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A Sensible Approach to Back-to-School Shopping

I was just having a conversation the other day with my co-workers regarding the back-to-school shopping craze. They all have pint-sized children of varying ages, and the common theme seems to be a weekend dedicated to shopping for school supplies, and school clothes. I don’t know if these kids only own white clothes and they are trying to avoid a fashion faux pas post Labor Day, but apparently wearing something you already own come September 1st is pure blasphemy. Sure I make light of the situation now, but I suppose I should remember back to my childhood when all I wanted was the new Reebok pumps, Girbaud jeans, and latest BUM Equipment shirt. Yeah the styles have changed a bit I suppose, but the prices sure haven’t…they were ridiculously high then, and they are ridiculously higher now. I even quipped that if our state switched to year round school it would be a nightmare for retailers. Can you imagine having school all year? There would be no definable “back-to-school” date, thus no definable time for “back-to-school” shopping! I have to imagine that the office supply and clothing retailers have some powerful lobbyists at both the state and federal levels making sure this doesn’t happen.  Being both a lifestyle and finance blogger this area just seems right up my alley. Let me give you some tips on how to lessen the financial blow on your back-to-school shopping spree…this is assuming you feel the need to do one at all.

Every time I go through a money saving explanation with someone this is always my first tip…buy discounted gift cards! This is single handedly the best and easiest way to save money on items that you are going to buy regardless. Why anyone would every pay full price at JC Penny’s (currently I can snag 23% off anything I want here), or Home Depot (20% off on this store) is beyond me. I have seen people order full kitchen renovations from places like Home Depot or Lowe’s and they paid the full amount. I mean you could have saved 20% off a $10,000 renovation with a little patience and effort, certainly enough worth saving $2,000 in total. The same applies to back-to-school clothing and supplies. Just about every retailer has a discounted gift card online that can be purchased and delivered, often times electronically, with the click of a button. This is something you should be doing in your everyday life. It’s amazing how many crazy double coupon kook’s are out there, and yet very few who apply the same methodology with discounted gift cards…yet they are so much more beneficial and effective than a coupon any day! Even better, use them in tandem!

Mom 2 Mom sales are the next big thing! Yes, they have been around for a very long time, especially where I live, but they are now just starting to branch our online and across the country. I’ve never been one to hit up the garage sale circuit. It’s not like it’s beneath me, but I just don’t have the time nor do I want to spend the effort on visiting a dozen duds to find one diamond in the rough. If you’re looking for back-to-school clothes for the kiddies, and I mean the good name brand stuff, then this is the place to do it. These events are often times held at churches and community centers, these mom’s pay a small table fee that goes to charity and in return they get to sell you all of their kids gently used items. You can find designer fashions, in great condition, for a fraction of the price at retail stores and even consignment shops! These mom’s only have the price of a $5 or $10 table to overcome, not all the costly overhead that comes with employees, inventory, and utilities.

I support local stores, but more of the mom and pop variety. The big box stores with poor customer service, high inventory levels, and bloated executive salaries are not my responsibility to keep in business. If they can’t keep a competitive edge that’s their fault, which is why I whole heartedly endorse buying ONLINE. Stores that aren’t located in your home state aren’t required to collect taxes. That’s not to say that you aren’t on the hook for paying those taxes at the end of the year, but it seems most people “forget” about those purchases come tax time. For those people here in Michigan that comes out to a 6% built-in discount. But let’s say you are all honest people for a moment, even the ease and convenience of buying online is more than worth it. Think about the time spent shopping and the gas to drive to and from the stores. When you purchase online you can often have an item shipped to your front door free of charge. Not to mention the ease of price comparison. With the click of a few buttons I can find the cheapest place to purchase anything I want, whether that is from an online or local brick-and-mortar store.

Last but certainly not least, timing is everything! Some states offer a sales tax reprieve one day only. Unfortunately my state is not one of them, but many do participate in this economically stimulating day. Just think of all the people who get sales on this one day that would’ve lost them to an online retailer otherwise. I personally see this day growing to be the next Black Friday trend, especially as sales tax rates (and most other tax rates for that matter) get higher every few years. Timing also plays an important factor when considering what time of year to buy your back-to-school supplies. October is probably the best time to do this, simply because kids have already settled back in school for a month. You can easily save 50% if you make your child wait an additional month. Or better yet, purchase next years supplies this year, you will thank yourself for doing so next year.


  1. We have three boys between 11 and 16 going back to school. We bought 3 new agenda’s, some new notebooks and… nothing more. We didn’t use any coupons but bought everything in a local discount-store and spend less than 20 dollars in total. Probably we will have to buy some other stuff like rulers, but we will do that when the need arises. For us taking part in the madness is madness. Our kids agree.

  2. Glad to see someone avoids the madness! $20 pretty darn good to spend in total!

    • At those ages kids usually have stuff from the previous year which is great. At the end of the year I see what can be used again for the next year. I don’t see the point in buying “school clothes” I buy them clothes as I find them on sale or at yardsales and such. I always have the next size up ready and waiting and since I buy early I can pick them up piece by piece for cheap instead of realizing some day my kids pants are too small and having to run out and pay whatever price is the going rate.

      • I don’t see the point, and you may not see the point…but it’s the same reason why Christmas shopping is so big in December…if it wasn’t for Christmas we would just call it shopping lol. Same rules apply to back-to-school shopping. Retailers have managed to spin these idea from the beginning of time, and in quite a genius way I might add.

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