published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Biz Bulletin: Learn to control cost of back to school supplies

Jim Winset

Q It is that time of the year again — back-to-school, and the school shopping list for my child gets longer every year. Does BBB have any tips on saving money for school items?

A School bells will be ringing before we know it. Now is the time to take advantage of annual back-to-school specials on supplies. Whether you plan to shop at your favorite retail store or in the drawers and closets of your home, Better Business Bureau recommends sticking to a budget to avoid the common overspending on school supplies.

According to the National Retail Federation, parents will be shopping carefully and making special efforts to save on supplies this school year. Thirty-one percent of families say they will do comparative shopping online (compared to 29.8 percent last year), and they will use more coupons (38.7 percent vs. 36.9 percent), and cut back on extracurricular activities or sports (14.3 percent vs. 10.2 percent).

Many retailers offer back-to-school "freebies" to entice shoppers. Coupons, deals and giveaways are always nice, but make sure you actually need the items first. There is no need to spend money on new crayons, colored pencils and notebooks if all it takes is a good sharpening or tearing out a few used pages from the previous year.

BBB recommends considering the following when it comes to back-to-school shopping:

• Take inventory. There is always that endless supply of markers, crayons and notebooks around the house. Reusing these items can save hundreds of dollars over the years. Consider repackaging, sharpening and cleaning out older, gently used items before buying new ones.

• Look for the deals. Some retailers' back-to-school specials are available for online and in-store purchases. Make sure to check out your local newspaper for deals. Oftentimes, retailers will put ads showcasing the special buy-one-get-one-free deals, and even coupled items like lunch boxes with backpacks to lure in customers. Shop sooner rather than later and save more.

• Set a budget. Decide how much you are willing to spend per child, and include your children for a "teachable moment" on creating a budget. After taking inventory, create a shopping list and stick to it. This will help you avoid costly impulse purchases and ensure nothing is forgotten.

• Shop during tax-free holidays. Although Tennessee had its tax-free holiday last weekend, Georgia will its tax-free period today and Saturday. Shopping during the tax-free holiday period can mean significant savings. Be mindful of restrictions, either a dollar amount or on the type of item purchased. Most tax holidays include clothing, school supplies and even computers.

• Know what your child's school allows. Schools often will provide parents with a list of required items for the school year, which can help determine what you need to purchase. These lists also are available at many retail stores and on school websites. Additionally, many schools have specific dress codes, so keep these restrictions in mind before spending money on clothes the school may not allow.

• Check for refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items. Keep in mind some items may be nonrefundable or have restocking fees associated with a return.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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