A Back to School Shopper's Survival Guide
A Back to School Shopper's Survival Guide

How to Get Through Back to School Shopping on a Budget

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Internships are coming to an end, blockbuster movies are in their final few weeks at cinemas, and slowly but surely people are beginning to pack up their pineapple floaties. It’s officially mid-August, which means summer is slowing down, and school is back in session.

Whether you’re in your final years of high school, or beginning your first year of grad school in a new city, there is something about this time of year that makes people want to shop, shop, and shop. According to the National Retail Federation, total back to school spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $82.8 billion, nearly as high as last year’s $83.6 billion.

Don’t be a statistic of this season’s shopping spree. Follow these 4 rules when doing your back to school shopping that will help keep your wallet dent- AND debt-free!

Make Your List, Check it Twice

Whatever you are about to shop for, there’s always one thing you should do first: determine your actual, needs, not just your wants. Maybe it’s a new backpack, calculator, or tennis shoes; spend on those items first, and plan on budgeting for the rest later in the year. Unless you’re going away to school in Alaska, chances are you don’t need a winter coat or boots for the first few weeks of school. It’s tempting to get all of your shopping out of the way while the racks are full of gear, but you are more likely to get a bargain on that adorable new coat when it goes on sale before the holidays.

Once you have developed a ‘needs’ list, shop in your own house before you head to the store. Take your list around your house and look through what you already have and might be able to reuse. It’s likely your junk drawers and closets are full of common back to school items like highlighters, pencils, pens, calculators, and notebook paper. While it’s fun to have brand-new school supplies and clothes in the beginning of the school year, the savings you will see from shopping in your own home first are significant. Plus, you may find that old 90s denim skirt is back in style!

Budget, Budget, Budget and…. Budget!

Now that you have saved some money by going through what you already have, it’s time to create a budget. Whether you use the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or use an app like Mint, have a clear budget and stick to it. If you’re armed with a shopping list and a budget, you’re much less likely to succumb to impulse buys like the tricked out Swell water bottle, or the pricey Lilly Pulitzer planner. Skip the unnecessary, fancy stuff. You’ll save a ton of money if you buy plain, generic school supplies and save the flash for another time.

Meet ‘Sale’ + ‘Coupon’ – Your Two New BFFs

You can do it, just put your time into it! Coupon finding and sale searching is time intensive, but time is money, and you are saving it! Visit a drugstore or office supply store to buy notebooks, pens, and other supplies where the prices are college-student-friendly.

And don’t forget discount apps, such as Target’s Cartwheel app, that offer coupons for in-store purchases, as well as credit cards that offer rewards like cash back. While you shouldn’t be opening any new credit cards just for back to school shopping, use your preexisting ones wisely! Whether you prefer points for travel or retailer-specific credit cards, don’t be afraid to take advantage of a good deal. You can also find coupons in your newspaper or via apps and online sources such as Coupons.com and RetailMeNot.

Also, don’t feel the need to start shopping too early. According to Deloitte, about two-thirds of shoppers (62 percent) people who start shopping sooner in the late summer spend about $100 more than shoppers who get a later start.

Go Online, It’ll Save You Time

Instead of buying textbooks at the university bookstore where prices tend to be inflated, consider renting textbooks through Amazon or another service, at a fraction of the price. Not only will you be able to efficiently compare prices by going online, but you are more likely to stick to your shopping list.

ALWAYS check prices online before you buy anything in the store. Apps like Price Comparison Shopping and ShopSavvy make it easy. Just open the app, scan the barcode of whatever you’re thinking of buying, and you’ll automatically see available online prices. And don’t forget to check retailers’ websites. Many big retailers offer online-only specials.

These tools will help you finish the overwhelming (and fun!) task of back to school shopping while staying smart with your spending. Saving money is possible, and if you get sidetracked, just remember to clearly define your list and stick. to. your. budget!