Aug. 16, 2006 -- Back-to-school shopping can be overwhelming for many of our budgets, but there are ways to take advantage of special deals and coupons if you plan and research before you shop.
The key to saving is planning.
Before you leave your house to buy new school clothes, backpacks and supplies, plan what you need to buy with your student.
Take time to discuss what your student wants, what he or she already has, and make a specific list of what he or she needs to save money, time and stress.
Consider these simple guidelines:
Inventory your students' clothes: Go through drawers and closets to inventory your child's current wardrobe. Sort out the items that are too small or never get worn at all, and donate them to a local charity.
Older children's acceptable outgrown clothes can go to a younger sibling, if possible. After determining the number of acceptable outfits you already have on hand, you can make a realistic list of specific items you need to buy.
I did this with both of my sons and learned they had more clothes than they realized, and they had plenty of outfits for this time of year. My younger son was thrilled to get three new shirts that his brother had outgrown. They decided to spend their new clothes money later in the season when the weather got cooler.
Buying shoes: The back-to-school season is the busiest time of year for shoe sales.
As a result, stores have many special promotions to get our attention. Because common promotions are "buy one pair, get the second pair 50 percent off," it makes sense to take all of your children shoe shopping together. If you can find a coupon to use along with special promotions, you will really save.
Watch for special promotions in the newspaper ad circulars.
Check out shoe store Web sites where you can print a free coupon for stores immediately after signing up for the e-mail newsletter such as rackroomshoes.com, payless.com , shoecarnival.com. You can also find a printable coupon for Payless Shoe Stores at keycode.com.
If you know the size and style of the shoe you need, check online shoe retailers for bargain prices, such as Zappos.com. With free shipping included and a 365-day return policy, you may save time and money.
School Supplies: Take advantage of price matching for school supplies. Basic school supplies are at their lowest price at this time of year at 50 percent to 75 percent off.
Check the advertising circulars for grocery stores, drugstores, office-supply stores and even dollar stores.
Find the lowest advertised price for every item that you need, circle the item and price in each circular, and take all of the circulars to the closest store that "price matches," meaning it will honor any other store's lower price.
Call stores ahead of time to ask whether they price-match. For example, if you have a Wal-Mart store in your area, it has a national price-matching policy. However, many stores will match competitors' prices if you ask. You will save time, money and gas.
Backpacks: For younger children, the $5 backpacks on sale at discount and drugstores may be all they need. As students get older, it may be worth investing in a higher quality backpack to last several years. Last year I bought both of my sons good-quality backpacks, which are in perfectly good shape for this year. You can expect a good backpack to last a few years and provide the necessary support and padding for heavier books.
Buy school clothes later in the year: Wait until a few weeks into the school year to stock up on new clothes, to take advantage of later-in-the-season sales and to give your child time to see what new styles he or she likes. Do not overbuy, which is easy to do before you see what your children like. Once the school year is going for a few weeks, you can sit down with your child and plan what he or she needs and prefers.
Look for advertising circulars in the newspaper for your stores. Many will have generous coupons in addition to sale prices.
Check your store Web sites for coupons and promotions. Sign up for its e-mail newsletter or credit card to get special coupons and discounts, as long as you pay off the credit card balance every month -- paying high interest charges to get coupons does not make sense.
Check coupon code Web sites for printed coupons or online codes at your favorite retailers.
Check sites and print free coupons from outlet mall Web sites such as premiumoutlets.com.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' "Good Morning America."
You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her Web site at couponmom.com.