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Central Georgia & the CSRA
Shop Smart – Spend Less on Back-to-School Supplies this School Year
August 20, 2012

School bells are ringing and many consumers are taking 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, the Better Business Bureau recommends sticking to a budget to avoid the common overspending on school supplies.

According to the National Retail Federation, parents will be shopping carefully and making special efforts to save on supplies this school year. 31% of families say they will do comparative shopping online (compared to 29.8% last year), and they will use more coupons (38.7% vs. 36.9%), and cut back on extracurricular activities or sports (14.3% vs. 10.2%).

Many retailers offer back-to-school “freebies” to entice shoppers. Coupons, deals, and giveaways are always 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 a few used pages from the previous year.

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

Take inventory. There’s always that endless supply of makers, 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.

Look for the deals. Some retailers’ back-to-school specials are available for online and in-store purchase. Make sure to check out your local newspaper for deals. Oftentimes, retailers will put ads showcasing the special buy-one-get-one=free deals, and even coupled items like lunchboxes with backpacks to lure in customers. Shop sooner rather than later and save more.

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 will help you avoid costly impulse purchases and ensure nothing is forgotten.

Shop during tax free holidays. Many states have tax-free days in August, which can mean significant savings. Be mindful of restrictions, either a dollar amount or on the type of item purchased. Most tax holidays include clothing and school supplies; some, include computers and sports equipment, too.

Know what your child's school allows. Schools will often provide parents with a list of required items for the school year, which can help determine what you need to purchase. These lists are also 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 the school may not allow.

Check for refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items purchased during this time period. Keep in mind some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with a return. You should never assume that you have the right to return an item unless you have checked the stores return policy.

For more consumer tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org.

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Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: www.bbb.org or E-mail: info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org or info@csra.bbb.org