“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

-Oscar Wilde

Meet the guy that actually looks forward to back-to-school shopping…

Me!

I know what you’re thinking…didn’t the last school year just end? Why is this guy talking about back-to-school already?

And…he doesn’t really look forward to the shopping—does he?

I do. Here’s why—My daughter and I, sometime when she was in elementary school, figured out how to take what’s usually a stressful ordeal…and turn it into fun!

Those weekends became some of my most treasured times with her. It’s a tradition now. She’s already in college and guess what? Our shopping trip is still on our calendar.

So if you’d love to figure out how to transform the dreaded ordeal of back-to-school shopping into a fun-filled and cost-effective tradition—something you and your kids will actually look forward to—here are the 5 steps to follow.

  1. Take inventory

Before you tackle the shopping, there’s a bigger beast to slay—your home. Take an afternoon with your kids to clean out closets, drawers, cabinets, and anywhere else forgotten supplies or shirts could be hiding.

This can be your spring cleaning, done at the end of summer, but can be disguised as fun.

Keep a box handy for stuff to donate…and large garbage bags for trash! Use your donations as a lesson for your children. Others need stuff more than you. Our slightly used items are a blessing to families.

If you itemize your deductions, a little extra work now can save you hours at tax time.

  1. Take photos. Nothing fancy…simply lay it all out and snap a few shots. You never know when you might need proof down the road.
  2. Make a list of items for when you do your taxes. You can bunch your items, like “5 men’s dress shirts in good condition”…”20 pairs of children’s socks in poor condition.”
  3. Next—put a value on the items. But don’t do it yourself! You’ll probably underestimate the value. Use a tool like Turbo Tax ‘It’s Deductible’ software that will price your items for you. Talk about a time saver!

Looking for a place to send all those donations? Here’s a handy list of charity options. We typically call a local non-profit that comes to us and picks up our items. How easy can it be?

Now it’s time to see what you have left in the closet. Take inventory of what clothing you already have, and collect stray folders, highlighters, and other supplies.

Don’t forget to look at things like backpacks, cold weather gear, shoes, lunch kits, etc. Why?

Knowing what you already have means knowing what you really need to purchase. This comes in handy when the chorus of “I want” begins.

It also makes your house a lot neater—especially if you donate unused or outgrown items to charity afterwards.

  1. Save early, save often, save all summer

I’m not a big fan of going all out on a single day or weekend to “do all of your shopping.” Rushing is the same as cramming for a test—sounds like a good idea, but usually fails to deliver results.

Also, making a day of shopping a fun, memorable experience for you and the kids…AND trying to get ALL the shopping done at the same time? Those two don’t go together!

Cleaning and taking inventory earlier in the summer frees you to focus on finding sales through the summer months…

And saving money is a beautiful thing. Not a coupon collector? Back-to-school is a good time to make an exception.

Collect coupons early. Throughout the summer, gather any savings you come across…coupon clippings, membership points, etc.

Rebate apps are another great way to keep costs low, without the time and hassle of coupon clipping. Here are a few of my favorites:

You’ve probably seen the commercials for Ebates, but have you ever given it a try?

Here’s how it works. Ebates partners with major retailers—places likely on your back-to-school list already—and they receive a commission for connecting you with that partner’s website.  Ebates passes this commission on to you in the form of coupons and cash rebates.

Plan to shop online? Ebates is a great way to save some cash.

But if you want to earn rewards without spending a dime, then Shopkick is the app for you.

Download the Shopkick mobile app, pick your favorite retailer, and follow the instructions to earn points called ‘kicks’. You might watch a video, rate a product, or simply walk into the store, and presto – you’ve earned a few kicks!

Earn enough of them, and you’ll be rewarded with a gift card.

Set your kids to work on Shopkick and they could earn some back-to-school shopping money for themselves.

At the heart of most rebate apps, like the two I just mentioned, is a simple trade; Time for Money. Give a retailer some of your time, and they’ll give you some money back.

But what if you’re just as strapped for time as you are for cash?

Give Honey a try. All you have to do is install the browser plugin and start shopping at your favorite online retailer. While you shop, Honey scours the web for online coupons and promo codes. When it’s time to check out, Honey applies the coupon for you automatically. It’s free, it’s easy, and you don’t have to waste time searching for deals and promotions.

If you’ve been stocking up on snacks and school lunches, check out Ibotta; this is another great rebate app that lets you scan your grocery receipts for cash back on discounted items.

