Back-to-school budgets are taking a hit this year. The average family will spend $548.72 for school supplies, down 8 percent from last year's average tab of $597.74, according to the National Retail Federation. We can cut costs even more with a few strategies. "Advanced planning, careful shopping and a little research can go a long way in helping you stay within your budget," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Here are a few tips:
Shop at home. Before going to the mall or shopping online, take stock of the supplies in your home. There may be usable supplies from past school years. My home stash includes binders, almost-new spiral notebooks and pencils.
Use your ZIP code. Visit a store's Web site and type in your ZIP code to find deals in your neighborhood. In my neighborhood, back-to-school specials include a set of four glue sticks for 20 cents, compasses for a nickel each and packages of ruled index cards for a quarter each. Web sites also offer coupons that can be printed and used in local stores.
Create a clothing exchange. Have a back-to-school party. Party favors include bags of outgrown school uniforms and fall clothing, which can circulate during the party or within a circle of friends. Your cast-off clothing could fill a gap in another family's school wardrobe. It's an easy way to save money and to recycle.
Check out the dollar store. In the Miami area, some Family Dollar stores sell school uniform pants for $5 a pair. Other dollar stores sell pencils, notebooks and crayons. Local consignment shops and thrift stores may also have back-to-school sections with bargain prices, according to Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
Go to school. As a fundraiser, our local PTA sells school supplies at competitive prices. These sales can save time, money and gas. Some PTAs, for example, will bundle and package a complete set of supplies based on a class list or let you browse through their supplies.
Study price-match policies. Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples have price-matching policies, and if you bring in a flier with a lower price from a competitor, those stores will match other advertised prices.