This year, families with school-age children will spend an average of $635 on back-to-school shopping. Thats a little less than last year, according to the National Retail Federations 2013 Back-to-School Survey.
Though parents are shopping earlier than ever 24 percent of families with kids in grades K-12 have already started their back-to-school shopping they also are shopping smarter by searching online for deals on everything from clothing and accessories to shoes and school supplies.
People are more conscious of their budgets, and therefore more price sensitive, says Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com, where shoppers can find coupons, cash back and more for back-to-school shopping. Shopping early is helpful because it allows you time to create a plan.
Start with a list
Before you do anything else, make a list, Lal says.
Making a list gives you a chance to think about what you need and dont need, Lal says. As you list items, ask yourself if there is a substitute. Do you have spare bedsheets at home or a laptop that can be upgraded for your college-bound student? Try to create the list on your computer so you can add links to websites and coupons next to each item.
While you are compiling your list, Lal suggests getting feedback from friends, relatives and neighbors with children older than yours who attend the same schools. They may be able to offer insight on what is really necessary, and they also may have hand-me-downs they can give you.
Once youve made your list, decide which of the items have strict specifications. Do you need a particular brand or style of clothing or laptop? Or are you looking for generic things like pencils and notebooks? For the items that are specific, start shopping now, Lal says. For general items, get better deals by holding off until the end of the season when retailers close out back-to-school merchandise.
Next, decide what you need to buy in-store and what to get online. Either way, use the Web to view store fliers and compare prices.
Lal suggests shopping online as much as possible, because it is easier to stick to your list, it is more convenient, and coupons and cash-back offers are at your fingertips.
You are done in a minute and can save a significant amount of money, he says. Shoppers on BeFrugal.com, for example, get an average of 7 percent cash back on purchases from a range of retailers.
For offline shopping, look beyond the traditional retailers. Yard sales, warehouse clubs, outlet malls and discount retailers also are good sources for back-to-school items.
Sales tax holidays
And take advantage of the sales tax holiday, which is Friday-Sunday in North Carolina. Shoes and clothing, school supplies and some tech items are for sale tax-free in many states. For a list of tax-free items in North Carolina, go to dor.state.nc.us. For other states, check http://bit.ly/TBhy6.