It's that time of year again -- back to school -- which means families everywhere are heading out, stocking up and forking over fistfuls of money on everything from pencils to peanut butter. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family spends $550 on school supplies each fall, making this time of year -- second only to Christmas -- for total consumer spending.
Make a list and set your budget
* Know what you need to buy and how much is available to spend before a shopping trip.
* 85% of people plan to spend less -- but if the average is nearly $550 -- what does that truly mean for you and your family -- $200, $300? Having a defined back-to-school budget and sticking to it is helpful
* Back-to-school time is perfect to begin teaching your children about budgeting habits. Before you go out to restock on school supplies or clothes, work with your child to craft a budget. When you're shopping, work as a team to find the best deals. If you have money left over, reward your good work with a small treat or put the extra money into a rainy day fund.
Cash or Credit?
* If you pay off your bills each month, you may want to use credit and get rewarded for your back to school purchases. Certain websites can help you find cards offering the best rewards points, and you can narrow down results by the types of rewards you want to earn, whether you want cash back, points at your favorite retail stores, or miles.
* Is your credit card earning you an A in savings? To find out which card is right for your unique spending habits, visit the site.
* If your child is heading off to college, getting them a credit card to start building good credit isn't a bad idea, and often there are special accounts for college kids.
Get Connected on the Cheap
* If your child is old enough, consider joining a family plan so everyone can stay connected, especially when the carpool plans fall through or games get cancelled.
Buy Books Online
* Look online to find the most affordable books. Textbook rental companies are becoming more popular and economical; they can be rented for up to 80% off the price at college bookstores on some websites.
* If you're close enough to school, have your kids walk or ride bikes with their friends. Otherwise, take the school bus or start your own carpool. You'll be astonished by the amount of money you'll save on gas and be able to put toward things for your family.
Save on Sports
* If your son or daughter is planning on starting a new sport this year, try to find a deal on equipment. Contact graduating athletes or family friends to see if they have an extra lacrosse stick or baseball glove that they would be willing to part with. Plus, if your child is trying something for the first time, make sure they like the sport before buying the newest equipment.
Only Buy What You Need
* Once you're in the store, all those fun extras can be tempting -- colored pens, locker accessories, self-stick notes, the list stretches on and on -- but chances are, your back to school budget doesn't. To avoid overspending, determine how you'll handle your child's requests for non-essentials before you head out to shop.
Some Ways to Handle Your Child's Requests:
* Allow one extra purchase
* Have your child foot the bill for anything that's not on the list
* Have your child pay the difference between what you're willing to buy and what they want to buy
Buy This Now, Buy That Later
* Some stores actually raise their prices on popular back-to-school items before school starts, so only pick up the essentials and get everything else a couple weeks later.
* Search for school bargains all year. Why wait until September to purchase notebooks, pens and clothing? You can spread out your spending and get great deals if you're on the look-out all year long, instead of dropping hundreds of dollars in August. While school supplies are generally cheaper during back to school, clothing sales go on throughout the year, many times with better deals than during back-to-school season.
Take Advantage of Tax-Free Holidays
* Many states offer tax-free holidays around the start of the school year. Find out if your state has one planned; and if it does, be sure to take advantage of it. Shopping on the right day could take as much as 10% off of your back to school tab.
Tips courtesy of Bill Shrink