CHICAGO – If your plans for this weekend don’t include back-to-school shopping, they should.
This Friday kicks off Illinois’ sales tax holiday on school supplies. That’s where you can buy certain clothing and school-related items at a reduced sales tax rate.
It’s being dropped five percent — from 6.25 percent to just 1.25 percent until August 15.
In a FOX 32 Special Report, we take a look at a few other ways you can save some big bucks while getting your kids ready to go back to school.
This year, parents are expected to spend just over $800 getting their kids ready to go back to school. If they are in college, the national retail federation’s latest survey says it will cost more than that.
“You can take some of the sting out of inflation by earning more money back on your purchases. It really begins by using the right credit card,” said Andrea Woroch.
Woroch is a consumer finance expert. Besides maximizing cash back rewards on your credit cards, she says there is an important step to take before you do any shopping.
“The first thing you want to do is shop at home,” Woroch said. “Chances are you have supplies left over from last year that can be used for this year. Or maybe even just get you through the first few months.”
Woroch says some consumers simply don’t realize what they have left over from last year, or they forget.
By shopping at home first, she estimates consumers could reduce their back-to-school costs by about 30 percent.
“If your kids push back on using stuff from last year, this is a great time to teach them a basic budgeting lesson,” Woroch said. “Show them that if you save on these supplies, you will have money to buy them those new sneakers they want.”
When you do start actually shopping for this year’s school supplies, another expert we talked to has the following advice on where to begin.
“A lot of folks are more focused on saving, getting the biggest percentage discount on smaller value items whereas looking for the best deal on a laptop or school uniform is probably going to be a better use of your time and ultimately your dollars,” said Brian Martucci, Fiance Editor for MoneyCrashers.com.
“When it comes to sporting equipment your kids need for sports or may be a new desk for them to do their homework, look for gently used options through local listings like Offer Up,” Woroch said. “Maybe even buy refurbished gadgets.”
For electronics, Woroch says purchasing one that is certified refurbished from a reputable retailer could save you anywhere from 30 to 60 percent.
No matter what school supply items you are looking for, experts say it pays to do your homework before you buy.
“Comparing prices is one of the easiest ways to save money. It might mean you end up shopping at a few different stores,” said Samantha Gordon, Deals Editor for Consumer Reports. “So it comes down to convenience.”
Of course, there are apps to help you comparison shop — like “Flip.”
“It’s basically an app that aggregates circulars in your area all in one place,” Woroch said. “It just makes it easy to see who has the best sales on the supplies you need to purchase at that moment.”
“In the Edison Mail app, you can literally just click the deal section and it will pull up all the coupons you have, sent to you as a member that you will then be able to match to your online shopping needs,” Woroch added.
Another tip from the experts is to follow the stores you shop at on social media to catch a flash sale or an extra coupon code.
“You might not catch those. Assuming your schedule is flexible, you’re able to run out to the store, hop online,” Martucci said. “You’ll save quite a bit of money potentially by just taking advantage of those sales as they come.”
If your item goes on sale right after you buy it, go back to that store.
“A lot of retailers already have policies in place for this and there’s usually about a 14-day window where if the price drops after you bought it, they’ll honor that price and give you that partial refund,” Gordon said.
So, when is the best time to start buying school supplies?
“When it comes to your general back-to-school supplies, printer ink, paper, folders, notebooks – I would generally say buy now only if it is a remarkable sale,” Woroch said.
“Retailers are in a tricky position because they ended up overbuying inventory and as people have pulled back on spending because inflation has surged, retailers are now offering more sales to move that merchandise,” Woroch said. “So we will see some bigger discounts, especially on clothing and maybe some of those bigger ticket items the closer school starts.”
Buying a store brand for some of your school supplies can also help you save some money.
Woroch says in many cases, they are manufactured at the same places that some name brands are, and you are just paying more for the packaging and the marketing that goes in to a name brand product.