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5 Ways To Tame Your Back-To-School Spending

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Every new school year brings with it trips to the mall, your favorite big-box retailer, or e-commerce sites. It's a time to splurge before you're stuck in the classroom.

But if you're looking to tame your back-to-school spending this year, consider these five steps.

1. Make a list — and check it twice
Unless you threw away all your supplies to celebrate the end of the previous school year, you probably already own some of what you'll need this year. Take an inventory of what's lying around the house to avoid rebuying it. Then, make a list of what's missing and ask yourself whether you need each item.

You might want to wait until you receive your course syllabi, though. That's when you'll find out whether you need brand-new hardcover textbooks or can procure cheaper versions instead. You might even be able to borrow, rent, or buy books from people who took those courses previously.

2. Search for deals online and off
Unless your shopping list comprises only pens, pencils, and notebooks that can be found on the cheap almost anywhere, you'll want to compare prices online to get a sense of how much items cost and which retailers offer the best deals.

This step is especially crucial if your list includes a big-ticket item such as a laptop, software suite, or graphing calculator.
Believe it or not, textbooks might be your costliest purchases. The average full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public college spends about $1,298 on books and supplies each year, according to the College Board.

Bigwords.com allows you to compare prices of textbooks and other study materials. That's one of many ways you can shell out less for books.

3. Time your big-ticket purchases
You might be tempted to get all your shopping done in July, but keep in mind that you could save by waiting. After all, July is the peak month for retailers to stuff their shelves with back-to-school supplies.

If your online search yields high prices for certain items, see if you can survive without them until the first week of school. By then, they should be cheaper, as retailers will be trying to empty their shelves so they can stock them with Halloween-themed goods instead.

Another smart way to time a big purchase is to take advantage of your state's sales tax holiday. Many states give residents a couple of sales tax-free shopping days in the summer months. Cutting as much as 10% off your costlier purchases, depending on where you live, could net significant savings.

While you're at it, ask for a student discount and price-matching guarantee. Retailers offering the latter will match the price of an item advertised for less elsewhere.

4. Choose the right payment method
Ideally, you'll have limited your shopping list to the bare necessities, found the best deals, and timed them to maximize your savings. But what if you're still staring at a price tag in the hundreds?

Choosing the right way to pay for your school supplies also can be a source of savings. Instead of tapping your 529 college savings plan or student loan for qualified education expenses, consider better options.

You could start a side hustle and save up for the items yourself. You also could fundraise among family and friends. Those options would allow you to reserve your 529 plan savings and loan amount for larger costs such as tuition and room and board.

No matter what you do, it's better to use savings instead of borrowing. Say you use your private student loans to buy a $1,000 laptop, for example. If your loan has a 7.00% interest rate, that laptop will end up costing you at least an extra $70.

If you have the savings to buy your supplies outright, consider using a rewards credit card. If your card offers 2% cash back, for example, your $1,000 laptop actually would cost $980. Just be sure to pay off your card balance immediately to avoid the perils of revolving interest.

5. Think about the following school year
As you finish outfitting yourself for the coming school year, it's worth keeping in mind what you'll need the following year. Perhaps this time around, you won't be so eager to trash those half-filled notebooks or your empty backpack.

Recycling and reusing what you buy this year will help you save next year. You might even turn a profit by selling gently used books and supplies you won't need a year from now.

If you're an incoming freshman, for example, hang on to your textbooks, as you could sell or trade them for the ones you'll need as a sophomore.  You also could keep your original shopping list. At the conclusion of the school year, use it to grade yourself on how many of the items you used. Then, apply those lessons to the next year of back-to-school buying.

About our Guest Blogger: Andrew Pentis is a financial expert at Student Loan Hero and trained journalist who has been covering personal finance since 2015. He's aiming to help consumers make better money decisions.  Follow Student Loan Hero on Facebook and Twitter


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