The National Retail Federation says that parents will spend an average of $635 on back-to-school shopping this year. That amount includes money doled out for clothes and shoes, backpacks and school supplies, electronics, and more.
And for those with more than one child, all the spending can really add up.
Fortunately, if you have kids in school, or even heading off to college, the back-to-school shopping season doesn’t have to blow your budget.
Here are five ways to save $250 or more on back-to-school shopping.
1. Shop your closet, attic or garage first
You can easily slash 10%, or nearly $65, from your back-to-school spending just by shopping your own closet, attic or garage first.
Begin by taking an inventory of what your kids already have, so you don’t go out and buy stuff they don’t really need. For example: Does last year’s rain jacket or rain boots fit just fine? If so, pass on buying new ones.
And what about pens, pencils, notebooks, rulers and other basic school supplies? Check the kids’ bedrooms, your attic or garage to make sure extra supplies aren’t stashed there.
By starting with an assessment of what’s already in your house, you won’t waste money on unnecessary or duplicate purchases this back-to-school season.
2. Use the right credit card
If you’re not spending cash, and you need to use plastic, make sure you use the right credit card, namely a rewards card, in order to save money. This is equally relevant for online shoppers – who must use a card to pay – and for those shopping in brick-and-mortar stores too.
I like the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card. It’s a new card with a ton of great features. For starters, there’s no annual fee, and it gives you 1.5% cash back for all purchases.
It also offers a $100 rewards bonus for spending at least $500 within the first three months. So right off the bat, if you’re spending $500 on back-to-school shopping, you’re going to get $100 back.
And finally, Capital One has a special 0% deal on the Quicksilver rewards card through next August. This way, even if you’re using credit, you have a full year to pay off those back-to-school purchases and not incur any finance charges.
3. Take advantage of sales tax holidays
In 2013, 17 states in the U.S. are offering a sales tax holiday. This means you won’t pay any sales tax on certain retail purchases – like apparel, school supplies or electronics – if you shop during a specific time period.
Luckily, most sales tax holidays occur in August – during the peak back-to-school shopping season.
So let’s assume you’re in a state with a relatively high sales tax, such as Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee or Texas. The sales tax in each of these states ranges from 6% to 7%.
If you’re in a high tax state and plan to spend $600 on back-to-school purchases, shopping when the tax holiday is in effect will save you $36 to $42.
For those of you living in a state that doesn’t offer a sales tax holiday – like my state of New Jersey – there’s still a way to get this savings.
You can purchase goods online, via phone, or even through the mail from a state like Texas, which has its tax-free weekend August 9 through August 11, 2013 or Connecticut, which has a tax-free week from August 18 through August 24, 2013. As long as you buy your goods during a tax holiday, you won’t get charged a sales tax.
And for residents in states with especially high sales tax, such as California, where the sales tax is 7.5%, shopping in another state during a tax holiday nets you an even bigger savings: $45 when you buy $600 worth of back-to-school merchandise.
4. Get free online shipping
Even if you’re not shopping online to take advantage of another state’s tax-free offer, many of us are still going to get online to simplify our back-to-school shopping experience and save money. I did that this year through the PTA for two of my kids’ school supplies, and it was so easy and convenient.
The good news is that lots of online merchants and retailers with brick-and-mortar businesses – including department stores and discount retailers – offer free shipping as a way to boost sales, and entice customers to do business with them. And indeed, 72% of consumers say free shipping does the trick to get them to shop with a particular store, according to PriceGrabber.
Depending on how many places you shop, those free shipping deals can save online you anywhere from $20 to $50 during the back-to-school season.
Just make sure you read the fine print and know all the requirements, such as minimum purchase amounts, in order to get truly free shipping. It also pays to shop around online before you make an actual purchase.
To ensure that you always get a good deal on the web, try a free tool like PriceBlink, which self-activates when you’re shopping online. PriceBlink will alert you to coupons and special offers for the site you’re shopping on, and let you know if the same item is available for less anywhere else in cyberspace.
5. Emphasize price and quality over brand names
We all know that teenagers can heavily influence parents’ spending decisions during the back-to-school season. But when teens twist their parents’ arms and insist on only getting the latest designer duds or high-end brand names, that kind of spending can ruin the family budget.
Unfortunately, only 22% of teens consider price to be the most important factor when making a purchase, according to Capital One’s 2013 Back to School Shopping Survey.
By comparison, almost half of all parents surveyed (47%) said price was the most important factor when buying back-to-school merchandise. More than one-third of parents surveyed (36%) rated quality as the most important factor in their buying decisions.
Given these statistics, it’s no wonder that there’s a big difference in where adults and young people want to shop. Parents would rather do their back-to-school shopping with discount retailers, while teenagers overwhelming prefer to hit department stores in the mall. (Check out this interesting infographic showing the difference in shopping preferences between parents and teens).
Ultimately, though, you’re the parent – and the person in charge of the family budget.
So swap out that $100 pair of jeans your teen daughter is begging for by showing her that the $40 pair is just as cute and you’ll save 60 bucks. Likewise, is it really necessary to buy a $50 backpack from a name-brand store if a $20 backpack from a discounter is of equal quality but just lacks a designer label?
By putting these five strategies into use, you’ll save hundreds of dollars this back-to-school season, become a better budgeter, and teach your children important financial lessons as well.
What money-saving techniques will you use this back-to-school season? Share your comments here and let me know your tips on Twitter and Facebook too.