Saving Your Way Back to School (The Magic of Store Rebate Programs)

Did you know that Staples is offering mechanical pencils and ball point pens free after rebate this week?  How about a 24 count crayon pack for one penny at Office Max?  How about free Crayola washable markers at Walgreens after “Register Rewards”?

A lot of people think couponing is some magical ticket to free stuff, but the most amazing deals we get come from rebate programs.  If you’re organized enough to fill out rebate forms, keep track of (and remember to spend) store credit certificates, and always make sure to have your store loyalty cards on hand, you could be in for some great little back to school deals in this final half of summer, without ever buying a Sunday paper!

First, try subscribing to a couponing blog to keep you updated.  I could list a hundred options, but I’ve yet to find a more frequently updated, newbie-friendly blog than Hip2Save.com.  If you’re doing this for the first time and feel a little nervous, check out Collin’s Coupon Newbie page.  Her YouTube videos also helped me out quite a bit when it comes to dealing with cashiers and customer service to make sure you’re never denied those advertised deals that staff sometimes deem “too good to be true”.

If this seems a bit overwhelming to you, try picking your favorite store (for example: Walmart) and Googling, “Walmart Deals”.   This is particularly effective for regional stores that may not be reported in major couponing blogs.  Just make sure the link you choose is an independent blog or website, as retailers themselves don’t always make the best values the most obvious.  Also make sure you’re reading the most recent information.  I’ve gotten really excited about a list of deals and headed to the store with a print out, only to realize I was carrying a blog post from last year!

When it comes to back to school, rebates and store loyalty programs will offer you better savings than any grocery style coupon you clip from your Sunday paper.  The trick is, shopping a variety of stores and spreading your school shopping over these next few weeks.  I’ve found the very best back to school deals are found in office supply stores, however, when we’re talking about store credit and rebates, how many office supplies does the average household really need?  You could get $100 worth of “free after store credit” deals on school supplies, but are you really going to spend $100 in Office Depot between now and the expiration date?  Keep in mind that these stores often sell bulk paper towels and toilet paper, furnishings, electronics, printing services, computer software, ink, etc.  Before you spend a lot of money on rebate deals at an office supply retailer, think of how you plan to spend your in-store rewards to determine whether these really are the best deals for your family.

The other oft overlooked source of school supply bargains is the local corner drug store.  Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS offer all the basic back to school items paired up with great rebate options this time of year.  Once again, this requires a bit of organization, and if you must, limit your deal seeking to stores you know you will visit within a month.  Nothing’s more dissapointing than finding $10 in CVS Extra Care Bucks in your wallet a week past the expiration date!  The advantage, however, is that drug stores are sure to offer products your regularly use at discount prices–you’ll be sure to find good use for your store credit.

This may be intimidating to some, but don’t feel that you must make only one transaction at check out.  Not every store is as “couponer friendly” as the next, but when I’m cashing in on multiple Extra Care Bucks at CVS, the cashiers actually clip them out as they print at the register so I can use them on the same item again…  For example, a box of Soy Joy bars (delicious!) was $5.99, but I received an instant coupon for $5.99 off my next CVS purchase.  (Store credit, you see?  At CVS they call them Extra Care Bucks.)  The cashier was kind enough to let me do three transactions.  My first was a box of Soy Joy bars.  My second was ANOTHER box of Soy Joy bars, then free after using the $5.99 coupon that had just printed, AND generated the SECOND $5.99 Extra Care Buck.  My third transaction was just some random discounted merchandise I needed for home, for which I cashed in that second Extra Care Buck.  This left me with no Extra Care Buck coupons to carry around in my wallet and try to remember before they expired.  Yet, I walked out with TWO FREE boxes of delicious, nutricious strawberry Soy Joy bars!  Get it?

Once you’ve taken advantage of your office supply and drug store deals, feel free to fill the rest of your list from Walmart or Target.  You will hopefully have knocked out quite a bit of your child’s needs with freebies!  Be aware of any Tax Free Holidays in your state.  And, if you do find yourself with excess, don’t forget to donate!  While most retailers have boxes out front that donate school supplies to national charities, even local women’s shelters or crisis pregnancy centers will be looking to support moms struggling with those sort of needs this time of year.

Now, before I sign off, just a quick word about back to school clothing.  I love thrift stores!  The thrill of the hunt, the idea of getting something for next to nothing, fewer resources spent producing and discarding clothing, the way the money I spend at these stores goes to support various local charities…  Recently, however, I’ve noticed that thrifted clothing is not necessarily the deal it was a few years ago, both for myself and my children.  You could blame the increased demand on our country’s slow economy and greater awareness of green practices, but the bottom line is, I now find I need to be even more savvy about thrifted selections.  It’s so dissapointing to pay $4 for a thrifted shirt, find a nasty stain you hadn’t noticed in the store, then run across a similar, brand NEW shirt on the clearance rack of Old Navy for $2!  I’ve lived in four different states and found the thrift store pricing and conditions vary drastically from location to location.  Yesterday, I found that, even in the summer heat, I was able to pick up better deals on fall clothes for my son by browsing local closeout stores and the clearance racks at Old Navy and Walmart than in my thrifting adventures.  (FYI, there were also no great deals at Target and K-mart this time.)  Just be on your guard, and let me know about the deals you’re finding!

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Categories: children, Family, Money, Parenting | Leave a comment

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