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Become the ultimate back-to-school shopper

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Notebooks, markers, backpacks, sneakers... the list seems endless. Getting your kids ready for a new school year can test your nerves—and your wallet. But a tweak or two to your game plan could result in big savings.

Meet Hank, Annie and Liz. These three parents are going head-to-head to see who will be crowned the ultimate back-to-school shopper. With playground bragging rights and a lifetime supply of colored pencils on the table, the competition is intense. Armed with the same list of items and one month to bag all of them, all three are in it to win it! Let’s see how the competition unfolds.

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Hank

“Online aficionado”

A lifelong fan of computers and gadgets, when it comes to school shopping Hank’s first (and last) stop is the Internet. When the competition begins, he immediately starts surfing for deals.

In addition to perusing popular coupon sites, Hank signs up for emails from his favorite big-box stores to get heads up notifications on special offers and discounts. Because he’s doing his shopping online, he can compare lots of prices before pulling the trigger. With this approach, Hank is confident that he’ll come out on top.

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Annie

“Down to the wire”

When Annie goes on a business trip, she always shows up right before the plane takes off—she’s never missed a flight, but cuts it tight every time! Annie is so efficient that she gets a lot done in a short period of time. In fact, she won’t even start shopping until a few days before school begins.

Annie is certain that the last-minute deals are the very best. Towards the end of the summer, she knows that retailers offer major sales in an attempt to clear the shelves of school supplies. Annie is determined to not only win the competition, but win it quickly.

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Liz

“Multi-channel maven”

From cooking to cycling, Liz is good at a multitude of things. Yes, she has many talents, but what really sets her apart is her work ethic. Whether she’s knee-deep in the garden or scouring the circulars for coupons, Liz is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

The minute the competition kicks off, Liz springs into action. On her favorite web sites one minute and in her car the next, she’ll do whatever it takes to get the best deals. As the competition intensifies, Liz is revving up to claim her crown.

THE RESULTS

So who do you think won? If you guessed Liz, you’re correct! Her strategy netted her the most savings. Here’s how our competitors stacked up:

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Hank’s online approach yielded some serious savings. With coupon codes he was even able to get free shipping on several sites. But by not hitting the stores, he missed out on some bigger “door busters” and other sales.

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Annie scored some major last-minute deals. But by waiting until the end of summer, she missed out on a wide selection of items as many places were sold out. Plus, driving from store to store was stressful, and cost her more in time and gas.

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Because of her “do whatever it takes” approach, Liz achieved the greatest savings overall. Every item she purchased was deeply discounted and she was even able to pick up a few extra surprises for the kids. Let’s hear it for Liz—the back-to-school shopping champion!

Want to claim the title for yourself?

With a little ingenuity, you can save tons of money on back-to-school shopping just like Liz. Consider these top savings tips before you get started this year:

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  • Shop the closet – Before you go to the store, see what you already have. From pencils to footballs, who knows what treasures are hiding in your junk drawers and walk-in closets.
  • Buy what lasts – Items like sports equipment and backpacks can last for years and even through multiple children! Some stores even accept exchanges at any time—so when an item wears out, they’ll replace it, no questions asked.
  • Purchase gently used – Many resale shops have gently used sports equipment. Or, you can even ask your friends if they have any hockey sticks or ballet shoes lying around. Kids grow fast! Pay it forward by donating last year’s clothes to a younger child.
  • Be rewarded – Lots of companies have complimentary rewards programs. The same goes for credit cards.
  • Seize online savings – Channel Hank and shop online with coupon codes. If you place items in your online cart and then “abandon them” by navigating to a new page, many retailers will often email you coupons to entice you back to their site (be sure you’re on their email list before you try this trick).
  • Clip coupons and double down when possible – Couponing is an age-old shopping trick, but it really works! And some stores allow you to combine in-store and online coupons for added savings.
  • Save like a student – Your child’s school ID is the ticket to major discounts at lots of popular stores.
  • Bulk up – By buying in bulk, you can often get a lot for a little. Split bulk paper or pencils with another parent for even greater savings.
  • Save your receipts – If the prices on items you’ve purchased go down, ask to be refunded the difference. Plus, you’ll be better able to track your back-to-school spending.
  • Buy used books – Online retailers are a haven for discounted books (some as low as a dollar or less!), or check out your local used bookstore.
  • Try for a tax break – You can potentially save on sales tax if you live in a “no sales tax” state. Additionally some states occasionally offer “sales tax-free” days or weekends which could help you, especially if you’re shopping for a big ticket item like a computer.

Learn more and take action

 
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1 Source: National Retail Federation, August 2014.

Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

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