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How to Budget for Back-to-School Season

Sabah Karimi

Back-to-school season is upon us. Whether you're shopping for grade school kids or buying your own supplies and gadgets for college, use these budget tips so you don't overspend on notebooks and pencils.

Look at last year's receipts. You can get a more accurate idea of what you can expect to spend this year by looking at last year's back-to-school expenses. How much did you spend on school supplies, clothing and electronics? Review your bank statements or receipts so you have a baseline figure to work with. Even though this figure will change based on new needs, you can start working that dollar amount into your budget now. Forecasting these types of expenses can make it easier to manage your shopping budget.

Start comparison shopping. When you're caught up in the back-to-school rush, it's easy to buy on impulse or buy things at the last minute. Take some time to compare prices and options for higher-priced items such as notebooks, backpacks, tablet computers and other gadgets. Keep an eye out for rebates and coupons, and look at expiration dates to make sure you make that purchase before the offer ends. Waiting until the last minute to shop for these items will leave you with little time to compare options and get the best deal.

Create an estimated cost list. Look at your student's schools supplies list, estimate the total costs of basic purchases and set aside funds for your shopping trip. Determine how many of each item your student will need so that you don't end up overbuying items and stocking up on supplies that will never get used.

Shop for supplies during tax-free weekends. Some states sponsor tax-free shopping weekends for shoppers that want to save money on school supplies and other school-related purchases. You could save up to 7 percent on your entire purchase by planning your school supplies shopping trip during a tax holiday. In 2013, some states are expanding the tax holiday beyond back-to-school items, offering tax breaks on clothing, desktop computers, and even blankets, pillows and diapers. If you're planning on buying a computer, it may be a good idea to wait until a tax-free weekend. Electronic purchases are eligible for a tax break in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee in 2013.

Consider alternatives to buying new. If your estimated cost list and budget forecast are more than you anticipated, consider alternatives to buying everything new. You could search auction websites such as Half.com and Amazon.com for used textbooks, and eBay for slightly-used backpacks, electronics and other gear. Don't overlook sports equipment stores and thrift stores for used sports equipment, uniforms and other basic supplies that don't necessarily have to be new.

Be careful about shopping online. Shopping online can be convenient for the busy parent or college student who doesn't want to make a few extra trips to the store. However, the prices you see online may end up being much lower at a brick-and-mortar store during the back-to-school sales period. Consider the cost of shipping and taxes when making higher-priced purchases. Also check the return policy in case you don't really need something or end up having to buy a different style, brand or item. Reviewing sales flyers and comparison shopping will help you find the best deal.

Sabah Karimi is a contributor to WiseBread.com and Yahoo.com. For more back-to-school shopping tips check out her frugality blog on Wise Bread.

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