Back to school freebies: How to save 80% on school supplies and school clothes shopping

Labor Day means children return to school. It also means back to school shopping. If you haven't finished buying for school, that's good. Because you'll want this list of do's and don'ts to save 80 percent on school supplies, school clothes and back to school stuff.

 * Don't fall for all the back to school marketing ploys. Take advantage of sales, but wait to find out what your child's teacher actually requires. Take it from a teacher, many store school supply lists trick you into buying things you don't need.
* Don't buy items the school provides. Schools supply paper, crayons, construction paper, glue sticks, tape, folders, notebooks and calculators. Students tend to waste shared supplies. Send personal hygiene items, hand sanitizer and tissues, in your child's backpack for her use only.
* Do buy back to school sale supplies for home use: 10 cent glue sticks and notebooks, 5 cent folders and 25 cent crayons.
* Do use free online basic and graphing calculators and printable planner pages. You'll save can save over $100 this way.
* Don't buy school supplies from school stores or PTA sponsored booths. They pad costs as a fundraiser. Buy from back to school sales at Walmart, Target or Staples.
* Do stock up on "specialty" essentials. Watch for sales on specific items required for certain classes. Here are sale and retail price comparisons:
--wireless composition (theme) books: 40 cents vs. $3.99
--index cards: 25 cent vs. $1.99
--dry-erase pens: 40 cents vs. $1 each
--permanent markers and highlighters: 25 cents vs. $1.99
--Post-It sticky notes: $1 vs. $4
* Buy extra when durable goods go on sale. Here are back-to-school sale price comparisons:
--Backpack: $7 to $18 vs. $40 to $60. Because backpacks wear out midway through the year, no matter how expensive they are, buy two when they go on sale. Choose larger backpacks for older children to prevent damage from overfilling.
--Binders: $10 vs. $25. Avoid hard shell binders: zippers tend to break. Choose a flexible fabric binder.
--Lunch kits: $5 vs. $14. Buy hard shell or bento box style here and skip fabric lunch kits which are easily damaged and difficult to clean. Buy two on sale if your child regularly takes cold lunch.
--Metal water bottles: $2 vs. $7.
* Do stock up on undergarments. Look for two-for-one pricing and rebates on socks, underwear and T-shirts.
* Don't overspend on clothing. Children grow quickly. Four to six pairs of pants and six to seven shirts are plenty for school. Buy clothing for durability, comfort and ease of care. Avoid fussy clothes that children can't play in. Buy jeans for $6 to $8 a pair and shirts for $3 to $5 each at Walmart, Family Dollar, Target and Children's Place.
* Do check secondhand stores. Selection is limited and prices are often comparable to retail stores, however.
* Do check brand store clearance racks. Here are my best buys: $10 hoodies at Hollister, $10 skate shoes at Journeys and Pac Sun, $2 shirts at Old Navy, $6 swim trunks at American Eagle, $6 dress shirts at Aeropostale. I was able to use coupons and earn rebate points, too.

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Freelance writer, Top 100 Yahoo! Voices, Yahoo! News, Shine, Michigan, Detroit), blogger, teacher, mom of 4, happily married 25 years. Graduated GVSU 1986, psychology/general education and special education. continuing ed up to present. Certified MI teacher. Writing Michigan history mystery, children's Gothic fantasy. Areas of expertise: education, relationships, mental health, nutrition, history, world cultures. Passions: faith, Catholic church, sustainable living, interfaith initiatives, living simply that others might simply live. Working on MA in EI education.