Spend

Americans spend almost $700 on back-to-school shopping—here are 5 ways to save

Tony Recena | Twenty20

If you haven't started picking up the requisite pencils, backpacks, lunchboxes and notebooks your kids will need as they head back to school, you're in luck — some of the best deals can pop up last-minute.

"If you're starting to shop for back-to-school essentials now, don't worry, there are still deals to be had," says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot.

Families are expected to spend an average of $697 on back-to-school shopping for their children in elementary through high school, according to the National Retail Federation. Yet traditional school supplies, such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks will account for only about 20% of the total spending, roughly $117 per family.

The organization expects the top spending categories to be clothing and accessories, followed by electronics and shoes. And those with kids heading to college should prepare to spend big. The National Retail Federation predicts back-to-school spending for college students will average $977 per family.

But before you spend a bundle, experts say there are a lot of ways savvy parents can cut costs. Here are five easy ways to give your wallet a break.

1. Shop clearance

Timing the back-to-school sales can be tricky. If you're looking to score the deepest discounts, it may be worth buying a few essentials and then stocking up after the school year officially starts.

Big box retailers such as Target and Walmart typically put school supplies on sale during the first week of September, with Target's discounts ranging from 30-90% off, the Krazy Coupon Lady website reports.

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Not sure what constitutes a good price? Shopping site Fabulessly Frugal has a handy pricing guide on over 60 of the most common school supplies and what you should expect to pay.

2. Divide and conquer

Time may be running short, but it's worth the effort and extra stops to hit up multiple stores. Staples has a range of school supplies — composition notebooks, notebook paper, Elmer's glue, 24-pack of Crayola crayons — for 50 cents each, according to the weekly ad for a Northern New Jersey location. Even better, 70-sheet single subject notebooks are 25 cents and a 12-pack of basic #2 pencils are on sale for 75 cents, about 6 cents a pencil.

Meanwhile, Walmart has folders for 15 cents a piece and 1-inch binders for less than $1, according to its weekly ad. Walmart also has some of the best deals on Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus graphing calculators for $88, down from over $100. If you're not as worried about the brand, Target is selling Casio graphing calculators for just $43.

Take advantage of cash back savings that your credit card may offer, as well as rotating offers for different stores. Chase is offering cardmembers 10% back at Dick's Sporting Goods and Rite Aid. And Target's REDcard gives cardmembers 5% off their purchase. "It's a great way to save even if there isn't a sale," Skirboll says.

3. Use your student ID

There's a good reason to have your college student tag along for school supply shopping: Retail site Brad's Deals found over 270 stores that offer discounts for college students. Stores including Shoe Carnival, Urban Outfitters, J.Crew and Forever21 offer discounts ranging from 10% to 20%.

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If you're in the market for a laptop, you can use your college email to access Apple's education discount, which typically gives students about a 10% discount on laptops, iPads, computers, and accessories, as well as 20% off AppleCare+ coverage. Best Buy also offers a variety of student deals, and you can sign up to get alerts when new promotions start.

4. Find a backpack that goes the distance

Skip the cheap, trendy backpacks that you know will fall apart within a few months. Many of the big brands such as Jansport, Herschel and Lands' End have lifetime warranties. And they don't have to cost a fortune. Target has JanSport backpacks on sale starting at $28, according to the weekly ad.

The Krazy Coupon Lady's website has a fairly comprehensive list of all the manufacturer warranties offered by popular backpack producers.

5. Try before you buy

Parents are expected to spend an average of $240 on new clothes and about $136 on shoes, according to the National Retail Federation. But before you head to the store to stock up on brand new outfits, go through your kids' closets.

"Have your kids try on all their clothes and make a pile of everything that does not fit any more," writes Cathy Yoder, shopping expert and co-founder of Fabulessly Frugal. You can then consider selling anything that's barely or gently worn through a local consignment store or through online outlets like thredUP, or even Facebook Marketplace. This will help you get some extra cash in your pocket to spend on re-stocking your kids' wardrobes.

Don't miss: 5 groceries that are cheaper at Aldi than Trader Joe's

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Tony Recena | Twenty20
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