Stores are already starting their back-to-school sales, which means it's time to start thinking about clothes, backpacks and school supplies. It might feel early, but retailers usually get started shortly after the Fourth of July. Don't worry, this trend doesn't mean you have to stop having summer fun. These strategies below will help you minimize your shopping time so you can get back to enjoying the warm weather and time with your family.
Swap before you shop:
First, don't head to the mall as soon as you see the first back-to-school commercial. Start by taking inventory of your kids' clothes, school supplies and shoes. You can see what still fits, what needs replacing and what's in good condition for another year. Your friends, family and neighbors can be a great resource if they have children of various ages. Gather together the gently-used clothing that no longer fits your children, and get together for a swap meet to see what you can add to your kids' closets before even beginning your shopping.
Once you take inventory and find a few additions in your own backyard, come up with a shopping list for what's left and set a budget. If you have multiple children, it might be easier to set a budget for each one separately.
One way to save time, money and possibly stress is to do your shopping online. It's convenient and you can do it from anywhere at any time of the day. As an added bonus, if you skip the mall, you won't need to battle the inevitable pleading from kids tempted by store displays and the food court.
When you shop online, you can still get new clothes that your kids will love. Before shopping, look for coupon codes and deals to save on your purchase. If you make your purchases from just a few different stores, you can likely qualify for free shipping by reaching a minimum amount. Also, if you click through a cash back shopping site before visiting an online store, you can earn back a percentage of your total. Stack these savings with a rewards credit card to earn additional points, miles or cash back and you'll make the most out of your purchases.
Check your supplies:
Next, you'll need to make sure your children are ready with all the appropriate school supplies for the upcoming year. When you take inventory of what you already have on hand, the durable items (think calculators and scissors) might be in fine shape for another year. Make sure to check so that you don't end up with duplicates and spend unnecessary money.
You should have a list of what is needed from your child's teacher. If there is something on the list that requires a specific brand or model, buy that first and as early in the summer as possible; otherwise you run the risk of stores running out of inventory. For more generic items, prices will drop towards the end of the summer, so if you can wait you will get better deals later on.
Pack a lunch:
Another area where you can save money and time is on school lunches. Before school begins, set up a calendar that outlines the days that your kids can buy lunch instead of bringing a packed lunch. Whether it's once a month or once a week, establishing this schedule early on will hopefully avoid any discussions or possible arguments during busy mornings getting ready for school. For the remainder of the school days, shop the weekly sales at your grocery store when looking to pack lunches. You can save money by getting good deals on deli meat, bread, cheese and snacks, and avoid boredom for your kids by switching up the menu.
Invest in reusable sandwich and snack-sized bags that can be washed, which will cut back on plastic use and save money over the school year. A durable reusable lunchbox will provide the same benefits. (The environment will also thank you!)
Back-to-school shopping doesn't need to be something you dread. If you come up with a plan, share advice and resources with your community, set a budget and do some smart shopping, you'll be back to enjoying the summer in no time.
Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.
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