Consumer Watch: Back-to-schoolers buying tips that save you money

Today’s column features stores (online and bricks-and-mortar) that have the best sales on special items for most back-to-schoolers. Knowing that families with school-age children spent an average last year of $673.57 per family (total $75.8 billion) on clothing, electronics and supplies, saving every penny definitely helps make a difference in cutting costs.

* Laptops. Apart from Black Friday, August is the best time for laptop purchases. Whether investing in a refurbished model, trading in old electronics to buy new ones, scoring exclusive student discounts (NotebooksforStudents.org) or discovering slashed prices for opened box/returned electronics, shoppers can find some great deals. Check Dealnews.com, a site that scours current laptop sales and then posts the verified lowest prices.

* Back-to-school discounts. Savvy back-to-school (BTS) shoppers know some casual-apparel retailers cut prices from mid-July through Labor Day. American Eagle and Old Navy, for example, really take a hit to our advantage on jeans and tees. And if you wait until the end of August, not only will you gain the BTS discounts but, also, those clearance price items. And shoes? Do kids want to wear last year’s nearly new sneakers? Puleeze. If purse strings are tight around your house, try spiffing the shoes up with patterned duct tape on leather shoes and fabric paint or a bleach pen on canvas. Take an older tee-shirt and cut the collar and fringe the bottom. (All you creative types get the idea.)

* Price match. Shop at stores that price match. Target and Staples both match from bricks-and-mortar and retail sites such as Amazon. Discountschoolsupply.com not only matches the prices but refunds 10 percent of the difference if another store sells the item for less. Walmart’s “Savings Catcher” offers another option: within a week of purchase, enter your receipt number on the store’s website, which then searches for competitors’ prices from the past week. If it finds a lower cost, Walmart gives the buyer an e-gift card for the difference.

* PTSA negotiators. Some of these organizations negotiate with vendors to get better prices for their students/school. Let’s say your child’s teacher makes a list of school supplies for her class; she submits her list to the PTSA website (better prices) and parent shops from that site. Every little bit helps as school beginnings take a bite out of parental budgets. Additional bargains may be found in the grocery store, dollar store, drugstore, office-supply store and even big names like Toys “R” Us and Target/Walmart. Crayons, notebook paper, folders, pens/pencils and the list goes on and on. The idea is to assess the marketplace once you know what your kids need and shop where the savings are greatest.

* Resale. Clothes, clothes, clothes for guys and girls. It’s probably better to wait until your kids check out what their schoolmates are wearing before handing over your credit card. And if the kids absolutely refuse to wear last year’s clothing, take a look at Thredup.com. The site pays between 10-80 percent of the resale value of clothes, shoes and accessories. Use Thredup’s clothing calculator to estimate your earnings and, once you’ve accumulated your pot, either shop the site for “new” clothing items (up to 90 percent off) or cash out via PayPal.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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