items of basic supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, and tape, buy them in bulk or purchase "family packs" from sites like Amazon.com or even warehouse clubs like Sam's Club and Costco. Buying these items in bulk not only saves you money, but also the extra trips and stress of rounding up all of those basics that often run out closer to the end of the season. Just have everything shipped to you and keep an eye out for shipping discounts for larger orders.
2. Take advantage of student discounts direct from the retailer.
When you're buying big-ticket items like laptops, digital notepads, e-book readers, or netbooks, check in with the brand store first to find out if there any student discounts or rebates available. Some brands run special offers during back-to-school season, but they're usually limited time offers and only available while supplies last. Go to the brand's official website to see what types of discounts are available, and make note of any shopping dates and rebate deadlines. Compare the bottom line price with the current price at other retailers and sites like Amazon.com and Newegg.com. When you do find a great deal, don't be afraid to place your order and save some money--supplies are often limited and it's unlikely that you'll find a similar price drop anywhere else.
3. Check eBay.
Another place to find big-ticket items at a discount is an online auction site like eBay. Many eBay sellers do sell authentic and brand new merchandise at a lower cost than most retail stores, and you can even find sellers that offer free shipping or discounts when buying multiple items. Just make sure to check the reputation of the seller and pay through PayPal for a more secure purchase. EBay can be a great place to scoop up discounts on the latest electronics, gadgets, designer backpacks, back to school clothing, and other essentials for the season. Be as specific as possible when searching for different items, and use the filters to select "New" and "Buy it Now" options to narrow down your search.
4. Hit the outlet mall.
Back-to-school season means you also need to buy new clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories. Check out the sales and discounts at the nearest outlet mall. Some are already hosting back-to-school blowouts and events to lure shoppers away from the mall and into their stores. You'll be surprised how many brand name and designer items you can find at up to 70 percent or more off the retail price. Plan on spending at least a day shopping the outlet stores to round up some high-quality clothing and accessories at more affordable prices.
5. Host a back-to-school swap with other parents.
Host a casual party a few weeks before the first day of school so that parents can bring gently used clothing, extra supplies, and other items that might be a good fit for another child this school year. You'll be surprised how many parents over-shop or have extra items to donate or share. Host a back-to-school swap so that everyone can find a few items they need, and get a few extra things off their hands. This can be a fun way to get together with parents before the school year officially begins, and also cross more than a few items off that shopping list.
This article is a contribution by Sabah Karimi of consumer blog Wise Bread, a terrific source of daily coupons for back-to-school shoppers.