Better Business Bureau: Shop smart, spend less on back to school

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By Cathy Williamson

With school bells ringing, now is the time to take advantage of annual back-to-school specials on supplies. Whether you plan to shop at your favorite retail store or in the drawers and closets of your home, Better Business Bureau recommends sticking to a budget to avoid the common overspending on school supplies.

According to the National Retail Federation, parents are shopping carefully and making special efforts to save on supplies this school year. Thirty-one percent of families say they will do comparative shopping online — compared to 29.8 percent last year. Families will use more coupons — 38.7 percent compared to 36.9 percent the previous year — and cut back on extracurricular activities or sports — 14.3 percent versus 10.2 percent last year.

Many retailers offer free items for back-to-school to entice shoppers. Coupons, deals and giveaways always are nice, but make sure you actually need the items first. There’s no need to spend money on new crayons, colored pencils and notebooks if all it takes is a good sharpening or tearing out used pages from the previous year.

BBB recommends considering the following when it comes to back-to-school shopping:

n Take inventory. There’s always that endless supply of markers, crayons and notebooks around the house. Reusing these items can save hundreds of dollars over the years. Consider repackaging, sharpening and cleaning out older, gently used items before buying new ones.

n Look for deals. Some retailers’ back-to-school specials are available online and in-store. Make sure to check out Yhe News-Enterprise for deals. Oftentimes, retailers will put ads showcasing special buy-one-get-one-free deals, and even couple items such as lunchboxes with backpacks to lure in customers. Shop sooner rather than later to save more.

n Set a budget. Decide how much you are willing to spend per child and include your children for a teachable moment on creating a budget. After taking inventory, create a shopping list and stick to it. This helps you avoid costly impulse purchases and ensure nothing is forgotten.

n Know what your child’s school allows. Schools often provide parents with a list of required items for the school year, which can help determine what you need to purchase. These lists also are available at many retail stores and on school websites. Additionally, many schools have specific dress codes, so keep these restrictions in mind before spending money on clothes.

n Check for refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items purchased. Keep in mind some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with a return.

For more consumer tips you can trust, go to www.bbb.org or call 1-800-388-2222.