Back to School: How Not to Pay Full Price

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It's almost time for your children to go back to school, and the bucks add up. The average parent spends about $600 per child.

You can try to save money by buying used, but you have to be sneaky: kids keep score on this stuff!

So, used or new?

School Supplies

When it comes to supplies -- pencils, pens, scissors and binders, there are very few places that have all these items used, so you should buy new.

See our complete back to school guide.

But that doesn't mean you have to pay full price. The latest trend in back to school bargains is to shop for basics at dollar stores. I made a list of 10 items and bought one set of the items at a pharmacy chain, and another at a dollar store.

I saved more than $35 at the dollar store. But, to be fair, the pharmacy chain savings seemed to come when buying in bulk. The store we went to had a 'buy one get the second one free or 1/2 off' promotion on many school supplies, and we only bought one of each item.

Clothes

This is a tough one, because back to school shopping is a tradition and it gets kids a little excited about the prospect of returning to class.

But it can get expensive. You should buy new and buy used. First, get some basic second-hand pieces. Or course, trying to hit garage sales can be time-consuming. If you have a smartphone, check out this new app called igaragesaleapp. It lets you search garage sales listed on Craigslist by the type of item you're looking for.

The app knows your location, and maps out all the local sales that match your search.

I have found a lot of kids' stuff this way.

But shopping in stores is a tradition, so set a budget with your kids and make it about finding those two or three special items that get your kids jazzed about going back to school.

That brings me to the backpack. Think of the backpack as the kids' equivalent of a car: it is the outward manifestation of their personality to their friends.

So, for the backpack, you should buy new.

You'd be amazed at some of the backpacks available for under $10. Online, there are lots of stylish ones for around $15.

Sports Equipment

Finally, sports equipment. Families spend hundreds of dollars per child, per sport, on this stuff. And they grow out of it fast!

One option is to shop on eBay, but it's hard to get a good fit and feel for equipment. A better option is to find a used sporting goods store, such as Play It Again Sports. This chain has hundreds of locations and you can find lot of items for a fraction of the cost.

So, for sports equipment, you should buy used – but with one exception: You should always buy helmets new.

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