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Tips for saving money during the school year

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

4 Easy ways to save

It's back-to-school time again. This year, challenge yourself to save as much money as you can on school expenses. There are obvious ways to save money throughout the school year -- pack a lunch, take the bus -- but there may be a few things you hadn't considered.

Mom shopping online with daughter

1Use what you have.

Before you go shopping, take stock of what you already have. Chances are your kids have unused (or barely used) notebooks, new pencils and other necessities still lying around from last year.

Those fabulous in-store displays of colorful folders, binders, notebooks and pencil cases are irresistible, but how much of that stuff does your child actually need? Many schools provide the essentials, such as tablets, pencils and take-home folders. Some teachers may request that your child leave the pencil box (and its matching sharpener, erasers and so on) at home where they can't cause a classroom distraction.

3 Really easy ways to save money on school supplies >>

2Shop online.

You'll have to purchase some things throughout the school year, so do it wisely. Shopping online for everything from calculators to clothes is not only convenient, but it's also a bargain.

Popular sites such as Amazon often offer good prices and hard-to-find supplies. Check out Retail Me Not for back-to-school coupons, clothing sales, free shipping deals and more.

Take advantage of auction and classified sites (eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle). Why pay $2,000 for a new alto saxophone when you can get a perfectly nice one on eBay for $200? These sites are a great place to look for soccer cleats, majorette boots, play costumes and more.

Cut your biggest expense: back-to-school clothes >>

3Give thoughtfully.

Considerate parents often remember teachers on special days -- Christmas, Valentine's Day, the last day of school -- but doing so can be expensive, especially if you have more than one child. Your child's teacher will appreciate any effort you make in his or her honor. Some ideas:

  • An apple – This symbolic teacher's gift is still meaningful.
  • A card – A word of thanks lets the teacher know how much she is appreciated.
  • A handmade craft – What could be more special than something your child took the time to make?

Etiquette tips for teacher gifts >>

4Cut back on electronic subscriptions.

More time spent in the classroom means less time using up cell phone minutes, logging on to the Internet and watching TV. Take advantage of this by temporarily changing your family technology plans:

  • Save money on your cell phone bill by reducing your minutes. (Note: If your kid is still chewing through as many minutes, she may be using her phone at school or during homework time.)
  • Cut back on your television channels. You can save quite a bit per month by reducing the channels on your subscription or by eliminating movie channels altogether.

Cell phone plans for your family >>

5Take advantage of free health exams.

Most public schools offer free health, eye, hearing and dental screenings. If you have good family health insurance, you may opt to use your own physician and dentist -- but if you have a lot of kids, a high co-pay or no insurance at all, take full advantage of the health screenings offered by your child's school. Not only will you save money, but you'll also know whether your kids are up-to-date with immunizations and other health requirements.

More ways to save? (You may be surprised) >>

More back-to-school tips

Hints for healthier lunches
Ways to get involved in your kids' school
5 Classic wardrobe choices for busy mornings

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