15 Ways to Save Over $500 on Back to School Costs

How will you save?

Guest Blogger: Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach

If you're the parent of a student, you may be looking forward to back-to-school season - and dreading it as well. You're looking forward to it because - let's be honest - you want those kids out of your hair and you can't bear to hear them say "I'm bored!" one more time.

At the same time, though, you probably have a sense of dread about all that money you think you'll have to fork over to get the kids ready for school.

1. Clip Those Coupons

Don't miss out on great coupon deals - typically from 10% to 50% off - from local and national retailers alike. Some coupons come in circulars in your mailbox and often feature sales on clothing, shoes and other back-to-school items - all from merchants right in your area.

A quick web search of the phrase "coupon" or "coupon code" and the store or product you want should yield a coupon that will save you money.

2. Use A Daily Deal Site

Daily deal sites can lead you to some terrific discounts on a range of back to school needs.

On these sites, and others, expect to find bargains on jeans, T-shirts, backpacks, school supplies and more - all at prices that are often 50% off the normal rate.

These types of "flash" sales are usually offered in limited supply or for a brief few days. So be sure to read the fine print before you click "buy."

3. Just Don't Go There

When hitting your favorite store for back-to-school shopping, and the kids are in tow, you'll definitely keep more cash in your bank account by simply skipping certain aisles and sections of the store altogether.

"Tell your child ahead of time that you're not going to go to the toy section or the video section," recommends Joe Dellutri, a Certified Financial Planner and family finance expert with T. Rowe Price.

Those areas should be off-limits, Dellutri adds, simply because they're bound to tempt your kid - or you - into buying something you hadn't planned to purchase. Indeed, according to T. Rowe Price's 2012 Parents, Kids & Money Survey, only 32% of parents said they can stick to the items on a back-to-school shopping list. The other 68% said they wind up buying stuff that wasn't necessary.

4. Comparison Shop Online

One of the easiest ways to find the lowest price on a schoolbooks, reading materials and supplies is to go online and compare prices from various retailers. Check out Half.com, an eBay property, or Amazon.com, to see if anyone is selling a brand or item you need. Chances are, you can get an item much cheaper than you would in a brick-and-mortar store.

5. Avoid shipping charges.

Don't procrastinate until the last minute with your back-to-school needs. If you do, and you're shopping online, you could get hit with high shipping fees. So always try to give yourself at least a week before you'll need the items, and pick a retailer's free shipping option. It's usually offered if you buy a set amount of merchandise, like $50 or more.

Whatever the case, unless you're absolutely desperate for something your kid truly needs, and you can't get it elsewhere, you should decline those online offers of "rush" shipping. Those expedited charges for shipping can run you $10 to $20 or more, and that's money you could keep in your wallet.

6. Set Expectations

Teenagers can have some pretty lofty expectations when it comes to back-to-school shopping. They may want expensive electronics, gadgets, and high-priced clothing - solely because, in their words, "all my friends have it."

So it's important to bring some of those expectations back down to earth.

Dellutri, the T. Rowe Price expert, suggests that you set expectations - and a strict budget - before venturing out shopping with your high school student.

That way your teen knows you have, for example, $200 to spend on clothes, and not a dollar more.

"More parents feel comfortable talking to their kids about bullying, drugs and smoking than they do talking about financial topics," says Dellutri.

But by having money-related conversations during back-to-school season, you help you teen learn important lessons, like budgeting and goal setting. "That will help them establish good habits that will last a lifetime," Dellutri adds.

8. Let Them Pay

One sure-fire method to reduce your spending before school starts is to let your high school student pay for some of his or her own things. This is particularly effective for the stuff they'd like that clearly falls into the "want to have" category - as opposed to the "need to have" category.

Your teen can use holiday or gift money they may have, funds from their allowance, or cash they've saved from a part-time job. Whatever the source, when teens have to part with their own money, they quickly get a lot more judicious about their spending.

