published Friday, August 1st, 2014

Biz Bulletin: Don't break the bank with school expenses

By Jim Winsett

Q: It seems like the kids just got out of school yesterday, and there are already advertisements going up on going back to school. Of course, a new school year means getting new supplies, which can add up. Does BBB have any tips on saving money for school items?

A: 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.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts that spending will be up this year for the back to school season. This is attributed to a better outlook on the economy over last year, and a greater emphasis of schools requesting parents help with classroom supplies. Parents will not be spending blindly though, as the NRF also notes that more people will be relying on their smart phones and tablets to help them find the best deals. Parents will also be shopping for sales more often this year (46.2 percent), and 19.6 percent of families will do more of their shopping online (versus 18.5 percent last year).

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.

Consider holding a back-to-school swap/recycle party. Have your children outgrown their clothes? Do you have extra, gently used schools supplies that can be reused like notebooks, lunchboxes, and crayons from the year before? Get with other families and hold a swap/recycle party to see what you can trade instead of buying new, and help each other save some money. Also, consider novel ways to recycle items to make something new, such as new patches sown on older backpacks and melting broken crayons into fun molds to make "new" crayons.

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 lunchboxes 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. Tennessee's tax free holiday starts today and goes through to Sunday. Georgia also is offering a tax-free weekend on some purchases, but it is only for 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.

For a list of Tennessee's exempt items, visit: http://www.tn.gov/revenue/salestaxholiday/

For a list of Georgia's exempt items, visit: https://etax.dor.ga.gov/salestax/holiday/2014_Sales_Tax_Holiday_Back_to_School.pdf

Know what your child's school allows. Schools will often provide parents with a list of required items for the school year, which can help determine what you need to purchase. These lists are also 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 purchased during this time period. Keep in mind some items may be non-refundable or have restocking fees associated with a return.

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga

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