By tamaraThe National Retail Federation estimates that parents of school-aged children will spend nearly $635 per child on books, clothing and electronics this year. If you have a college-aged student, expect that number to be closer to $835 per child. As a mother of four, I can attest to the financial strain back-to-school shopping can put on a family, especially if you just head out and start purchasing items on your child’s list without any preparation. Before you know it, you can easily blow past any budget you might have set and find yourself frustrated and broke. Thankfully, over the years I have found several strategies that have saved me hundreds of dollars and valuable time during the weeks leading up to school. If you want to snag the best possible deals this season, follow these simple suggestions. 1. Have a Plan It helps to know what you need before you start shopping, so be sure to download your child’s suggested supply list from his/her school’s website. Many Walmart stores also carry supply lists for local elementary, middle and high schools. Once you have the list, itemize the required items and the quantities needed. These will typically include pencils, pens, paper and binders. Additional items, such as those on the ‘wish list’ or ‘suggested’ items list, should not be purchased until you meet with your child’s teacher, as he/she may have different needs and may not use some (or all) of the items listed. 2. Do Your Research Once you have a list of required supplies, it’s time to hunt out the best bargains. If you get the Sunday paper, check out the weekly fliers to see which stores are offering the lowest prices. Personally, I prefer to use the Internet to scout out my deals. Check out websites, such as Spoofee.com to review any of the major retailers and even some local stores. I also like to visit PassionForSavings.com. The site has links to specific back-to-school sales and even has a handy tool that allows you to select the deals you want to save. Once your list is complete, simply print it and take it with you. Another great website is WeAreTeachers.com. Each week, this site lists the best school supply deals at the major chains, making it easy for you to snag all the bargains. 3. Hunt for Coupons Now that you have your list and know where to score the cheapest prices, it’s time to save even more money. Keep an eye out for coupons in traditional paper circulars, but don’t forget to check out the electronic coupon deals, too. If you’re not fond of carrying around handfuls of coupons, be sure to check out FrugalissaFinds.com and download some back-to-school text coupons; simply show your phone at checkout to score some serious savings. In some cases, online deals may be even better than those in the store, especially when you use some of the coupon codes found on RetailMeNot.com or Coupons.com, so don’t forget to compare the final cost before making a purchase. Be sure to check out the retailer’s coupons, too. You can often use a manufacturer and store coupon together, which can lead to some great deals. Target even has a new app called Cartwheel that allows you to add offers to your smartphone. Just one swipe of your phone at checkout and you’ll automatically save money on hundreds of available items. 4. Use Other Saving Strategies Another way to reduce your back-to-schools costs is to shop during the tax-free holiday in your state. Although you may only save a few dollars, every little bit helps. You can also save some cash by shopping at stores that offer to meet or beat competitor’s prices, such as Walmart. Simply bring your sales fliers (and coupons!) with you to score the best deals. For higher priced items, such as calculators and computers, consider buying a used or refurbished model to reduce your costs. You can often find some deals on Craigslist or your local pawn shops. If you are a college student, always compare prices on textbooks through services like Chegg.com or CheapestTextbooks.com before purchasing new books at your college bookstore. Buying a used edition or renting books can save you hundreds of dollars each year. One thing I have learned over the years is that when a store puts a limit on the quantity you can purchase, it typically means that item is at the lowest price possible, so it’s a good idea to idea to scoop it up and not wait for another sale to come around. I also keep a sharp eye out for clearance items about four to six weeks after school begins; this allows me to stock up and start the next school year ahead of the game. With a little planning and preparation, you too will be able to send your child back to school in style without going broke.