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How to save big on back-to-school shopping

  • The average back-to-school shopper is expected to spend $688 this year.
  • Save money by shopping during your state's sales tax holiday.
  • Also, use a card best suited for your specific needs.

July is coming to a close and, when August hits, it's a signal to parents across the country to kick start their back-to-school shopping.

The average back-to-school shopper is expected to spend $688 this year, according to the National Retail Federation. But parents, don't fret. Two things can help you save big: when you shop and which card you use.

Each state has a sales tax holiday, where you could save up to 7 percent on popular back-to-school items. Personal finance website WalletHub created a chart so you can find out when the tax-free time period in your state is and what items the deal does and does not apply to. Take a peek at the chart now, because some tax holidays are already in full swing.

A Wal-Mart Stores associate stocks backpacks at a Wal-Mart location in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Wal-Mart Stores associate stocks backpacks at a Wal-Mart location in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles.

WalletHub editors also compared more than 1,000 credit cards by looking at their rewards, rates and fees to come up with a list of the top cards. Find out which card is best suited for your specific needs.

Best initial bonus card

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can score 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening your account. The bonus points can either be redeemed for a $625 travel credit or a $500 statement credit, which is more applicable for your back-to-school shopping needs.

For the first year, the annual fee is waived, and then for each year thereafter a $95 fee comes into play.

Cashier ringing up a customer on a digital cash register with Chase credit card at Dottie Audrey's Bakery/Kitchen on August 24, 2016 in Tuxedo, NY
Waring Abbott | Getty

Best all-around cards

The Citi Double Cash Card offers 1 percent cash back on all purchases and 1 percent cash back on the amount of your monthly bill payments. It also has a 0 percent intro rate on new balance transfers for the first 18 months.

There is no annual fee, but it does have a 3 percent balance transfer fee. Also, no initial bonuses are offered.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is another great all-around option. Go for this card if you see lots of traveling in your future, whether it's because your child goes to boarding school or that you're planning on taking a vacation, Wallethub advised.

You can earn 50,000 bonus miles, worth $525 in travel, if you spend $3,000 during the first 90 days. That's more than five times more than what you'd get from the average credit card with an initial bonus, according to WalletHub. You'll also earn what amounts to 2.1 percent cash back on all other purchases when you redeem your points for travel.

Note that, for both of these cards, you need to have good credit to get approved, Wallethub said.

Barclays Bank
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Best retailer-specific savings cards

Target's store card, also referred to as the Target REDcard, saves you 5 percent on every purchase made at the store, gives you free shipping on all online purchases and extends your return window by 30 days.

Staple's store card saves you 5 percent on both in-store and online purchases. It also offers free shipping, but only for orders over $14.99, and you get free next-day delivery on orders over $49.99.

With the Kohl's store card, you can save 25 percent on your first purchase, and you'll receive an additional 15 percent discount coupon in the mail when the card arrives. You also get 12 special offers throughout the year.

All three cards have no annual fee.

A Kohl's store in Jersey City, NJ.
Nicole O'Hara | CNBC
A Kohl's store in Jersey City, NJ.

Best cards for parents who own a small business

Chase's Ink Business Cash Card gives you a $300 bonus for spending $3,000 within the first three months, allowing it to take third place for most up-front cash back out of all 1,000 cards reviewed, Wallethub reports.

You can also score 5 percent cash back on the first $25,000 you spend at office supply stores and on cell phone, landline, Internet and cable TV services each year. Additionally, you can get 2 percent cash back on the first $25,000 you spend at gas stations and restaurants each year. And lastly, 1 percent cash back on all purchases. There's also no annual fee.

The Capital One Spark Cash for Business Card gives you $500 cash-back when you spend $4,500 in the first three months, that's the biggest cash-back bonus available from any credit card, whether business or personal, according to Wallethub. It also gives 2 percent cash-back on all purchases.

It's $59 annual fee, although it is waived for the first year, is more than three times the average credit card's yearly charge.

Note that you must have good to excellent credit to be approved for these cards.

Capital One Bank
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Other tips

Besides shopping during the right time period and using the right card, Wallethub gave some other pieces of advice for back-to-school shoppers.

1. Make a shopping list and stick to your budget

Avoid splurging and impulse buying by researching the prices of the items you need and setting a hard budget.

2. Comparison shop

Shop around, either in-store or online, to find the best deals. Don't be afraid of online shipping costs because, even with those costs, some items can be less expensive online than in-store.

A woman pulls shopping carts through the aisle of a Target store in Torrington, Connecticut.
Jessica Rinaldi | Reuters
A woman pulls shopping carts through the aisle of a Target store in Torrington, Connecticut.

3. Buy in bulk

Think ahead and decide what items your child will need more of throughout the school year, such as pencils or notebooks, and buy them in bulk now. You'll save more this way since back-to-school sales don't last all year, and oftentimes buying in bulk is cheaper than buying an individual item multiple times.

4. Don't let your kids talk you into buying them every electronic device out there

Kids can easily become con-artists when they have their eye on something they want. Don't be fooled when your children say they'll use a tablet or smart watch for academic purposes only. It's likely they'll end up using it for social media or gaming. Instead, only buy one electronic device for your child, and perhaps even save it until the holidays, when you can give it as a gift.

5. Avoid trends, go for last year's hot items

If you only buy the latest or trendiest items, you'll definitely end up overspending. However, if you go for last year's trends, they'll most likely be discounted.