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Published August 18, 2012, 12:00 AM

Coupon Queen: Tips for saving when stocking up for school

It’s back-to-school time again. Each year around this time I like to share some of my favorite tips for saving on school supplies.

By: By Jill Cataldo, INFORUM

It’s back-to-school time again. Each year around this time I like to share some of my favorite tips for saving on school supplies.

This year, the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend more than $688 per child on back-to-school supplies, up more than 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a big number! The good news is that by shopping smarter and employing some of the strategies I’ll share with you today, you can cut that dollar amount to a much more manageable figure.

First, spread your shopping out in order to take advantage of the best sales. Every year, the office supply and big-box stores in our area thoughtfully supply copies of the school supply lists right in the aisles near the school supply displays. Their hope? That you’ll pick up a list and buy everything on it, in one trip, in that store. From a budget standpoint, though, this is the worst thing you can do. Here’s why.

Each August, we see “crazy deals” on many school supplies – penny rulers, 10-cent spiral notebooks, 25-cent crayons and more. These sales are designed to get you in the door – and they should, they’re great buys! But don’t make the mistake of being lured in by the loss leaders, then buying the rest of your child’s list items at non-sale prices. Skim the sales and buy only the best-priced items.

If you have a store in your area that price-matches, save time, energy and gas by rounding up the best offers in each stores’ ads, then taking them to one store to pick up the bargains.

While we all love a great deal, quality counts, too. I try to balance the quality of the item I’m buying with the price. Every year we see bargain backpacks in the $5 range, but how long will a $5 backpack last? One year, I was tempted by the $5 backpack and I bought one for my daughter. It fell apart less than three months later. For items such as backpacks, messenger bags and lunch bags, where strength and durability count, it is usually worth paying a little more for a better-quality product.

Nearly every child out there, from kindergarten through high school, wants new clothes for back-to-school. And there’s nothing wrong with that… except that after Labor Day, clothing prices take a dip. Summer-end clearance sales follow, with many large department stores offering coupons to stretch your savings. So, does it make sense to buy an entirely new wardrobe when good clothes sales are right around the corner? I don’t think so.

A better strategy is to shop with your child and pick out a few new items for the first week of school. Then, plan to hit the stores again during the next few weeks to take advantage of lower clothing prices. I like to combine this plan with another back-to-school ritual that my children have become accustomed to: “Dump the Drawers!” Before we go clothes shopping, I have them go through their closets and drawers to clear out any clothes that they’ve outgrown and to see what still fits and what they can wear for the school year ahead. Many times, my kids will find shirts or pants that they’d forgotten about, or were buried in the back of a closet. One you take note of your child’s clothing inventory, you’re better equipped to know exactly what they’ll need – and what they won’t.

One last thought on back-to-school: This is also a great time of year for small businesses to stock up on office supplies! Many of the great, loss-leader sales involve products that small businesses can use: printer paper, glue sticks, binders and tab dividers, sheet protectors and more. Stock up when prices are low, and you won’t pay more for them when the prices go up after back-to-school season ends.


Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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