By Cherie Lowe
Oh, how I love a bargain season. Black Friday? I’m in the zone. Clearance after every holiday? When discounts peak at 75 percent off and more, you’ll find me digging through each bin. But there’s just something about the back to school shopping season that makes my heart sing.
I think it’s because it combines two of my great loves — office supplies and crazy awesome deals. But I’ll be honest, the low prices can cause my eyes to glaze over and my heart to skip a beat, making me to lose track of my budget and my mind.
It seems like all things paper, crayons, scissors and glue go for less than a dollar in the two to three weeks before school begins. How can you know which bargains are for you and which you should skip? Every parent needs to hit the savvy shopper academy before stocking up for a new academic year. Here’s which back to school deals you can skip and the ones you can’t afford to miss.
Backpacks and lunch boxes: skip
While every kid uses a backpack, not every kid needs a new backpack every single year. Begin by checking the seaworthiness of your current bags. Look for holes that might need mended or places that may need scrubbing or refreshing. Even if your child’s bag is worse for the wear, try to begin the year with last year’s backpack and lunch box.
Even the 25 percent off discount won’t compare to the clearance prices of backpacks in early September. Play the waiting game and score the better deal or if you can, use the backpack you already have.
Folders: stock up
Folders, an essential piece of school equipment for any child, are notoriously flimsy. Midway through the year, you’ll need to replace them. Because they cost so little to make, folders often end up as loss leader deals — or special bargains a store offers to entice you in, hoping you’ll purchase much more. Take advantage of the steep discounts and stock up.
Buy an assortment of plain colors (many teachers require specific hues for different courses). Wait until the prices fall to 50 cents or less (10 cents is usually the price point I aim for). Skip the character or special print folders or allow your child to choose one special folder, keeping the rest solid colors.
Clothing deals: skip
With ever-changing academic calendars, kids are returning to the classroom earlier and earlier in the summer months. No need to buy jeans during the hot months of July and August.
If your child has worn holes into everything during the summer months, you may want to invest in a couple of weather appropriate interchangeable pieces on the clearance rack. A first day of school outfit never hurts, but your child doesn’t need an entire new wardrobe.
Crayons: stock up
Even if your child is beyond their elementary years, it never hurts to pick up a box of crayons or three when they dip to 50 cents and below. You’ll never see these childhood classics any less during the year. They make great gift and donation items. However, don’t exhaust yourself running around town trying to get all of the deals from every big box retailer and office supply store.
Instead, make a practice of quickly cruising the aisles of the stores you already frequent, picking up only the loss leader items highlighted at the end of the aisles. Create a space in your home where you can stockpile office and art supplies for the year ahead.
Locker decor: skip
If you haven’t shopped with a tween or teen girl in a while, you may not even know that an entire line of products exists merely to adorn lockers where books and coats are crammed. From chandeliers (no joke) to mirrors, from carpets to wallpaper, every doodad and kitschy item imaginable lines nearly an entire aisle of specialty items.
Most locker decor can be skipped altogether. But you should delay purchasing even items such as shelves and magnetic pencil boxes. Like the backpacks, these items will cost a minimal fraction of their original retail price in a matter of weeks. Wrapping paper makes a great wallpaper substitute, and kids still can decorate their lockers with pictures and magnets you already have.
Notebooks: stock up
I once read an article on saving money at back to school that suggested purchasing notebooks at the dollar store. The author had obviously not shopped with school-aged children. Every parent knows there’s at least one week where notebooks drop to 10 or 20 cents. Only crazy people would spend an entire dollar for one notebook when you could score 10 for that price. When that week hits, it’s your job to cash in and stock up.
Even if you don’t have kids in school at all, this is an amazing bargain you can’t miss. Buy the maximum quantity allowed and store them for the weeks and months ahead, when even the cheapest of notebooks will cost 10 times that amount.
The notebook’s close cousin, filler paper, will drop to a similar price point, too. I’d buy one or two of these if you use the unbound paper, but the notebook is more practical for the entire family.
Honorable mentions go to glue, note cards, highlighters, binders, markers and pencils in the stock up category. Deals on scissors, rulers and staplers can be skipped unless items from the previous year are broken. While it’s OK to buy more than what you need to begin a new school year, never spend more than what you budget. Something on sale ceases to be a great deal if you dig yourself a financial hole in the process.
It’s my very favorite sale season of the year. Go forth and find great bargains!
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to email@example.com