Business of Home: Don’t Flunk on Back to School Savings

When it comes to back to school shopping in this economy, you don’t want to fail in Savings 101.

A new survey by the the National Retail Federation shows parents plan to spend less money this year than last year.  That means that stretching every dollar counts. The average budget is about $600.

"If it’s not on sale, people probably won’t buy it," said Chicago KMart manager Olu Balogun.

In fact, savings experts say now is the time to stock up on the necessities: pens, pencils and notebooks, as retailers are slashing prices competing for your back to school dollar.

Nicole Black of says for backpacks and clothes, wait until Labor Day sales or later for even better deals. 

"Backpacks 25 percent off now may be 40 percent off after school starts," she said.

Online savings and coupon sites make it easier to find deals too. Try or

"It gets overwhelming," said Black. will even scour the sales ads for you. 

For one of the biggest budget busters -- textbooks -- the savings trend now is digital.  Textbooks you can read on your own computer could lead to savings. You can also rent books for half the price of a used copy.  Use comparison sites like and  Based on prices at the University of Illinois book store, we found rentals amounted up to 75 percent off.

Your savings often match the work you put into it. 

"It can be saving a few dollars if you're in a hurry or it can be literally cutting your bill in half or three-fourths," said Black.

Here are more of her strategies for back to school shopping success:

  • Take inventory at home first.  See what you already have, then compile your list.
  • Stick to your list.  Only buy what you need and make a budget for what you want to spend.
  • Sign up for your favorite store's rewards programs and email list.  You can earn rewards for items you have already spent, making your next purchase free. Email alerts tell you what items are on sale that week.
  • Don’t hesitate to look in your grocery store for school items.  Notebooks and pens may be cheaper at a supermarket and these stores generally allow manufacturers and store coupons to sweeten the deal.
  • If you find a good deal, buy in bulk for the entire year.  For example, you know you will need notebooks all year.  If you find $0.10 notebooks, buy enough for the year.
  • Remember to check all the free coupon sites., Coupon Network, and Red Plum, are just a few great coupon websites. You can also find a lot of coupons on Facebook.  "Like" your favorite stores and see what special offers they give to "friends."
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