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7 ways to save during back-to-school season

SPONSORED –Getting young students ready for school doesn’t just take a lot of work, it also takes a lot of money. In fact, if you’re like most people, you’ll probably spend around $500 per child. Where does all the money go? School supplies and new clothes account for the biggest chunk of spending, with computers/tablets coming in third. But as any busy family will tell you, the spending hardly stops with pencils and new threads.

The good news? Making a few small changes can have a big impact on your family’s bottom line.

Plan now, buy later

If you can wait, most markdowns on clothing, electronics and shoes typically occur after mid-August. Your child probably has enough supplies left over from last year to hold them over until the sales start.

For more expensive items, like computers or tablets, you may want to consider signing up for a price watcher or tracker website. Many sites, like CamelCamelCamel.com will actually track the cost of technology for you. Simply register what you’re looking for and it will notify you when the price drops. The site also tracks the historical prices of products, so you can easily tell how “good” of a price you’re actually getting.

Prioritize supplies

Regardless of the generation, comparing school supplies seems to be a rite of passage for all new classmates. Inevitably, your kids will want the latest, greatest (and probably the most expensive) gear. Before you head to the store, have a conversation and let them know how much you’re prepared to spend this year.

Once you’ve decided on a figure, ask them to prioritize what items are most important. When you get to the store, help them add up the costs of the items they’d like — turning school shopping into a budgeting and math lesson. Financial smarts will pay off later in life.

Purchase items with a warranty

This is especially important for clothes and backpacks. Stores like REI or Costco have warranties that guarantee purchases, meaning your kids can still play rough without having to replace these items.

These days, it’s not just retailers and manufacturers who are offering warranties. For example, Seattle-based bank Washington Federal’s new Green Checking account comes with Debit Advantage — a buyers’ protection and extended warranty program. Debit Advantage is a standard feature available for free to all its Green Checking account holders. Simply pay for an item using your Green Checking debit card and you’re covered for 90 days from your date of purchase for accidental breakage, fire or theft. For items that come with a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty, Debit Advantage will actually extend the original warranty.

Buy in bulk and share

Wholesalers offer great deals on select school supplies. Unfortunately, they also often come in massive, wholesale-size quantities. If you only have one or two kids with supply needs, consider reaching out to neighbors or other parents to see if they’re interested in splitting the cost of some items.

Skip the line, head online

As is the trend with holiday shopping, more back-to-school shoppers are opting to skip the in-store experience and purchase from home instead. In fact, online purchases are expected to account for over 20 percent of all back-to-school shopping this year.

Besides time and sanity, another benefit of online shopping is the accessibility of digital “coupons” and deals. Many major retailers announce sales and special saving codes via their Twitter and Facebook channels that can be applied at checkout. Follow or like Staples, Office Max, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Best Buy for saving opportunities.

Green Checking users can take advantage of $hopping Rewards, that includes exclusive offers, discounts and cash-back opportunities at thousands of online retailers, like Target, Walgreens, Best Buy, Kmart, and Hobby Lobby. How’s it work? Users shop online from a custom portal and receive cash back. Cash back can be applied toward future purchases or returned to you.

Budget your bites

When it comes to how Americans spend their money, food comes in third. Eating out now accounts for 43 percent of a household’s annual food costs. And when things get busy, skipping dinner at home and ordering delivery instead is extra tempting. Fortunately, unlike the other two big-ticket spending items (housing and transportation), making changes to your food costs is relatively easy.

To save money, plan and shop ahead. Many websites offer seven-day meal plans, like this one from EatingWell.com with a downloadable shopping list, or the BusyBudgeter’s $70-a-week meal plan, which features dishes that can be made in just 20 minutes.

If you’re really strapped for time, services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh deliver preplanned meals and ingredients right to your door. It’s not as cost-efficient as shopping and planning yourself, but it’s much cheaper than delivery or going out to eat.

For those nights that you have planned and budgeted for dinner out, Green Checking offers ways to save at local fan-favorites, including Wingstop, Menchies, Via Tribunali, Lunchbox Laboratory and more.

Track your spending

Ultimately, saving money requires action — planning and trying to adjust your purchase habits mid-shopping trip doesn’t usually do it. It’s hard work, but fortunately, the results add up quickly. As you work to save money, don’t forget to check in and see how much progress you’ve made.

If you’re a household with multiple accounts and cards in every shape and color, then account aggregation services and apps make it easy, like MoneySync. MoneySync allows users to see all their accounts in one place, regardless of the account’s bank or credit union. You can also create custom budgets to track your spending across different categories (like dining out) and use the debt tool to figure out which credit card debt or loan you should pay off first.

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