BBB CONSUMER TIPS: Ways to spend less on back-to-school supplies

School bells are ringing, and many consumers are taking 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, the Better Business Bureau recommends sticking to a budget to avoid the common overspending on school supplies.

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’s 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’s always that endless supply of makers, 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.

Make a list. Even if you don’t have the exact list from the school, you should have an idea of what to purchase regarding school clothes and basic supplies. Jot everything down on a list and stick to it! Impulse buying can jack up your overall total in a hurry.

Look for the deals. Some retailers’ back-to-school specials are available for online and in-store purchase. 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. Many states have tax-free days in August, which can mean significant savings. Be mindful of restrictions, either a dollar amount or on the type of item purchased. Most tax holidays include clothing and school supplies; some include computers and sports equipment, too.

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. You should never assume that you have the right to return an item unless you have checked the stores return policy.

For more consumer tips you can trust, visit bbb.org.