Saving Time + Saving Money = Better back-to-school shopping!

  1. Make a plan

One of the worst mistakes you can make is not planning.

On the other hand…putting a little thought ahead of time into what you need to buy saves you from throwing a lot of money down the drain.

Study the kids’ lists and figure out what you really need. Research pricing and decide where the best deals are. Create a budget before you go and stick to it.

Shopping smart is the best way to avoid wasteful spending.

Be ready to spend some cash. Deloitte’s Annual Back-to-School Study states that the average American household will spend roughly $510 per child on Back-to-School shopping this year.

How’s that broken down?

  • Clothing & Accessories: 55%
  • School Supplies: 22%
  • Computers & Electronics: 23%

Don’t wait until Shopping Day to get your kids involved.

The time spent planning is a terrific opportunity for them to learn good financial stewardship.

Include them in the research and price comparison game. Talk with them about the give and take. If your budget is $100 and they really want the latest and greatest backpack, have them help you figure out what they need to cut to afford that fancy backpack.

Look through the ads together. Surf the web together. Give them a task of finding a good price on something that you know you will need to buy.

Side benefit? They’ll better appreciate and care for their belongings…knowing the tradeoffs they had to make for them!

  1. Schedule it

Who says back to school shopping has to be a chore? Make it a holiday! Make it something that your children…and you…look forward to every year.

When should you take this trip? Look around and find when most stores are offering the best sales. Hint: tax-free weekend can be a great time—if you’re willing to put up with the crowds.

When is your state’s Tax-Free Weekend? Find out here.

But, Tax-Free Weekend may not be that great…unless you put a sale on top of the tax savings. Most states tax rates around 8%. So, when was the last time you got excited about an “8% Off” sale?

Probably never.

But…combine that with a 25% discount from the store? Now I’m ready to shop! No surprise, many stores host great sales on Tax-Free Weekend.

Your tax benefit will also vary greatly based on what state you live in.

I live in Texas. The benefit here is limited to clothes, shoes, and supplies—but only if each individual item costs me less than $100. No big ticket items for me.

However, if you live in South Carolina you can buy bedding, pillows, bath towels, and curtains— and potentially save the tax on all of those items.

Tennessee makes it possible to buy a computer up to $1,500…and pay no tax.

So check the link above for details for your state.

Then…put it on the calendar, and take the whole family out for a day of shopping.

Or, do as I do, and take one child at a time. Yes, that is easy for me to say because I only have one child.

If you have multiple kids at home you might take the entire crew out for the basic supplies and then divide and conquer for a bonding one-on-one experience.

If you don’t live in an area with a large selection of stores, drive to the nearest big city and take advantage of their mall. Go out to dinner afterwards to celebrate a job well done!

One more thing – if the mad rush of tax-free weekend isn’t your thing, you can still find great deals. Just don’t put it off until the last minute.

According to the same Back-to-School study from Deloitte, 62 percent of shoppers get their shopping done before August – this means that retailers know to focus their promotions between mid-July and mid-August.

Wait too long, and you could miss out.

  1. Keep your receipts

Before you shop, talk to your kids about what’s trendy this year. Which name-brand items can you afford? Which are out of your price range?

It’ll be easier on your kids—and you—to let them have some say on which of the trendy items you’re going to buy…and which are off the table.

Here are a few interesting trends that dominated 2017’s back-to-school list.

Of course, being kids, they’re going to make a few missteps—yes, the Minecraft binder looks nice, but will it last for an entire school year? Not likely.

I remember a certain backpack my daughter “had” to have. By mid-year that backpack was no longer cool.

If you shop online, look for places that offer postage-free returns or stores with a brick and mortar location nearby.

If you get home and find supplies falling apart or clothes not fitting as well as you thought? Set yourself up for success…

Know the return policies and keep all receipts—just in case.

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”

– George R.R. Martin

So, summer’s coming to an end…you might be thrilled, or sad, or a little bit of both.

Whatever you feel, do the kids a favor and set them up for success. Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a nightmare, and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Who knows? It could even turn into a fun family tradition.

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Join my Email Insider Group. Sign up to receive weekly tips and tricks on finance, education, home buying, insurance, Social Security and everything in between. Click HERE to become an Insider!  Byron W. Ellis, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, CRPC®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Managing Director United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC, a Financial Life Management firm. The information contained in this article is intended for information only is not a recommendation, and should not be considered investment advice. Any references to any specific commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, or favoring by United Capital. Please contact your financial advisor with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. © Byron Ellis