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Don’t let the second most expensive shopping season of the year drive you into credit card debt.

If you have kids, then the back to school shopping season is the second most expensive time on your calendar; statistics show only the winter holidays are more expensive. With so many added costs weighing down your budget, it’s no wonder so many families end the year in debt. The articles in this section are all about helping you minimize back to school shopping costs. Your goal for the shopping season should be to avoid putting charges on high interest rate credit cards. They only increase your shopping costs with interest added.

What you can expect from the 2017 back to school shopping season

According to shopping authorities at the National Retail Federation, the average K-12 family should expect to spend $687.72 this year. Here’s how that spending breaks down:

  • Clothing / Accessories = $238.89
  • Electronics = $204.33
  • Shoes = $130.38
  • School Supplies = $114.12

Debt.com has some tips on how to save money in each of these back to school shopping categories:

Minimize your kids’ clothing costs

Setting a clothing budget for your kids can be an exercise in futility. What they don’t ruin, they wear out faster than you thought, and what they don’t wear out, they outgrow quickly. These tips can help you keep costs low at the start of fall:

  • Start by shopping summer clearance sales. You may not be able to get everything they need, but start here and work your way up to full price. This is especially effective if you live in a place where early fall tends to be as warm as summer.
  • Spread the costs out over as many weeks as possible. This means that you start shopping early and may not finish until after the kids return to school. More paychecks means more cash flow, so you can avoid credit card debt.
  • Avoid trendy items that won’t stand the test of time. Don’t but into weird trends, like fringe or throwback clothing. The minute the trend stops in a few months your kids won’t want to wear the clothes. Stick to the classics: jeans, t-shirts and solid colors.
  • Go for functionality. Clothing that has features like adjustable waistlines or reinforced knees will last longer. You want clothing that will last as long as possible, so delicate materials should be out.
  • Buy winter clothes later. There’s no reason in most places that kids need winter coats in August. Move that expense to September or October when you have more money to spend.

Don’t break the bank on electronics

First and foremost, don’t cave to your kids’ insistence that they absolutely can’t live without the latest and greatest. That’s just not true. As long as their devices offer internet access and include the programs and functions they need, old tech is as good as new tech.

  • Buy only the basics. Things like better video cards or webcam functionality may not be needed for grade school assignments. Review the class supplies carefully and only buy electronics that offer the basic functionality that your kids need.
  • SmartPhones are not school supplies. There’s almost certainly nothing on a school supply list that requires a kid to have the latest iPhone or Galaxy. If your kids need a phone, choose one that fits your family plan and budget, instead of what your kids say they need.
  • Go for durability. You want to ensure that these electronics last as long as possible. Don’t buy things that break easily; if you do, get a case for it.
  • Warranties are a good idea on a product that your kids use. Just make sure to check that the warranty covers accidental damage instead of manufacturer defects.

Save on shoes

Growing kids tend to run through shoes like water. It can feel like every time you turn around your kids need another pair.

  • Buy multi-purpose shoes that work with a majority of their wardrobe. In general, most boys and younger girls can get away with one pair of sneakers and a pair of dress shoes. This gets more complicated as your girls get older and develop shoe habits.
  • Skip half sizes in shoes. Most kids’ feet grow so quickly that they run through shoes. If you only buy a half size up, you can expect to buy more shoes before the end of the semester. Skip a whole size from where they are now to be on the safe side.
  • BOGO is the way to go. Again, since kids go through shoes fast, getting two pairs means they can run through one and still have another if they haven’t outgrown them. This also gives kids more variety without stretching your budget.

Be smart about school supplies

School supplies can be a giant money-sink if you don’t budget carefully and use your existing supplies wisely. The best rule of thumb is: Don’t buy something you already have. So, if your kids have an extra notebook at home, they don’t need a new one just because it features their new favorite show.

  • By-grade lists are better. Some schools send out a general list of supplies, but then have grade-specific lists that they maintain, too. Ask for the grade-specific list, because it narrows the amount you need to purchase; it also helps avoid returns on things you don’t need.
  • Shop at home first. Check your leftover supplies from last year first and then make a list of items you need immediately. If something can wait because your kids won’t need it at the start of school, put it off.
  • Decorate supplies at home. Instead of buying decorated notebooks or binders, buy them plain. Then hit up a crafts store and buy some bling or stickers to decorate. It makes for a fun pre-school project and helps you save.