Online and comparison shopping essential for back-to-school savings

Back to school shopping proves problematic for families

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - WMBF News Today is making sure you and your kids are prepared for another successful school year. For the first day of school, that means having all the right supplies.

Back-to-school shopping lists are getting longer and more specific every year. It all adds up to a very expensive kickoff to the new school year, especially when you're juggling more than one child.

"Dry erase markers, glue sticks, pens, but only blue pens!" Nyree Green stands over the kitchen table with her three kids, listing off all the supplies she needs to buy before the first bell rings. "Oh! How could I forget composition notebooks?! They each need like anywhere from six to eight composition notebooks. It's insane!"

Not only is Green in a time crunch to get all the shopping done, but she's also trying to balance each kid's individual preference. Johnathan Green is heading into tenth grade at Carolina Forest High School. He's a fan of the folders that have some kind of unique design on them. Nyallah Penn is about to be a seventh grader at Ocean Bay Middle School. Top priorities on her list include mechanical pencils and new colorful clothes. Last but not least, Damien Penn is going to be in sixth grade at Ocean Bay Middle school. His school supply list specifically notes that he needs a red, four-pocket folder with prongs, something his mom says is not as easy to find as it would seem.

This year, the National Retail Federation predicts back-to-school spending will reach almost $25 billion. That's around $630 per family for electronics, apparel, and other supplies. And that's the budget Green is aiming for. She wants to cap her family's back-to-school spending at $600 for her three kids.

"It can be a little challenging where everyone in Horry County has maybe two or three stores to choose from," says Green. "With all the school districts, a lot of times the school supplies are not available. So I wanted to make sure they had the necessities, especially when things are specific - like the red notebook is specific."

To stretch her dollar, she got the basic necessities from all three lists online at Staples first. This is the first time she's done some online shopping before hitting the stores. By doing this, she was able to take advantage of free shipping. Green says it was well worth it for the simple fact that the supplies arrived straight to her door and she didn't have to lug them around from store to store.

Once the supplies arrived, the gang divvied everything up. Then they made a list of what they still needed to get from Target. Green says she knew that even though the list only had about ten items on it, it would magically grow as soon as they started roaming the aisles.

After spending more last year than ever before on school supplies, parents are a little more price conscious this season. The NRF predicts parents are evaluating what children really need before spending on new items.

"I want to make sure I'm supportive and they have everything they need and adequate supply, but really?" questions Green. "I mean, does it matter if it's index cards with lines on them or not? Because there's a big difference between index cards with lines and the ones without. Can I get the ones with lines and just flip them over? Things like that. I just think it's an excess at this point and it's unnecessary."

The family took advantage of the sales tax-free weekend. But that doesn't mean if you didn't shop that weekend that you have to settle for full price now. WMBF News checked Walmart, Staples, and Target on some of the basic back-to-school necessities. For some, you can find the same deal at all stores. Composition notebooks rang in at 50 cents each for all three stores. For other items, there was a bit of a difference in price. A 10-pack of black BIC pens ranged from $1.00 at Staples, to $1.39 at Target, to $1.73 at Walmart. It was never consistent which store might have the lower price depending on the item.

So the best advice from retail experts is to make your list, check multiple stores online first, and buy what you don't mind waiting to be shipped. Then pick one store to head out to for the rest.

The Green family spent around 45 minutes in Target, filling the shopping cart. And Damien finally found that elusive red, four-pocket folder with prongs.

For back-to-school supplies, a lot of the best deals will only be found in the stores, like 50 cents for composition notebooks. That deal doesn't work online. Once you're at the store, have your smartphone ready to double-check prices on more expensive items, like scientific calculators. If you have proof it's cheaper somewhere else, always ask if the store will price match, or ask if the store has a coupon that will help with that specific item.

Green spent $122.79 at Target. Add that to her online Staples purchases, she spent $331.41 on school supplies. She also budgeted $300 for new clothes and shoes that she plans on buying after school starts. That puts her family right on par with the national average.

You'll save money if you time your purchases. Retailers are offering more deals the closer we get to school starting. So back-to-school supplies are going to be cheapest right now.

When it comes to clothing, stock up on the summer clothing that will be on sale. You can hold off on some of the new fall styles, because those will go on sale between Labor Day and Black Friday. But blue jeans are the exception. Even though we're in a warmer climate, it might be a good idea to stock up now because those price cuts typically don't stick around.

"I have a daughter, so that right there is another $300," teases Green. "You know, these two boys grow like weeds! There's another $300. So I mean, it's like never ending."

If you're looking to get a laptop, online retail experts at DealNews show that for the past two summers, laptop prices drop an extra 8 to 25 percent in August and early September.

An item that you should probably hold off on includes a TV for that college-bound student. TV prices typically drop a little in the last week of August.

If you time your purchases out, you can also time your payments out. "Another option is to put stuff on layaway. You can just pay on it throughout the year. And some stores, depending on whenever you pick them up, would give you the sale price if one was available."

But the shopping pros also warn, make sure you're not buying too much all at once. Green's kids will be the first to tell you, a lot of those supplies go missing or unused by the end of the year. Green says she takes that supply list with a grain of salt. She creates her own supply reserves for when supplies run low in the middle of the year.

"I get stuff and I kind of portion it out to them throughout the school year. And then I have my own little stash. Oh what do ya know! I have an extra composition notebook!"

If you're looking to make your shopping list before hitting the stores, click here to find all the different Horry County School District supply lists.

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