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Bright ideas from our readers: back-to-school shopping tips

GreatSchools' parents share their secrets to successful back-to-school shopping.

By GreatSchools Staff

Thanks to our readers who shared their back-to-school shopping tips. Many readers mentioned the importance of timing to get the best deals. But they didn't agree on the best time. Demonstrating that shopping is more art than science, some advised shopping early in the back-to-school season, some advised shopping later and some advised shopping all year long. Some of their comments:

Buy out of season.

"In the summer, when I see loose-leaf paper, pencils, pens, highlighters, etc. on sale or clearance — I buy them!" wrote Heidi Hall of Arizona, a mother of two boys, ages 15 and 13. "I have found paper for a quarter and lots of pencils/pens for less than a dollar. If you wait until back-to-school time, lots of these items will be more expensive. Also keep your eye on cheap deals for backpacks and lunch boxes. Buying these things out of season saves money."

Buy next year's supplies this year.

A Hawaiian mother of three children, ages 4, 15 and 17, advocates this approach: "You'll end up having everything that you're looking for without the madness. Plus, you can catch all of the school supply sales at the stores when they start to mark down the overstocked items."

Remember which stores had good sales last year.

"Back to school is an exciting time in our house," wrote Sheneka Soloman, mother of a fifth-grader. "We make lists — sooooo important — and comb through all the advertisements for each store weekly. I always start shopping in July, I never wait until August, and I often look for uniforms on the clearance racks as early as May or June.

"The biggest and best tip I can give is to look for and remember the great sales. I know that each year one of our local pharmacies has 10 packs of 10 pencils for $1, so I never buy pencils until I find that sale. The same goes for deals on crayons and other important things. Try to remember where you got the great deals last year. They will more than likely be around again."

Look for last-minute sales and thrift-store bargains.

"I make sure to wait until the last minute before school starts to stock up on school supplies," wrote mom Nikki Zapien. "It seems that the sales get a lot better the closer it is until the first day of school.

"Also with clothes, I get some new things and then I hit the thrift shops, I can get clothes that are in like-new condition including name brands such as Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, and other well-known name-brand clothing for pennies!! They just play in them and wear them out at school anyway, so there's no use for a whole wardrobe of brand-new clothes. We save so much money! Now we can make that vacation to Disneyland!"

Plan for emergencies.

California mom Alicia Jaramillo wrote: "I stock up on report folders because those are the things that my kids, son age 12 and daughter age 10, usually come to me the night before the report is due and say, 'Can you take me to the store and buy a report cover for my project due tomorrow?' So, I've learned to just buy them early in the year and keep them put away."

Look for promotions.

"I watch for store flyers beginning at the end of July and start purchasing sale items such as pencils, glue sticks, noteboks, binders, etc. — items that I know my children will need the first day of school," another parent wrote. "Staples, Target and Wal-Mart usually have great sales when schools open in our area and that's when we get the rest of the items the teachers have requested. Every August my daughters and I have a big back-to-school shopping day for their new clothes and shoes at a nearby outlet center. The center offers a coupon book and the stores have additional sales, so we save quite a bit of money."

Comments from readers

"Try dollar stores! If your kids need hand sanitizer, kleenex, paper towels etc. like my kids do then hit the dollar stores! I got almost everything there from the things listed above to these clear containers and diaper wipes they needed. I saved a lot of money. The only time I bought at a department store was for name brand items like Crayola or Fiskars. Also...check Staples on line. SUPER CHEAP!"
"You can start an 'outgrown uniform exchange' program at your child's school. If they wear uniforms, then every year you've got a crop of children outgrowing them as new children need them. Most uniform makers have really sturdy clothing that will last for years. I made an e-mail list and sent out an e-mail to everyone on it with my son's old uniform sizes, and a request for gently used uniforms in his new size. Other parents took up the idea and ran with it. It's saves us so much money!! "