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I grew up in a house with two entrepreneurs. I majored in business in undergraduate school. My husband and I run a business together. My oldest is headed to business school this fall.  Lessons from the business world are bound to flow into pretty much every aspect of our lives, including back to school shopping.  Here are my best business tips as they apply to back to school shopping.

Create a Budget.

This is first because budgeting is one of the most important activities in business and back to school shopping.  One of the goals for businesses is to be under budget.  Create a budget that includes replacement cost in case your child’s property is lost, stolen, or used and needs to be purchased again.  When you make your budget for the school year, keep in mind that if you bought it on sale the first time, it may not be on sale at the time that you need to purchase it in the future.  Also consider that you may purchase the wrong item, and that the right item may be more expensive than the one you purchased.  It is important to strive to be under budget and have contingency plans in place for changes in your child’s needs, wear and tear, and unforeseen losses.

Take Inventory.

Business owners will tell you that one of the places that they lose the most money is by not having a good inventory system.  Taking an inventory of what you have before you go shopping could save you quite a bit of money by keeping you from making duplicate purchases, and help you predict how much you need to purchase.  For example, if you bought five boxes of pencils last year and have two left over, you likely only have to buy one more box because last year you only used three. Check to see what older children have not used so that younger children can use them.  Before each school year, we check the book shelf to see what books the younger kids need, and the older ones may own.  Books aren’t as expensive as they used to be, but every little bit counts. 

Buy or Lease?

A lot of businesses save money by leasing.  If you have a college student who is taking a course that requires books that they will not be using for any reason beyond that semester, it makes sense to rent books instead of buying them.  Tools like smartphones that your student will want or need to upgrade often can be leased through your carrier and upgraded as needed.  There are leases available for all kinds of equipment, but keep in mind that leasing some items, like laptops, may only make sense if the lease is cheaper than purchasing it outright, AND you will have to upgrade or change that equipment in less than one year.

Get Coverage.

Can you imagine any business that you frequent NOT having some sort of insurance? Think about warranties, protection plans, and insurance carefully.  Insurance is available for dorm rooms as well and may protect your student from different types of loss and theft.  Consider including these costs in your budget so that you are not surprised by repair and replacement costs that are not within your budget.  Ask a business owner what would happen to their business if they didn’t have insurance and something happened like a fire, flood, or break in. You and your student will not want to use precious time and resources trying to recover from a setback. The peace of mind you gain by being covered is helpful when your student is trying to focus on his or her studies.

Put a Price on Your Time.

Most businesses, when figuring out the cost for an item, include the time spent on various stages of the process as part of the equation.  Even though you may be able to save quite a bit using coupons from different stores, the time it takes to run around town or even go out of town for tax free shopping, may cost you more in time spent and gas used than it saves you in actual money. 

Buy in Bulk with Others.

Some companies have opportunities to save more than smaller companies because they can take advantage of the discounts that are available when you buy large quantities.  Small businesses often get together to buy in bulk so that they too can take advantage of large volume discounts. Groups of parents can take advantage of that savings as well by buying large quantities and splitting the cost.  Make a fun day out of dividing up the school supplies by having families get together to hang out, eat pizza, watch a movie, and fill their book bags for the year.

Return or Sell What You Cannot Use.

Businesses lose money by having items that they are not using sitting around in offices and warehouses.  If you buy too much, don’t just keep it waiting on next year to use it. You can get that money back right now. Clutter costs. Save your receipts and return any extras that you have or items that were not the right item.  Before you head back to the store, however, consider if the headache of returning the items is worth it.  You can think about donating the items to your church, school, and other organization, and see whether you can get a tax benefit. If you have a child that is graduating, you may have money sitting around your house.  Gather up textbooks, unused school supplies, and gently used uniforms, and sell them.  Amazon, eBay, and Facebook are all great places to sell items that you are no longer using.

What do you do to save money on back to school shopping? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments.