Now that the kids are back in school, parents are getting hit with all kinds of expenses, ranging from school supplies to athletic uniforms. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on back-to-school expenses, as well as expenses you'll face throughout the school year. Here are three suggestions from our contributors to help keep more money in your pocket.
Selena Maranjian: The thought of trudging out to the malls and strip malls to hunt for notebooks and backpacks, especially with children in tow, isn't appealing to many people. Fortunately, it's 2015, and we have another option, and an excellent one: Shop online. Just about every major store you might want to shop at has an online presence these days, and you can often score free shipping, as well.
A good way to start is by using price-comparison services such as PriceGrabber.com, NexTag.com, or Shopping.com to help you zero in on the retailers offering you the best deals on what you want. At PriceBlink.com you can download a browser add-on that will automatically display the lowest prices it can find for items you're looking at.
Another smart move is checking out coupon sites before completing any purchase, because you may be able to lower your price even more. Try RetailMeNot.com, Coupons.com, or thekrazycouponlady.com or just Google the name of the retailer along with the word "coupon." Remember sites such as eBay, too, where you can also find great deals on new or used merchandise, including clothing.
By shopping online, you can save a lot of time, as well as money, and you -- and your kids -- will face fewer distractions.
Dan Caplinger: Many kids are already back to school, but that doesn't mean that the expenses have stopped. At many schools, the need for ongoing purchases of school supplies, clothes, and other necessary items doesn't stop just because the first day of school is over, and the continual expense of getting those items can task already-stretched budgets.
To deal with these expenses, one strategy is for classes to band together, with parents combining their needs, and then making single bulk orders to take advantage of volume discounts. Often, schools will have arrangements with suppliers to order large amounts of often-needed supplies at lower prices, and parents might be able to work with school officials to get in on those savings. In other cases, parents can work with local businesses to get what they need at prices they can afford.
Some people might scoff at the idea that groups of shoppers can have any leverage against retailers, especially big-box chains with national scope. Yet you shouldn't underestimate the desire for many of these stores to establish a bond with their local communities. You won't always get a deal, but making the effort can sometimes pay off better than you would think.
Matt Frankel: One back-to-school money tip is to be aware of potential tax deductions and credits, and what expenses may qualify. The two most common are the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the deduction for charitable donations.
First, the Child and Dependent Care credit could be worth a lot of money if you qualify. Unfortunately, tuition at the kindergarten level or above doesn't count, nor does any activity considered to be a tutoring program. However, if you send your child (under 13) to an after-school program because you work, those expenses may qualify. Or if you pay tuition for preschool expenses and work during school hours, it can count toward the credit.
Depending on your income, the credit can be worth up to 35% of the first $3,000 in qualifying expenses -- so it can mean a nice boost to your tax return.
The other common school-related tax break is for donations. If you donate money or supplies directly to a school or school-related program, you can generally count it as a charitable contribution. For example, if your child plays basketball for the school, and you donate money for new uniforms, it is a tax-deductible expense. However, if you receive something of value in return for your donation, you can only deduct the difference.
Here's a more in-depth look at these potentially lucrative back-to-school tax benefits so you'll know exactly what qualifies and what doesn't.