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5 ways to save on back-to-school shopping

The average family is expected to spend $635 on school supplies and apparel. Here are some ways to trim the total.

By businessed Aug 9, 2013 2:33PM

This post comes from Odysseas Papadimitriou of partner site CardHub.


CardHub on MSN MoneyBack-to-school shopping is getting more expensive by the year.  Huntington Bank’s annual Backpack Index revealed that the cost of school supplies for the average K-12 student has increased 7.3% from last year, far outpacing inflation for other everyday items.  With a still-precarious economy and rising credit card debt levels, we clearly need a way to save.


Mother helping son with homework © KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesThere are a number of ways to lower the $635 tab the average family is expected to rack up on apparel, shoes, supplies, and electronics during back-to-school season, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation. 

1. Make a budget

Budgeting is clearly something most of us need to work on, as we’ve added roughly $82 billion in new credit card debt over the past two years alone and only about two in five people have a budget and keep close tabs on their spending. 

So, before heading out to buy pencils, crayons, binders and new wardrobes for your kids, figure out what you can afford to spend and how you wish to allocate that amount.  Once armed with your budget, make sure to stick to it when you’re in the store or shopping online.  This might necessitate leaving your kids at home in order to avoid impulse buys.

2. Compare prices

One of the easiest ways to avoid overspending on any purchase is to shop around for the lowest prices.  You can quickly determine what different retailers are charging for common back-to-school items as well as when they are holding sales by checking out their websites.  You might even find that buying online is your cheapest option, as increased competition has led many online retailers to offer free shipping, and you’ll likely be able to avoid sales taxes.

3. Avoid trends

We all know that kids are suckers for trends, thinking that they “need” the latest clothing styles, electronics, etc. The problem is the latest stuff is the most expensive.  So it’s your job to convince them that vintage is cool and to buy what was hot last year or even the year before. Not only will these items carry lower prices, but they’re also more likely to be on sale.

4. Use the right credit card

Taking advantage of one of the best back-to-school credit cards could help you save up to $400 on your purchases.  The particular card you choose depends on your exact needs, but some of the most notable offers are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($400 initial bonus for spending $3,000 during the first three months; no first-year annual fee), the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express ($150 initial bonus for spending $1,000 during the first three months; 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% at gas stations and department stores, and 1% on everything else; $75 annual fee), and the Citi Diamond Preferred Card (0% on new purchases for 18 months; no annual fee).

Think location, location, location

While the costs associated with going back to school aren’t likely to change much based on where you live, the return you’ll get on your investment will. We all know that some school districts are better than others, and comparing test scores, teacher-student ratios, school funding, crime rates, the availability of public libraries, college acceptance rates, etc., will give you a better sense of where the best scholastic opportunities for your children can be found. 

For example, among the nation’s 25 largest cities, spending varies widely, from $13,287 per student in New York to $4,202 in Phoenix, according to Census data. Similarly, the ratio of students to teachers ranges from 11:1 in North Dakota to 24:1 in California, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


What you find out might not warrant a move to a new town, but should be kept in mind if you are planning a move.


More from CardHub:


“It’s your job to convince them that vintage is cool”. No – it’s your job to buy them what they *need*, and not buy them what they don’t need and doesn’t fit your budget. No convincing required. They can scream all they want.

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