National Retail Federation (NRF) figures show that in 2011 back to school supplies cost the average American family $603.63. The school shopping season is second only to the Christmas for spending. With the economy stagnant, and prices skyrocketing, this fall it is going to be particularly difficult to buy all those items on your child's back to school list. However, there are several ways to maximize your dollar, cut costs and still manage to supply your child with the things he or she needs for school. Here is a quick list of easy, money-saving ideas for you.

Make a Supply List
One of the best ways to save money is to make a school supply list. Divide your list into two parts. One part should be for those items you only need to purchase once, such as a backpack, scissors or lunchbox. The second part should list items that will need to be replenished throughout the school year, like paper, tape or crayons. It is a good idea that when you shop you leave the kids and the husband at home. No insult to fathers, but dads spend almost $40 more on school supplies than moms do.
Using the list, you can stock up on those items that will need to be replaced by purchasing them on sale. The list will also help ensure you don't buy more than you need or spend more then you have to.

Compare Prices and Use Price Matching
Read the Sunday sale flyers. The large retail stores change their sale items each week to lure shoppers in. Take advantage of the items they have on sale. Watch office supply stores, they are always offering a few terrific bargains in their Sunday sale flyers. Recent ads offered pencils for a penny and folders for a few cents each. Stock up. Most of the big box retailers such as Target and Walmart will price match. Bring your sale flyer with you to take advantage of this.

Use the Internet and Social Media
Don't forget to cruise the Internet. Sites like Pricegrabber.com, Shopping.com and Amazon.com have some great prices on school supplies. You can call or visit local businesses to see if they will price match online establishments. Remember, when shopping online find free shipping or figure in shipping costs. Shipping costs add up and can dramatically reduce your savings.

Google Shopper has an app the will scan a bar code and instantly show you prices in the area for that product. Several stores such as Best Buy and JC Penney have apps and downloadable coupons. Target runs several Facebook promotions during the back to school season. The first 1,000 people to "like" them can receive coupons or discounts cards for up to 50% off. If you have a favorite retailer, find them on Facebook because many are offering similar savings.

SEE: Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams

Don't Buy Everything at Once
A great rule on buying back to school supplies is don't buy everything at once. Stores have "loss leaders" that they put on sale each week. These stores will offer huge bargains, even taking a loss on one item just to get you inside the store. You may find packages of glue sticks for a dollar, notebooks for a quarter and crayons for a few cents. Grab these up and buy the limit. However, don't buy anything else. Watch sale flyers to get additional items at a great price. While you may have to buy school supplies over the course of a few weeks, these "loss leader" items can save you hundreds of dollars, especially if you're buying supplies for several children.

Also, spread out purchasing your children's clothes throughout the year instead of buying them all at once. Remember, they are going to grow and they usually grow fast. Buy only a few essential wardrobe pieces at the beginning of the school year. Unless your school has a specific dress code, two to three pairs of jeans, five or six T-shirts, and a new pair of gym shoes is a great start. The T-shirts can be mixed and matched if you avoid graphics and they can be worn under sweaters, thermal shirts and jackets when the weather turns cold. Girls can wear T-shirts paired with jeans, scarves, jackets and vests. Be creative. If your child is really adamant about a particular graphic or outfit, wait until after school starts. You'd be surprised at the bargains you can find once school is in session.

Avoid Characters
You are better off purchasing plain, basic backpacks and lunch boxes as kids taste change faster than their underwear. While they may beg for a certain character in September, they will probably hate them by December. Stick with simple and basic items. You can easily embellish them by using stickers, pins, tags or other items to make their backpack unique.
Be sure to include a thermos in that lunchbox. You can send warm soup or a cold drink with your child and it will save you money by not having to purchase school lunches.

Find the Best Bargains After School Starts
The best bargains are found "after" school starts. Stores drastically mark down all those back to school items that didn't sell. Stores have to make shelf space for upcoming holiday displays, and you can get some amazing bargains just for being a little patient. Waiting also allows your child the time to see what everyone else has. The only downside is lack of selection. However, with savings anywhere from 50% to 85% that should make having limited variety well worth it.

SEE: Best Times To Go Shopping


When to Spend a Little More

Special items like trigonometry calculators or specialized pens for an art class are the exception. These are supplies where you won't want to skimp. Top of the line calculators can take your child through all their years of school and even into college. Quality art pens that are refillable will last a lifetime.

The Bottom Line
Finally, one thing to remember is that cheaper is not always better. Generic school supplies aren't always a bargain. It pays to buy the name brand pens, pencils and crayons when they are on sale. They last longer which means you'll spend less on replacements.
With all the school fees, sports fees and band costs, parents need to be savvy shoppers in this tough economy. A few sale flyers, a bit of patience and some creativity can help you save hundreds of dollars during this back to school season.

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