Fall clothes, No. 2 pencils, book bags, magic markers ... the back-to-school shopping list can quickly grow out of control and overtake the family budget. So we asked moms around the country for their best money-saving tips on everything from school supplies to brown-bag lunches. We want to hear from you, too! Share your best school-related cost-cutting tips in the comments section below.
6 Ways to Keep School Clothing Costs Under Control
"Many schools have used-uniform sales, where thrifty parents can snag gently used uniforms for a bargain. Our preschool is selling their winter sweatsuits right now for $1 -- buy one get one free!"
-- Daniele H., mom to a 2.5-year-old
"Go through Ebates.com to shop with online retailers (including Lands' End, L.L. Bean, The Children's Place, Hanna Andersson, Gap (GPS), Old Navy, etc.) and get cash back on your purchases every quarter. I've gotten nearly $200 in cash back, in the two years since I joined, on purchases I was already making!"
-- Marisa S., mom to a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old
"My kids always grow so much over the summer, so when school comes around, we are usually scrambling for long shirts and trousers that fit my oldest. And, of course, this is the worst time of the year to buy new clothing! Instead, I stock up on basics in the next size or two up during end-of-winter clearance sales, so I always have something on hand that will fit."
-- Siobhan G., mom to a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old
A few other tips from moms:
- Buy uniform basics for less at Target (TGT) and Old Navy. If your school requires special emblems, see if you can order those items from Lands' End, where patient parents can save during the 30% sales offered a few times a year.
- It's still warm through mid-September around most of the country, so hold off on fall clothing buys until then to get the best discounts.
- Organize a kids' clothing swap at your church, office, or around the neighborhood. Participants simply bring outgrown clothing and take items they need. Anything left over gets donated to charity.
4 Strategies for Stretching Those School-Supplies Dollars
"For back-to-school supplies, I always use Office Max (OMX) or Office Depot (ODP) because they always have coupons (be sure to sign up for their email lists) and they offer free delivery for orders over $50. Office Max is great about matching prices too, so if you use the coupon in the store and bring in a circular from another retailer, you can get prices matched and use the coupon."
-- Sondrah L., mom to a 14-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 19-month-old
"Spend more money upfront on a high-quality backpack that will last several years. I also stock up for the next year when supplies go on clearance. Last, try not to wait until the last minute to buy supplies. School starts on Wednesday and I still can't find dry-erase markers. Just the gas alone means that I spent more than what I would have saved waiting for a sale."
-- Sumer R., mom to a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 22-month-old
Other ways to save:
- Check to see whether your state offers a tax-free holiday and plan your shopping accordingly to save a little extra. (Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas all have one over the next couple of weeks.)
- Score deals on well-made backpacks from Lands' End and L.L. Bean during clearance sales. One mom got personalized backpacks and lunchboxes from Lands' End for her two kids for under $20!
A Smart Way to Score Bargain Books
"If you have a smartphone or e-reader, you can save on books by buying the digital version, which is usually less than the print book. Classic novels that are out of copyright are available for free in e-book format through Amazon (AMZN), Google Books (GOOG), Barnes & Noble (BKS), and others -- a great money saver for all those English assignments!"
-- Amanda B., mom to a 20-month-old
- Another tip: No e-reader? Check half.com for super-cheap prices on used books.
Brown Bag It for Less
"Just packing lunch instead of buying it is a huge savings for us. I also try not to pack too many perishable things, so if he brings home something untouched, I can pack it again the next day. Also, reusable containers save money and they're green. Oh, and don't buy individual size packages, it's much cheaper to buy in bulk and divvy it up yourself."
-- Shannon W., mom to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old
- Another tip: My second-grader wasn't thrilled about switching from cafeteria lunches to brown bagging it until I offered to split the savings with her as long as she packs her own lunch. Now, I save time and we both have a little extra cash!
Motley Fool contributor Robyn Gearey does not own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Gap. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Amazon.com and writing call options on Office Depot.