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Amazon may not be the cheapest way to shop for back to school supplies


shopping for notebooks

Believe it or not, back to school is just around the corner. The National Retail Federation estimates that shoppers with children in K-12 will spend a total of $29.5 billion this year, with $4.9 billion going toward school supplies like notebooks and backpacks. While Amazon.com (AMZN) is sure to be a destination for many, a new study found that it could end up costing you more.

According to WikiBuy, a price comparison site, families might spend more on back to school supplies if they only shop on Amazon than if they shopped elsewhere. After tracking 200 standard back to school products over a 30-day period, the study concluded that prices on Amazon could be up to 15% higher on average.

Anyone who shops on Amazon knows that the site has impressive deals, but price fluctuations can sometimes make it inconsistent.. Amazon is known to change prices on its site many times a day, so the price on an item like Crayola crayons can fluctuate based on the time of day and your location. In other words, sometimes you’re getting a deal, and sometimes you aren’t.

The cost of school supplies also varied depending on the student’s grade, with freshmen in high school spending the most. Wikibuy found that parents could save an average of $50 if they purchased their ninth graders supplies from other retailers, instead of just on Amazon.

Shopping on Amazon is easy and convenient, which makes it a no-brainer for back to school stuff. Still, consumers should be strategic if they want to get the most bang for their buck.

If you shop solely on Amazon.com:

Timing is everything

The study found that Amazon prices on school supplies decreased throughout the day. In fact, prices reached their lowest point at 11 pm, so it might be better to do your shopping before bed.

Set up a price alert

There are a handful of sites that track price changes on Amazon. One of the most popular is Camel Camel Camel, which allows you to view the price history of certain items. Scanning over the price fluctuations will let you know if you’re really getting a good deal.

It’s also beneficial to watch certain items. Once you find a price you’d like to pay, set up a price alert and Camel Camel Camel will send you a notification when the price drops.

You’re paying for convenience

The TI-84 graphing calculator, for example, is a staple for most high school students, but where you live can determine how much Amazon charges you for it. The calculator typically costs around $115, but Wikibuy found that residents in Rhode Island saw  paid $30 above the average price. California and Texas residents can expect to pay $20 above the average price. Illinois and Utah have some of the lowest prices for the TI-84 graphing calculator.

It’s understandable that you might want to take advantage of the expedited shipping that comes with your Prime membership, but be aware that sometimes you could find a better price somewhere else. 

back to school shopping

If you want to save big:

Pay attention to weekly ads

Buying all of your supplies at one place almost guarantees that you’ll end up buying some full-priced items, and possibly spending more. To spend less, pay close attention to advertised sales in the weekly circulars from different retail stores. With this strategy, you won’t get to knock out your entire shopping list in one day, but the money you save will be worth it.

Consider all retailers

Walmart and Target are guaranteed to have back to school deals, but they aren’t the only retailers vying for your attention. Places like Sears, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Office Max, Staples, Walgreens and CVS will all have rock-bottom back to school deals.

Get cash back

Be sure to take advantage of every reward available to you. If your credit card gives you cash back at certain locations, know what they are and try to shop there. If you do a lot of online shopping, sign up for Ebates, a site that automatically gives you cash back when you shop at specific stores.

Many stores also have their own cash-back plans. Walmart has a feature called Savings Catcher that compares prices you paid at the store to major competitors like Target and Walgreens. After scanning your receipt directly into the Walmart app, it will automatically compare prices to other retailers. If you paid more, Walmart will send you an e-gift card for the difference.

Shop tax-free

16 states now have tax-free weekends where shoppers don’t have to pay sales tax. Most take place between August 4-6, but some will take place at the end of July. Check to see if your state participates so you can take advantage of tax-free shopping.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. 

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