Top Ten Tips to Trim Your Back-to-School Budget

by Julie Snyder

School Supplies BudgetHigh gas and food prices, along with stretched budgets have penny-pinching parents looking for creative ways to purchase school supplies.

It seems that schools are requiring a lot more from students via their parents than ever before.

From bunches of pens and paper to boxes of tissues for runny noses, schools are asking for anything they can get due to budget cuts.

Last year, our kids were asked to bring in all kinds of supplies, including paper towels.

Check out what our top ten tips are to save you money during this second-biggest shopping season of the year.

Saving Money on Supplies

1. Take an Inventory

Surely some of the stuff among that mound in your child's room can be used this year. Take a look and see.
• Clothes: What still fits and what needs to be replaced? Calculate how many pairs of pants, shirts, socks, underwear and shoes your child needs to comfortably make it through a week.
• Supplies: Look through the school supplies left over from last year. When the new school supply list arrives, see what may still be useable.

2. Make a List

Once you've finished the inventory, make a list of what you need to buy. Stick to it no matter how hard your child pulls you toward the most expensive and trendy gear.

3. Check the Flyers and Coupon Sections

Match the department, drug and discount store's back-to-school sales flyers to your master list. Stores will offer a few items at extremely low prices. Resist the temptation to buy all your supplies at one store. Instead, target the stores that offer the greatest savings on your higher priced items. Savvy shoppers take advantage of the sales at each store to get the best prices possible on a variety of items.

4. Use a Price Matching App

Put in the bar code for the product and your phone will tell you how much that item is at other stores. Does that sound like a dream come true? The right application can put that power at your fingertips. Free price-matching apps are available for iphone, blackberry and android phones.

5. Shop Online

Make your first click to a coupon code consolidator. All the big chains in the retail business are online and many offer significant savings if you shop through their web sites. Some even offer free shipping. If you can't meet the minimum order, combine your order with a friend and share the discount! Shopping online also saves on personal gas money.

6. Consignment Shops and Thrift Stores

If you're the parent of younger kids, where fashion is not the end-all, be-all, try shopping at consignment shops and thrift stores. After all, the kids are going to outgrow their clothes and shoes by next summer anyway, right? This way you won't spend a fortune on clothes that won't fit in three months.

7. Buying in Bulk

Does the school supply list ask for a 16-pack of crayons but the 24-pack is a great sale? Take eight crayons out to meet the guidelines and still save. Chances are your child will have the required colors needed. Besides, the crayons never stay in the box for very long.

8. Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

• Do you know other families with children close in age to yours? Consider swapping clothing, coats and other children’s items with friends and neighbors or through a community group or church.
• Hit the garage sales and consignment shops. Gently used clothes at bargain prices will stretch your back-to-school budget considerably. Clothing tends to be the most expensive part of back to school shopping, so savings here will have a big impact.
• Take advantage of trend-savvy kids with "environmentally-friendly" gear. Add pizzazz to last year's plain notebook with a stickers or photos. Watch yard sales, thrift stores and consignment shops for low cost, high quality school supplies and clothing.

9. Shop for New Stuff...Later

One mom says she waits a month or two before shopping for clothes. Weather allows her boy to wear shorts the first few weeks and by then she's able to take advantage of the pre-holiday clearance sales.

10. Buy Ahead

After school starts, all those full-price supplies go on clearance. Take advantage and buy up notebook paper, socks, pencils or whatever else your child might need. You probably won't find a better price untiil next year's back-to-school sales. Purchase what your child will need over the next several months.

What other ways do you save money? What are some of your secret tips you can share?