School Daze: Savings by the Bell

It's time for the kids to go back to school, and this year shopping for school supplies will be a lot more difficult for many families. Due to high gas prices and stretched budgets, financially pinched parents are looking for creative ways to save some money.

In addition to cutting back on normal back-to-school purchases, parents are comparing prices and looking for bargains, so they can get what they need without having to spend lots of cash. Here are some ideas to help you shave costs on your back-to-school shopping.

· Do your back-to-school shopping online. All of the major retailers have an online presence, and many offer significant savings if you shop through their Web sites. Some retailers will even offer free shipping.

According to a recent survey done by the National Retail Federation, online shopping will experience a significant increase this year. Of the 200 people surveyed in the study, 25 percent said that they planned to do their back-to-school shopping online this year. The top two reasons to shop online are to find deals and to save on gas.

But those aren't the only reasons consumers like Philadelphian Marisa Olson will choose to shop online this year. "I like shopping online for the convenience of it, and because it allows me to comparison shop without having to run all over town to check prices," she says.

Rather than logging on to the sites of several individual retailers to check prices, she uses Microsoft's Live Search cashback ( to find the best deals.

The site has partnerships with hundreds of the nation's major retailers to offer brand-name products at bargain prices. Simply log on, enter the name of the product you're looking for into the search box, and the site will bring up the best prices available at several different stores.

Click on the deal you like best, and if you make a purchase, in addition to a great price, you'll also get cash back, which comes directly from Microsoft.

· Hit "End-of-the-Summer Clearance Sales." Behind the holiday season, back-to-school is the most important shopping period of the year for retailers. As a result, now is a great time to shop for clothing, footwear, electronics, housewares and school supplies.

It's not uncommon to find items marked 50 percent, 60 percent or even 70 percent off, since stores are desperate to clear out inventory in order to bring sales numbers up and make room for fall merchandise.

· Shop at local consignment shops. Why pay retail prices for clothes that the kids are going to outgrow anyway when you can find some great bargains at your local consignment shop?

Consignment stores accept clothes that are gently used and in good shape, so if you're willing to invest a little time thumbing through the racks, you may be able to find inexpensive children's clothes that are nearly new at a fraction of retail prices.

· Buy in bulk. Another strategy you can take to save money is to buy items in bulk. Warehouse stores carry a wide range of seasonal merchandise, including back-to-school supplies.

But before you purchase a 100 pack of book covers, a box of 100 pens or pencils, 50 Crayola markers or a two-pack of scientific calculators, first do your homework to make sure it really is a great deal.

For example, bring a notepad to your local office or discount store, and write down the unit price for each item you plan to purchase. Then when you return to the warehouse store, compare the numbers, and make sure that your savings will be significant enough to be worth it.

· Reuse some of last year's school supplies. Those scissors probably don't need to be replaced yet. Neither does your son or daughter's pencil box, or the magic markers that came home unused.

This article was prepared in cooperation with ARA content.


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