Back-to-School Bargains

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Summer is drawing to a close and the start of school nears. Make the first day of school a joyous milestone in your child's life without straining your budget. Follow these tips to score some back to school bargains.

One of the biggest expenses could be a new backpack for your child. The backpack has become a necessity, a carryall for supplies, books, homework and all the other stuff that kids just have to have. The prices have skyrocketed. I saw models for $35, $60 and even $74.50!

Since children usually want a new backpack each year, it's not very practical to "invest" in an expensive one just for the name brand or because it will last longer. After several weeks of shopping around, I found a great selection of backpacks in the $5.98- $9.99 range at Mills Fleet Farm. They were about $10 cheaper than the national discount chains like Wal-Mart, K-mart or Target. My children each found one they liked and they are just as sturdy and stylish as the pricier styles.

Here's a great tip for next year. Visit the stores about two months after school starts. I found backpacks discounted 90%! There wasn't as much selection, but I paid less than $5 for two very pleasing backpacks for next year.

Whenever possible, let your children help choose supplies within your budget. Often there is a choice of color or style that best suits your child's taste.

About a month before school begins, the stores offer major sales on school supplies. The schools usually mail a list of needed items, divided by grades. Once you have a list, do some comparison-shopping.

Often one store will offer one or two extremely cheap items, a loss leader. Get these first and mark them off the list. Target offered notebooks 10 for $1, while two blocks away Wal-Mart offered them 10 for 80 cents. Glue was 20 cents at both stores, but only 18 cents at K-mart. Only a few cents difference, but it all adds up.

Make lists of which items are at each store, to make extra trips worthwhile. In Fargo, North Dakota all of our discount stores are within two blocks of each other, making it easy to take advantage of savings. Combine your trips with other errands in the area so you won't waste gas.

This is a super time to stock up on supplies for your house. I always buy lots of notebooks, pens, pencils and sharpeners, glue, folders, crayons, markers, paint, etc. Buying extra now at deeply discounted prices means you won't have to pay full price when items run or wear out, typically the middle of the school year.

The changing season may necessitate a few new garments or a complete wardrobe overhaul, depending on how fast your children are growing. I look for discount sales and prowl the clearance racks. Often huge discounts are offered for end-of-season clothes. Buy a larger size so your child can grow into it.

Another great place to find school clothes is second-hand or thrift stores. Often the clothes have never been worn as stores will occasionally donate out of season clothes. A local thrift store recently held a bag sale. They sold all the clothes you could fit in a brown paper grocery bag for $4.

My children enjoyed picking out new clothes and stuffing them in our bag. My nine-year-old daughter found six pairs of brand-new shorts and matching T-shirts, a few pants and a skirt. My six-year-old son picked out two new pairs of jeans, several shirts for school, and some hats for his collection. I discovered a new linen blazer and two skirts with the tags still attached.

Letting my kids choose their clothing helps our mornings go much smoother. They like what they picked out, so there is a minimum of fussing over what to wear. Now that they're older they have a stronger opinion, so I try to take them along whenever we shop for new clothes. Trying on before you buy is quite helpful as well. That perfect pair of jeans is wasted if it's too small or doesn't hang right.

Summer weather may be with us for awhile, but the season of long lazy days draws to a close. Following these simple strategies will not only save you money; it will help your children look forward to the start of school.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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