Have you seen all the Back to School ads? Everything from clothes, backpacks, shoes, laptops, school supplies, lunch packing paraphernalia, decorations, organizing gear, furniture, food… it’s enough to make your head spin and your wallet bleed. Surprisingly though, when you dig down deeper, some of these so called “specials” aren’t specials at all, they’re normal price! So how do you know what’s a steal and how do you get the best price?
Time, Research and a Healthy amount of Stocking Up.
This post might be a little late to be researching and checking prices (as a lot of schools have already started and school supply lists have been out for weeks). Fortunately for my family PreK doesn’t have much in the way of supply lists and my husband never uses more than 1 spiral notebook and a pencil for school. Also, their schools both start after Labor Day. But I’ve been checking out the ads that keep coming through our house and always find it amazing that lots of these items aren’t even on sale. It’s usually the same 10 items on sale everywhere for approximately the same price. Instead the best deals seem to be coming from places like office supply stores that are offering “free” after rebate deals.
So what do you do. Well, the same thing you probably do when you go grocery shopping every week.
- Make a price book – Most do this at least to some level in their head. You “know” a good deal for the food you’re always buying, But writing it down, especially for like items of slight different packaging, different brands and from different stores helps you keep track of everything and know that you’re getting a good price for what you’re buying.
- Compare prices and sale prices until you find the best deal – Depending how much time you have, it might be the best price in the next week or the best price in the next month. You’ll have to buy what you need by the time you need it, but don’t forget the discounts after school is in full swing and the stores are slashing their prices to get things off their shelves. (See point 4 on what do after school is in full swing.)
- Buy it – Even if it’s not “really” free (rebates that give you money back later) or Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals that require you to buy more than you need. If you need it buy it at the best price per item (especially if it’s an item you could possibly use more than one of) even if that means buying it in bulk. Of course if it’s something expensive or a only-need-one type item (I’m thinking graphing calculators or laptops or for some even backpacks), resist some of the more ridiculous “deals” that aren’t a deal at all.
- Stock up for the future and keep a box of extra supplies – In our house, we have a box in our garage that holds binders from over a decade ago (cleaned out of their previous contents), notebooks with half the pages (the ones that were used) ripped out, stacks of binder paper from countless unused reams from who knows where, and boxes of pens and pencils (mostly from Costco). Sure these items aren’t the latest and greatest in office or school supplies, but we are never in a shortage of the essentials.The best time to start this nice collection is right after school is in full swing and all those school supplies you just bought are on discount (think 50% off or more). You can also look at what was used (or not completely used) from the previous year and reclaim a couple still-in-good-condition items, instead of throwing out the lot and starting over every fall. Then mid-year when your family needs to restock on their supplies you’ll know just where to go for that extra that you got at super-sale prices. Or if you’re really lucky most of the school supplies you would have had to buy next year will already be in the box. Then you can just concentrate on shopping for all the other new school year items (clothes, gear, tuition, fees, pictures… oh, the list goes on and on).