Back-to-School Shopping for Your Child

Back-to-school shopping has become Black Friday for the summer's end. What was once a short trip to the department store for crayons, scissors and a backpack has become a media-fueled frenzy. Profit-minded retailers try to usher us into the store for everything from spiral notebooks to electronics. You're battling with your kid over what brand of sneakers to buy and with your neighbor over the last pack of No. 2 pencils.

With a little forethought and planning, back-to-school shopping for your child can be far less stressful -- and far cheaper.

Year-round project

If possible, start shopping for clothes before the summer begins. You can generally estimate the size of clothing your child will need for the upcoming school year and find good, off-season deals on outerwear and sweaters. You can also stretch back-to-school shopping into the school year.

Watch for local consignment sales. Institutions like churches or charitable organizations may sponsor consignment sales with good deals on school uniforms, backpacks, shoes and coats. These events pop up at various times during the year and can help you avoid the end-of-summer shopping rush.

Sales tax holidays

For school supplies, you may want to wait until sales tax holidays, which often occur a week or two before the first day of school. Many state or local governments suspend sales tax for a brief period during this time. To sweeten the pot, some stores offer additional savings on top of that. You can get decent discounts on computers, netbooks and other school supplies.

Don't be afraid to shop around. While you might be tempted to get all of your shopping done in one place, you're likely to save a little cash if you visit several stores.

Online is fine

You can also save money by shopping online. Check for coupon codes for your favorite stores, or visit sites like SlickDeals.com to keep abreast of price drops. Don't forget discount sites like Overstock.com and Half.com. Sellers on eBay seem to offer the best discounts, though it can take time to find items that are in good condition at a great price. (Do your homework on various eBay sellers, and make sure you know their return policies, as they differ from seller to seller and sometimes item to item.)

The online outlet stores of computer manufacturers like Dell and HP offer good prices on refurbished computers and peripherals that are generally in decent condition.

Here are a few more shopping tips:

  • Office supply stores are a great source for school supplies. They are eager to please and offer good deals, especially just before classes begin. Also, they tend to be less crowded than department stores.
  • Before you shop, talk to your children about what you'll buy and what you won't. Make sure they're clear on what to expect before you set foot in the store.
  • Allow children to have some input on purchases. Don't be so forgiving that you come home with a bag full of expensive brands, but encourage their independence by talking it over ahead of time.
  • Take your smartphone if you have one. It will allow you to compare prices online among stores.
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