The art of back-to-school shopping
by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com
Jul 31, 2011 | 3163 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prices are up. The economy is down. With a new school year right around the corner, school supply lists seem longer than ever.

While it may be tempting to comb the circulars for the best deal on Bics and off-brand notebooks, keep in mind that sometimes a notebook is not just a notebook. Sometimes it is a deeply personal expression of one’s sense of self. Especially if it is one’s first day back to school.

A bedazzled backpack displaying the beaming cast of Nickelodeon’s iCarly may run as much as a college fund payment, but to its proud owner it does more than hold books. It tells the other fourth-grade girls: I am unique. I am valid. I like iCarly.

Sure, the hologram notebook that shows Spiderman scaling tall buildings with a single tilt costs roughly the same as five of those marbled composition books, but can those composition books adequately represent a young man on his first day of first grade? A Spidey notebook says: “Chapter books? Let’s do this.”

So how can parents stay on budget without stunting the budding individuality of their offspring? Read on.

1. A little iCarly goes a long way

If an iCarly backpack says, “I am unique and valid,” then an iCarly backpack, lunchbox, daily planner, tab dividers and pencil case say, “I’m not saying my parents spoil me, but I’m not saying they don’t, either.”

Instead of tween theme overkill, let kids pick one or two high-profile items to splurge on, like a backpack or three-ring binder, and pinch pennies on the rest of the list. No adolescent girl ever had her identity squelched by starting school without iCarly magnetic locker wallpaper. (However, for those that disagree, it is available at Walmart.)

If the budget is too tight to squeeze in even an expressive pencil-top eraser, a new trend may be the answer: design-it-yourself school supplies. Rose Art’s Make it Mine collection sells at Target for $3 apiece. Mead’s Doodle collection at K-Mart has items as low as $1-$2.

2. You better shop around

Back-to-school shopping has been described as second only to Christmas in sales figures.

Just as in the busiest shopping season of the year, retailers court shoppers by trying to outdo each other in the weekly circulars. With a little planning and an afternoon of store-hopping, bargain hunters can snag most classroom staples for well under a dollar.

Each week, Office Max features school supplies for a penny and buy-this-get-that-free deals. Past deals have included a free 64-pack of crayons with a Crayola markers purchase.

Walgreens has advertised Elmer’s glue sticks for 29 cents, No. 2 pencils for 19 cents and highlighters for nine cents.

Over at Fred’s Discount Store, one-subject notebooks go four for a dollar.

Along Walmart’s rows of yellow bins filled with deals, the low price leader is quick to remind shoppers that it will match any competitor’s price.

3. To shop tax-free or not to shop tax-free

The weekend of Aug. 5, Alabama’s tax-free holiday will give shoppers three days to purchase school supplies and qualifying clothing and electronics without paying sales tax, as high as 10 percent in parts of Calhoun County.

With most area schools starting back Aug. 8, weekend shoppers may have to fight an odd assortment of frugal parents taking advantage of the tax break, along with procrastinators scrambling to find everything at the last minute.

For those that like the challenge of bare shelves, surging crowds and a clock that’s closing in (probably the same folks who spend Christmas Eve at Quintard Mall), savings of $10 or less on every $100 spent may be incentive enough.

For everyone else, it may be worth asking if the savings in sales tax will surpass the savings from the circular deals snapped up by early birds.
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The art of back-to-school shopping by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com

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