Shopping for school supplies, electronics and clothing can be a chore — and an expensive one at that.
Families with children in grades K-12 plan to spend an average of $687.72 on back-to-school shopping, about $14 more than last year’s average of $673.57, according to the National Retail Federation. College students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88, or about $82 more than last year’s $887.71 average.
Incentives such as discounts and free shipping make online shopping an attractive option.
“Retailers are trying to cater to everything that will make the consumer happy,” says Ana Serafin Smith, senior director of media relations at the NRF.
Here’s a lesson on saving when back-to-school shopping online.
Go bargain hunting
You wouldn’t want to buy a pack of notebooks only to spot the same item elsewhere for half the cost. Fend off buyer’s remorse by shopping around before you click the “order” button. Google Shopping can help you compare the costs of items on your list between retailers, or find coupons with a browser extension like Honey. Remember to factor shipping costs into the comparison.
Ask for a price match
If you find separate retailers selling an identical item at different prices, or if there’s a discrepancy between the same retailer’s prices in store and online, ask the site with the higher price for a reduction.
Retailers with price-matching policies — including Target, Best Buy and Newegg — will honor a competitor’s lower advertised price or reimburse you the difference on eligible items if you can provide proof of the amount within a specific time frame. At Staples, you’ll get the lower price plus 10% of the difference. Call the retailer’s customer service number for help price matching your online order.
Pursue student discounts
Students — and sometimes parents, faculty and staff — can save or score freebies by shopping on sites with student discounts or promotions. For example, Apple is discounting select Macs by up to $300 and the iPad Pro by up to $20, plus throwing in wireless Beats headphones for free with eligible purchases through Sept. 25. Check other retailers or student discount networks like Unidays for deals on electronics, supplies, clothing and more.
Buy online, pick up in store
If you order back-to-school supplies online and pick them up in store, many retailers will give you free shipping or order discounts, or will send you a coupon for a future purchase. On Walmart’s website, look for items marked “free pick up and discount”: At the time of this writing, we spotted an Acer touchscreen laptop for $251.65 with a $67.93 pickup discount, lowering the price to $183.72.
Rent materials or buy used
Newer isn’t necessarily better, at least not for your wallet. You can save on textbooks, calculators, clothing and other back-to-school staples by renting or buying them used. Explore options and pricing on sites such as Chegg, Amazon and Poshmark.
Bypass sales tax
This year, more than a dozen states are waiving sales tax on eligible back-to-school items — such as clothing, books and laptops under a certain amount — during sales tax holidays. Some areas waive local sales tax, too. These events typically last for a few days in late July or early August, both in stores and online. For example, Ohio and Virginia both offer tax-free weekends Aug. 4-6. If you live in a participating state, consider timing your back-to-school purchases around the holiday, and check the list of tax-exempt items and cost limits first.
You can still strategically time back-to-school purchases if your state doesn’t take part or you miss the window. The shopping season’s peak savings usually last through August into September, closer to the start of the school year.
Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.