Save money on back-to-school

While it's only mid-July, it might not be a bad idea for people across the country to start thinking about the ways in which they're going to approach their back-to-school shopping efforts. Most people don't get started with this until mid-August, and while kids and parents alike might think that's a long time from now, a few weeks of doing prep work here and there could end up saving consumers a lot of money.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they go shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies is that they buy stuff for their kids that aren't actually needed, according to U.S. News and World Report. For instance, stocking up on notebooks and pencils might seem like a good idea - because what school kids don't need those? - but in many cases, families probably have plenty from last year left over, even if it's notebooks that were only partially filled before the end of the year, or pencils that are half-used. Checking a kid's backpack before going shopping to see what they might have left over could end up saving a decent amount of money right off the bat.

Getting smarter about the process
Another wise thing for parents to do before going shopping, as with groceries, is making a list, the report said. Once they've checked backpacks to make sure there are ample supplies on hand from last year, they will usually have a better idea of what they do and don't need. From there, a list can be made with relative ease - especially if schools send along their own lists of required supplies for the year - because then a parent will know exactly what to buy. This avoids impulse purchases and prevents them from buying too much or items that are more expensive than they need to be.

Avoid the stores
Finally, in a tip that many parents have learned on their own in the last few years, it's almost always better to shop for supplies online than in stores, the report said. That's because online retailers don't have the kinds of markups that brick-and-mortar retailers often do, and usually there are a number of sites that people can use to compare prices to find the best deals possible. Those can also often be paired with discounts that help to further improve the value most shoppers will get.

This may not always work with clothes - it is, after all, tough to judge sizes online - but even if families go to the mall or a big store to try on clothes - they might be able to find a discount by going home and buying online later, the report said. This may be a slight inconvenience, but the net value of doing so could stretch into the hundreds of dollars.

Saving that kind of money can also go a long way for families that are struggling financially. Freeing up that much could allow them to significantly reduce their outstanding debts or increase their emergency savings.

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