How much will you spend on back-to-school this year?
According to the 2014 Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending surveys, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the National Retail Federation, the total cost for an elementary-school student to buy clothes, shoes, school supplies and electronics was $580. The cost was $682 for middle- and high-school students, respectively.
Total spending for the season? Seventy-five billion dollars!
"Back-to-school has become the second biggest shopping season behind the holiday season," says Phong Vu, CEO of DealScience, which predicts where and when deals, sales and coupons are available. "Like the holiday season, retailers are starting their sales a little earlier than they used to."
The back-to-school season runs from late June or July until around Labor Day. While some schools are on traditional schedules, many others are year-round with summertime start dates.
*Before You Shop
Decide what you need before hitting the stores or sitting down to shop online. Grade-school kids may only need pencils, scissors, glue sticks and lined paper, whereas older kids may need tech gear, including calculators and laptops.
Lifestyle savings expert Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game, says, "Many teachers go by a standard list. Ask what's necessary, and most will tell you just the basics," which could reduce your supply list costs by about 75 percent.
Before you buy, do research and compare products to ensure you're making a good purchase. And don't worry about labels.
According to the Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending surveys, 34 percent of shoppers will buy generic products because of economic conditions. And there's not always a difference. According to Gault, "most often, the quality is identical or comparable."
Comparing store advertisements can help you snag great buys, too, but beware that "even discount stores like Target or Kmart will not have the best deals in all categories," says Gault.
Stocking up on classroom essentials like notebooks and pens? Vu suggests shopping at big-box retailers, such as Target. "Staples is generally a bit more expensive, but it still offers good deals," he says, noting that sales at all of these stores typically begin in late July or early August.
Gault advises looking for bargains in unlikely places like drugstores and supermarkets, which often offer store coupons or digital coupons for office supplies. For example, she says one week last August, Safeway supermarkets promoted coupons for free 10-packs of Bic pens.
She also recommends stacking manufacturer coupons with store coupons for extra savings.
The Back-to-School and Back-to-College spending surveys indicate that 58 percent of back-to-school shoppers are looking to buy electronics. When purchasing tablets and computers, look for sales in mid- to late July, says Vu, who suggests deals from "Amazon, Best Buy, Dell and NewEgg.com."
Students need a place to store all these supplies. Look for backpacks in early August, when Vu says you can get some great deals, including JanSport bags from Target and brand-name bags such as The North Face, Patagonia and Dakine from online discount retailers such as eBags and 6PM.com.
Kids of all ages want to look sharp on the first day of school. But refreshing their wardrobe with clothes and shoes can be pricey.
Vu recommends looking for end-of-summer clearance deals in August, when you might get bargains on overstock items.
"American Eagle Outfitters, Aeropostale, Gap and Old Navy are sure bets to shop and save," he says, noting that department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom also have good deals in late July and early August.
Watch for tax-free holidays in your state from late July to mid-August. These provide an opportunity to save on back-to-school items from clothes to computers to classroom supplies. "Limits and exemptions vary by state, but it's a great opportunity to save 5 percent or more on your purchase," says Vu.
Whatever you're buying, don't rush the process. You might not get great prices, and the products you buy might not be what you really want or need for school.