9. Get Cash Back

By using the right form of payment when you're shopping can also save you money - or at the least, get you cash back on your back-to-school purchases.

Jon Lal, founder of the cash back site BeFrugal.com, notes that paying with a rewards credit card can save you up to 5% off your total spending. So for every $100 you dole out, that's $5 back to you, or a $5 credit on your credit card statement.

It's not an enormous amount of money, but every little bit helps. And if you do some heavy-duty shopping, say of $500 or more, then 5% of that would net you $25 cash back on purchases you were going to make anyway.

10. Bust Out Those Gift Cards

If your kids are hanging onto gift cards from Grandma, their generous Uncle Joe, or anyone else who might have send them a gift card - now is the time to break out those cards and use them.

Whipping out a gift card that you or your kid received as a freebie and applying it toward your back-to-school purchases is a great way to cut your cash spending.

11. Rent Textbooks; Don't Buy Them (For Parents of College Students)

College textbooks and supplies can be among your biggest back-to-school expenses. According to the College Board, during the 2011-12 school year, the national average cost for college textbooks and supplies was $1,168. Those expenses come on top of the many thousands of dollars that students and their families must dole out for tuition and fees.

As any college grad will tell you, most students never crack open their history, science or math books after they complete their classes or graduate. So since your kid likely won't ever use those pricey textbooks in the future, why buy them? Rent textbooks instead to save big bucks.

Major players in the book business, like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, along with specialty websites such as CollegeBookRenter.com, Rent-a-Text.com, and BookRenter.com all let you rent a book at a flat, affordable rate.

Book rental costs are typically 50% to 80% of the regular purchase price. Once you're done using the book (at the end of the school quarter or semester), you simply turn it in. Just be sure to return that textbook rental on time; otherwise, you get hit with late fees - just like the library.

12. Buy E-books Not Printed Books

If the rental option doesn't appeal to you, you can still avoid purchasing a printed paperback or hardback text and save money in the process. By buying a digital book, you'll usually slash 33% to 50% - or sometimes more - off the cost of a traditional text.

Fortunately, e-books are growing in popularity, along with an explosion of devices you can use to read them, such as Amazon's Kindle or the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

Best of all, many companies selling digital books make them compatible with Macs or PCs, as well as smart phones and tablets.

If you don't want to spend time searching the web across multiple e-book retailers, use a site like Campusbooks.com, which helps you find the best deal on a specific book being sold by various sites.

13. Check Craigslist or Your College's Classified Listings

Many local students may be trying to get rid of their textbooks used in the previous semester, so consider buying your next textbook directly through them for a lower price.

Craigslist, your campus newspaper, and your college's classified boards are a few places to start your local search.

14. Buy Off-Campus

Your kid's campus bookstore surely offers more than just books. There will likely be small furniture and bean-bags, sheets and bedding, college paraphernalia and more. But to keep your family's budget in tact, you'd be wise to tell that college student in the family to avoid shopping on campus.

No matter what they're hunting for, chances are they'll score a better deal by taking their business off-campus. College bookstores do offer convenience and ease of access, but those two benefits come at a price - as in, much higher prices in the store. For serious bargains, go elsewhere.

15. Get It Free

College kids heading off to school in September can spend a small fortune buying lots of furniture, electronics and other items for their dorm or apartment.

Instead of taking that more expensive approach, try having your college kid furnish some or all of their apartment or dorm for free.

They can do it by checking out the website freecycle.org. It's a swap site, made up of people all around the world who want to trade stuff.

So you can offer what you have - or just get what you need - all at no charge. On the site, you'll find offers for free beds, TVs, small electronics and more.

By using these 15 tips, you'll save more than $500 on your back to school shopping - no matter what age your children.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach, is a personal finance expert, TV and radio personality, and the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom," and her latest book, "Perfect Credit: 7 Steps to a Great Credit Rating." Get free financial advice from Lynnette's blog, AskTheMoneyCoach.com, or by following her on Twitter @themoneycoach.

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