Ah, summer! It’s the season of fireworks and fireflies, road trips and rocky road ice cream, baseball and beach balls, flip-flops and ice pops. 

But, just as you’re settling into the laid-back summer routine, retailers start rolling out their back-to-school displays, which may open that pit of dread into your stomach. Supply lists. New clothing. Backpacks, jeans, laptops, and school shoes: It’s endless. And it’s so expensive!

In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, the average American parent will spend upward of $700 per child this shopping season. If that’s enough to put a damper on your summer plans, take a deep breath and relax. You don’t need to spend yourself into debt just because everyone else seems to be doing it. Instead, take a proactive, mindful approach when shopping for the new school year and spend hundreds less than the national average. Let Oregonians Credit Union show you how! 

Here are 11 creative ways to save on back-to-school shopping costs. 

1. Go crazy for coupons 

Why pay full price when you can get it for less? Use coupon sites like RetailMeNot.com, CouponCabin.com, and Coupons.com for percentage-off or money-off coupons that will help you save big. 

2. Shop the dollar store 

Before hitting the big-box stores and their big-box prices, scour your local dollar store for school supply treasures that will only cost a buck. 

3. Get backpacks at Hollar.com, eBags.com, or 6PM.com 

Don’t spend a fortune on your child’s bookbag without checking out these sites. If your child is set on having a character backpack this year, check out Hollar.com for a great selection at crazy-low prices. Does your little one have designer taste? Try eBags.com or 6PM.com for brand-name bags at a fraction of their regular price. 

4. Shop tax-free 

Many states offer tax-free holidays on clothing, footwear, and/or school supplies during the back-to-school shopping season to ease the financial burden of cash-strapped parents. Take full advantage by shopping during these days.  Unfortunately, Oregon does not offer this, but plenty of other states do!

Here are the tax-free dates for back-to-school season, 2019: 

  • Alabama: July 19-21
  • Arkansas: August 3-4
  • Connecticut: August 18-24
  • Florida: August 2-4
  • Iowa: August 2-3
  • Maryland: August 11-17
  • Mississippi: July 26-27
  • Missouri: August 2-4
  • New Mexico: August 2-4
  • Ohio: August 2-4
  • Oklahoma: August 2-4
  • South Carolina: August 2-4
  • Tennessee: July 26-28
  • Texas: August 9-11
  • Virginia: August 2-4

5. Shop on Sunday and Monday 

Weekly sales on school supplies will go live at the beginning of the week — and the hottest items will be grabbed up first. Shop early in the week to score the best deals. 

6. Utilize in-store price matching 

Many stores you may be visiting this season offer in-store price matching or will even match/beat a competitor’s lower price. 

Read through this list so you know when to ask for a better price: 

Staples will match a lower price on an identical item and throw in an additional 10 percent discount.

Kohl’s will offer you the same price as a competitor as long as you bring in the competition’s ad.

JCPenney will give you back 5 percent of your purchase price if you find an identical item with a lower price elsewhere. 

7. Use discounted gift cards 

Don’t start your shopping until you check out Raise.com or GiftCardGranny.com for gift cards that give you more monetary value than you paid for them. It’s a super-easy way to save! 

8. Coordinate with friends 

If you’ve got a bunch of friends who are also slogging through an endless list of school supplies, see if you can work together to save more. You can divide and conquer, letting each friend shop a different store for their best offerings and picking up enough supplies for the entire group, or even offer to swap supplies you already have at home. This way, you’ll be making fewer trips and keeping more money in your wallet. 

9. Follow stores on Twitter and Facebook 

Your smartphone is going to be your BFF this season. Use it to follow your favorite stores on Facebook and Twitter and you’ll be gifted with notices about sale events, plus coupon links to help you save more. 

10. Compare prices 

When shopping for big-ticket items, like laptops, don’t buy until you’ve done a thorough comparison-shop. You can use an app or a website like ShopSavvy, Price.com or PriceGrabber to help you compare prices with just a quick barcode scan.  

11. Time your shopping

For the best budget mileage, learn the markdown cycle of your favorite stores, especially clothing shops. For example, Target offers discounts on children’s clothing every Monday, TJ Maxx posts new markdowns on Wednesdays, and you’ll want to hit Kohl’s between 3 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday to take advantage of their “Power Hour” super-deals.

What’s your secret back-to-school shopping hack? Share it with us in the comments.