NerdWallet’s Guide to 2015 Back-to-School Shopping

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Homework can be hard, but shopping for school doesn’t have to be.

Before the new school year gets started, we have the low down on everything you need to know about back-to-school shopping. From when to shop to what to buy, our complete 2015 school shopping guide has you set from cover to cover.

When to shop

While you might  want to jump at the first sight of those brightly colored backpacks and shiny new notebooks, you actually shouldn’t buy these school essentials as soon as they hit the shelves.

To get the most pencils and pens for your money, try shopping in August, or even early in September. In general, the later into the season you wait, the more likely you’ll be to see lower prices, as retailers will be more eager to unload inventory.

When it comes to apparel, that fresh new wardrobe may have to wait. Fall clothing — including jeans — likely won’t be discounted until later in the season.

What to buy

You’ll likely receive lists of required items from your school or teachers, which you can use as a guide. If you’re operating on a budget, wait until the first few days or weeks of school to get an idea of which items are truly required for which classes.

Or, for a general idea of what to buy beforehand, check out retail stores such as Office Depot, which has compiled a standard school supply list for its customers.

We put together our own typical back-to-school checklist that you can use as a starting point. Tailor this list according to you (or your child’s) age, grade and specific classroom needs:

  • Backpack or bookbag
  • Lunchbox
  • Notebook/binder
  • Folder(s)
  • Calculator
  • Pencils
  • Pens (black, blue and red)
  • Markers/colored pencils/crayons
  • Scissors
  • Planner

These items aren’t necessities, but some extra supplies that may come in handy include:

  • Post-it notes
  • Highlighters
  • Locker organizer
  • USB flash drive
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • Index cards

How to save

Between the new fall outfits and the desk full of office supplies, back-to-school shopping can certainly add up. Follow these money-saving tips to subtract some of the expense from your academic budget.

  • Shop online. Compared to impulse buying in the store, shopping online gives you more of a chance to calculate costs, cross-compare between retailers and search for any relevant coupon codes. Plus, if you can snag all of your supplies from the same store, you may be able to reach the retailer’s minimum threshold for free shipping.
  • Price match. When possible, try to price match your way to a great deal. If you see an identical product on sale for a cheaper price at a competitor, ask the store you’re shopping at to match the price. As always, you’ll want to check the fine print of a retailer’s price-matching policy to see which products qualify.
  • Follow, like and share. Sometimes social media is the best way to save money. Follow your favorite stores on their social media pages. You never know when there will be a coupon released or announced via Facebook or Twitter.

Where to start

Whenever you’re reading to start shopping (and saving), we’ve compiled a list of back-to-school-friendly retailers to guide your search. Here you’ll find affordable prices on the products you need.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.


Image via iStock.