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4 Costly Mistakes Parents Make During Back-to-School Shopping

posted on Friday, August 4, 2017 in Education

Every year around this time harried parents flood into stores, determined to, for once, get all the back-to-school items their kids need without dropping hundreds of dollars. And every year, millions of them fail.

Parents are shelling out more cash than ever getting their kids ready for school: In the past 10 years, spending on back-to-school items has increased more than 40% on average, according to the National Retail Federation — thanks, in part, to higher spending on technology.

Last year, parents dropped a whopping $814 on average on back-to-school items (though this is down slightly from a year prior). They spent roughly $104 just on basic school supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes; another $346 on technology like laptops and computer accessories; and an additional $364 on clothing and shoes, according to the NRF.

Some of this spending is, of course, inevitable. Children, after all, can’t very well attend class without the basics like pens and pencils. But many parents are spending too much simply because they make some critical errors while shopping. Here are four:

Mistake No. 1: Shopping at the wrong places

Many parents assume the dollar store has the lowest prices on school supplies, but experts say this often isn’t true. “Picking up supplies for $1 each may seem like a smart move, but their prices can’t beat those loss-leader offers from top retailers,” says Kendal Perez, a savings expert with

Watch for sales, often items like pens, pencils and notebooks at loss-leader prices as low as 10 cents, Perez adds.

Mistake No. 2: Ignoring price drops after purchase

While it feels good to wash your hands of back-to-school shopping, savvy consumers know that you can get savings even after you swipe your card at the register. “Request price adjustments,” says consumers savings expert Andrea Woroch. “Most stores will give you the difference if something you buy goes down in price shortly after your purchase date.” While this may be too annoying to do on small items like pens or folders, it is “especially smart on big ticket purchases like laptops and tablets,” she says.

Mistake No. 3: Buying all the school supplies the teacher asked for

Roughly three in four teachers or schools now provide students with a list of supplies to purchase before the school year begins, according to research firm The NPD Group. And while these lists can be helpful, “don’t assume your student needs absolutely everything on the list for his or her first day of class,” says Perez. Indeed, instead of buying all the supplies before school even starts, it may pay to wait until after school starts (at least for some items that you aren’t sure your child will need or items he seems not to use each year) to make sure they really need those items, says Brent Shelton of deal aggregator

Mistake No. 4: Shopping too early in the summer

Fully 15% of parents say they start back-to-school shopping more than two months before school starts, according to the National Retail Federation, but that can be costly, experts say. “Shopping early (in July) for back-to-school is typically a bad idea from a budget perspective,” says Perez. “The best savings arrive in August.” The office supply and big box stores begin offering massive sales on these items at this time, she says.

While August is a great time to purchase basic school supplies like pens and notebooks, you should wait to buy other things: “Columbus Day in October is a good time to shop for denim and fall apparel since these items have been on store shelves for around two months and retailers start discounting them to make way for winter clothing, outerwear and boots.” says Perez. “Expect savings of 40% off or more, and look for additional discounts as the season progresses.” For tech gadgets like laptops, wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, if possible, she adds.


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