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9 last-minute back-to-school shopping tips

Yes, you can still save on back-to-school shopping, even if school has already started. In fact, you might want to put off some purchases for several weeks.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 24, 2012 10:03AM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyYou need clothes, backpacks, lunchboxes, binders, pens, and paper. Then there's the list of supplies the teacher asked for, everything from tissue paper to magic markers.


It's no wonder a National Retail Federation survey says back-to-school shopping is the second-biggest annual consumer spending event -- after the winter holidays, of course. According to the NRF survey, the average parent with children in grades K-12 will spend $689, up from $603 last year.


If you waited until the last minute, you may think there aren't any deals left out there. But Stacy Johnson explains ways you can still save in the video below.  Check it out and read on for more.

1. Take inventory.

Image: A green chalkboard with the alphabet written on it © Ocean/Corbis /CorbisYour child probably hasn't touched that binder or stack of pens in several months, so you may have forgotten you already have supplies on hand. Start by taking an inventory of the supplies you already own. Go through your child's backpack and desk drawers, put everything in a pile, and see what still works. And don't forget to check your own desk and junk drawers; those free pens and highlighters that businesses hand out will work just fine at school.


2. Make a list of necessities.

It's always easier not to make a list. But that often leads to two wasteful trends: You forget stuff that's necessary, and you buy stuff you don't need or already have. So make a list, then cross off the items you discovered from taking inventory. Now you know what you need.


3. Host a swapping party.

Once a year, my neighborhood association hosts a back-to-school clothes-swapping party. Parents bring in clothing, backpacks, winter coats, lunch boxes, and even school supplies. Then they trade with other parents. It's a great way to get rid of extra clutter and get what your kids need without spending a dime. You don't need an entire neighborhood to do the same. Just get a few friends together and ask them to bring whatever their child is no longer using.


4. Look for used.

If you can't get it through trade, you can still get a deep discount by shopping used. I see backpacks, winter coats, clothes (some still with tags) and school supplies at garage sales all the time. (I'm an avid garage-sale shopper.) Also check out your local secondhand stores to see what you can pick up gently used.


5. Find sales and coupons.

Retailers start stocking up on school supplies in July, and they run sales right through September. So even if you wait until the last minute, you can still find a good deal.

And don't forget drugstores. Regular prices at drugstores can be higher than at the big-box retailers, but they also run competitive sales on select items. 


To get the absolute best deal, use a coupon with sale items. I've noticed more coupons for school supplies in my Sunday paper, but you can also find online coupons at sites like:

6. Use apps.

Sunday circulars and coupon sites aren't the only way to find deals. If you have a smartphone, use free apps to help you locate sales from national retailers. A few examples:

  • Zoomingo finds local sales at national chains like Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Staples, and Target.
  • Grocery Pal posts weekly ads for grocery stores, drugstores, and some national retailers.
  • SaleLocator uses your phone's GPS to find local sales.

You can also use your smartphone to find coupons with apps like: 

7. Wait for clearance deals.
In a few weeks, retailers will begin making room for holiday wares. So buy what your child needs right now to get by, then stock up for the rest of the year when the clearance sales start.
8. Shop overstock stores.

Overstock stores like Big Lots don't have the best selection, but they do offer bigger discounts than the major retailers. You won't find everything you need, but you might pick up a few things on your list.

9. Upgrade the basics

Last week, I went with a friend and her daughter to pick up school supplies. Without fail, if we picked up the plain pencils or the basic spiral notebooks, her daughter would select the glitter pencils and the Justin Bieber notebook. Retailers know that kids like shiny things, and everything my friend's daughter wanted cost at least 10% more than the basic supplies.


Rather than just tell her daughter she couldn't afford it, my friend had her pick out a few packs of 99-cent stickers. When she got home, she decorated her basic supplies with the cheap stickers. They're both happy, and my friend didn't overpay just to get a celebrity's face on a notebook.


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