6 Ways to Save on Back-to-School Supplies and Clothes

Strategize before you shop to snag the best deals and spend less.

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Although it seems like summer just started, the onset of a new school year is approaching fast—and that means back-to-school shopping is right around the corner. It's easy to wait until the last minute to stock up on clothes and school supplies, but this approach will generally cost you a fortune. Instead, strategize before you shop to snag the best deals and spend less.

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A young man reads to children in the library.

Here are some money-saving tips for back-to-school shopping:

1. Use Office Supply Retailer Rewards

All major office supply retailers, including Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax, offer rewards programs. Sign up at your preferred outlet to receive advance notice of special back-to-school sales, and you may be able to score some items practically for free.

Often, retailers offer select back-to-school items for which you receive a gift certificate for the full purchase price. These gift certificate rebates are generally mailed to you within several months of the date of purchase. The gift certificate can then be used for additional purchases on items at that store within a certain time frame. Just be sure you remember to redeem these rewards before they expire.

2. Shop Early

Retailers often feature loss leaders (items priced at cost or below cost to lure you into the store) during the early part of the back-to-school shopping season. Sign up for email updates with major retailers, including Target and Walmart, so you know when the sales take place. Heavily discounted items are often basic supplies, such as pens, pencils, and notebook paper.

3. Shop Late

Shopping early for essential items is crucial—but in some instances, it pays to wait. If your child can make do with last year's backpack or lunchbox for the first couple months of school, you'll save big on new items by making your purchase when they go on clearance.

4. Don't Buy What You Don't Need

If you can get a label maker for 90 percent off, that's great. But if your child doesn't need it, then you will have wasted your money regardless of the sale price. Before you purchase items that your child may or may not need, wait until after you've viewed your child's course curriculum. Then, purchase specific items you need, and scratch unnecessary supplies off your list.

5. Check Drawers and Closets Before You Shop

Your kids don't need to have a bright new box of crayons, or pencils that haven't been sharpened yet. Search drawers at home for school supplies before you buy new. Just be sure that box of markers or that old glue stick isn't dried out. Also examine your children's closet for clothes that still fit. If they don't need an entire wardrobe right away, don't buy it. If you can stretch out kids' clothes shopping throughout the year, you'll have more opportunity to shop sales and clearance racks.

6. Save on Kids’ Clothes

To save more money on school clothes, shop at garage sales and consignment shops for basic items such as jeans and t-shirts, and use these savings to complement your child's basic wardrobe with more expensive, trendier pieces. You can also organize a clothing swap with friends or neighbors to freshen up your child's wardrobe without spending a dime.

Final Thoughts

Saving on back-to-school items makes other unavoidable school costs, like registration fees, uniforms for sports, and school lunch programs, more affordable. Plus, the effort is often easily worth the amount of money you can save. And better yet, by being a conscientious consumer, you can teach your child to be one, too.

What other ways can you think of to save on back-to-school supplies?

David Bakke lives in Atlanta with his young son, who will be going back to school in August. David writes about money saving strategies on Money Crashers Personal Finance.