August 19, 2011 02:00 PM

Courtesy The Krazy Coupon Lady

Back-to-school season is upon us and although it’s an exciting time, it’s not so easy on the wallet.

But with a little careful planning, you can stretch your dollars and ease the financial pain of school supplies shopping.

So whether you child is heading to his first day of Kindergarten or first day of college, here are some helpful tips from The Krazy Coupon Ladies (Heather Wheeler and Joanie Demer, left) to consider before hitting the stores

Start early. If you haven’t already, try to get your child’s school supply list from the school. Or compile your own list of items (backpack, notebooks, pencils, pens, etc.) you think your kid will need right away versus items (calculator, text book covers, Spanish dictionary, winter coat) that can wait till later in the school year.

Shop at home. Try to find as many items on your list around the house before you hit the aisles. Chances are, you probably have binders, colored pencils and highlighters left over from last year. Once you’ve completed your search, gather everything together to determine where you can save.

Buy a lunch box. You can save so much money when you send your kids to school with a homemade lunch. Added bonus: It’s likely to be a healthier choice. And you can monitor the cost of your homemade lunch purchases by using grocery store coupons, packing leftovers and reusing water bottles.

Get creative. Justin Bieber notebooks are on every little girl’s wishlist. But character-branded school supplies usually cost more than plain ones. Instead of paying extra, host a “DIY” party for your kids and their friends where they can decorate their own notebooks and folders with photos from the Internet or pulled from magazines. Use the same idea for boys by featuring the latest superhero. Not only is it frugal, but it also helps your kids reconnect with their friends before the first day of class.

Shop around. Hit up office supply stores like Staples, Office Depot and Office Max for the best deals. They stock popular items like crayons, glue, folders and pencils at super low prices, which makes it easier to donate extra supplies to your child’s class. Also, check out pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens for great back-to-school savings, especially if you use manufacturer coupons.

Shop for clothing later. Starting the end of September and early October, department stores have to make room for holiday merchandise so they start hosting fall clearance sales. Buy one outfit for the beginning of school year and buy the rest when these sales begin. It really helps break up the spending. Plus, in most states, the weather doesn’t change right away, so there’s no real need for fall clothing on the first day of school.

Buy used. Instead of buying brand new textbooks, scour used bookstores such as Half Price Books and online retailers such as Amazon.com or Bestbookbuys.com for better deals. Or find students who took the class last year and buy theirs. Textbooks are a huge cost for college aged students and happen to be one of the easiest expenses to slash prices. Similarly, when the semester or school year is over, be sure to sell back your unneeded textbooks.

Use student discounts. This really helps with big ticket items like computers. Many retailers offer student discounts around back-to-school season so wait until you’ve obtained a school I.D. to make a purchase. And don’t forget to redeem your rebates. Whether it’s cash or free reams of paper, it makes a big difference.

Stock up for next year. When the back-to-school rush is over, clearance sales on back to school supplies begin. And this is the perfect time to buy always-in-demand items (papers, crayons, folders, glue sticks, etc.) for next year.

For more tips on smart shopping, go to thekrazycouponlady.com.

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