How to Optimize Your Back-to-School Shopping

Stephanie Miller
August 6, 2018
Back to School

The summer has already flown by, and the start of school is just around the corner. That means back-to-school shopping is already on most parents’ radar. Whether you’re buying markers and backpacks for your primary school child or a new laptop and books for your college-age student, the cost of fall semester can be significant.

Luckily, there are great ways that you can optimize your back-to-school shopping, saving yourself as much money as possible in the process. Here are a few smart ways that you can make the most of your required school supply buys.

Use the right rewards card. There’s no reason to not be using a rewards-earning credit card for everything you buy anyway. As long as you’re paying off your bill in full each month, charging everything from packs of gum to cell phone bills can net you hundreds of dollars in free cash each year.

You can make this really work in your favor for back-to-school, too. For instance, some cards will offer you as much as 6% back on grocery store purchases (like the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express). By buying those required boxes of Kleenex and pencils at your grocery store, you’ll maximize your cash back. The same applies with school clothes; be sure to use a card that gives you more back on department store buys.

If you need to buy things like dorm furniture and laptops, you can use a card that offers rotating categories at places like Amazon and/or warehouse stores, like the Discover it. If you shop at the right time, you can earn 5% (or even 10% your first year!) on all of those pricey purchases.

Use 0% offers. It’s one thing to buy crayons for a few kiddos; it’s something different entirely to buy college textbooks and first apartment furniture all at once. In fact, it may even put a serious pinch on your budget to do so. This is where a 0% introductory APR offer could come in handy.

Many of these offers will let you pay off your purchases over a 6-, 12-, 18-, or even 24-month period, without incurring any interest charges. That way, you can spread those big buys out as long as you need, and they won’t cost you an extra penny.

Shop through card malls. Some credit card issuers offer their cardholders access to online shopping portals. These “card malls” give you the opportunity to earn extra rewards on your purchases, just by buying through the portal.

For example, I bought my sons new backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids this year. Before buying, I checked the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; sure enough, PBK was listed for 4 extra points. All I had to do was click through to the PBK site from Ultimate Rewards, make my purchase, and I earned a total of 5 points per $1 spent (1 point as per my card agreement and 4 extra points for using the portal).

It costs you nothing to use your card’s online portal, but you can earn a lot more.

Double-dip with rebates. What if your card issuer doesn’t have a portal, or the store in question isn’t listed? Then you can use a generic rebate portal to accomplish the same thing, and earn cold hard cash back.

Sites like Ebates offer you rebates on many of the things you buy online, and just like card portals, you simply have to click through to the site in order to earn. A few months later, you’ll get a check in the mail or deposit into your Paypal account. Plus, you’ll still earn your usual rewards for using a cash back credit card!

Use a card with price protection. What happens when that expensive laptop or sports gear goes on sale in September, only weeks after you bought it? Well, if you use a credit card with price protection, you’ll be able to get the difference back.

Cards like the Citi Double Cash will give you your money back if a purchase goes on sale within a certain number of days after you bought it. Price Rewind (through the Double Cash card) even automate the process and search for you! This makes back-to-school shopping even easier – you can buy whenever is convenient, even before the big sales and crowds start. Then, just file to get the difference back, in the form of a statement credit or check.

If you’re buying a lot of high-priced items, like textbooks or electronics, this feature could save you hundreds of dollars.

Use a card with an extended warranty. Sending your high school student off with a new cell phone or your college-age kid with a new computer? Then you’re going to want a good warranty. Luckily, many credit cards offer these, free of charge.

Some cards will extend manufacturers’ warranties by as much as a year, giving you added protection. Other cards will protect purchases from accidental damage, such as when a dorm television gets knocked over and broken. By using one of these cards, you can save yourself a lot of heartache, frustration, and cash down the road.

Back-to-school shopping isn’t cheap, no matter how old your children are. By using the right credit card, though, you can make the experience both cheaper and less stressful.

Whether you’re buying markers and backpacks for your primary school child or a new laptop and books for your college-age student, the cost of fall semester can be significant. Here's how to save.

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