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Back to Fool: Saving money on those school supplies will make you smarter

The last time anyone bothered to check, most moms and dads didn't mind saving at least a few dollars when it comes to spending money on back to school supplies.

As summer draws to a close and kids and parents alike begin contemplating the return to school, the latter group starts to take a long, hard look at their savings account and budget and wonder aloud or to one another if there's enough extra cash to go around when you're talking about clothes, lunch boxes, book bags and anything else that is related to getting back to class.

A big mistake most parents make is not preparing ahead of time for back to school shopping and instead willfully hop in the car with the kids in tow and simply start buying whenever their sons or daughters point at something they want.

Big mistake.

Saving money on back to school is about thinking the process through and going line by line through each item on the list. If you're talking about clothing, you might want to consider, for example, buying from various stores that take in gently used items and sell them for about half of what you'd pay at a higher end retailer. Now, before you start stomping your feet at the thought of giving your kids “used” clothing, you might want to consider not only the savings but also the idea that most of these stores are remarkably picky with what they take and still can boast styles that are current and trendy, and ones that your kids won't immediately turn their noses up at when they see the items.

That alone is worth at least thinking about the next T-shirt or top you buy for your kids. And there's nothing that says just because back to school shopping has become a longer, more drawn out version of “Black Friday” doesn't mean you have to buy an entirely new set of clothing. Last year's clothes are fine, too.

As for the nuts and bolts of school shopping like pens, paper, stationary and lunch boxes, you should steer clear of office supply stores altogether. While they may promise adequate and aggressive pricing, they won't compete with stores like Walmart or Target. Shopping for these items at health and beauty stores also is a huge mistake due to pricing as well.

Moms and dads who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty in terms of putting time into the school shopping process also would be well advised to shop online and take full advantage of coupons and free samples along the way. Plenty of specialty stores for things like lunch boxes or book bags that are branded with particular characters or logos might be inclined to give away a certain percent off if you buy directly from them, and those prices could conceivably beat what the larger chains are offering.

Kids may give you a bit of trouble if they don't have a certain pair of shoes or the exact look their friends have but budgeting still has to play a large role in the shopping process. Having saved hundreds of dollars easily trumps sad faces on that first day of school, most of which will disappear by Labor Day.


Hotel No-tell: How to save money on that next hotel stay

Saving money when it comes to booking a business trip or vacation is paramount to not only your company's bottom line but also to keeping your sanity in check if the stay is directly related to a family function of any kind.

Budgeting almost always comes into play when you're talking about vacationing; specifically booking the hotel of your dreams without the subsequent price that is a nightmare. The easiest path to finding a great rate is implementing the services of web sites that find you the lowest possible rate, rather than booking directly through the hotel. Keep in mind, however, that while the rate is low, you had better be certain the trip or vacation is definitely happening, as most travel sites that help you on price are non refundable.

So let's say you nabbed the all important, lesser expensive room through a site like Expedia or Travelocity, and you're saving close to 50% on the room for however many nights you'll be relaxing at the beach or working overtime and out of town at the same time.

Just because you have a little extra money saved doesn't absolve you from poor choices for the rest of your stay. Far too often the general public and even prudent consumer still forgets from time to time that the savings and common sense don't end after the room is booked.

A real budget breaker when it comes to hotels is the small stores and kitchens that are tucked away near the front desk. These little convenience stops have everything from toiletries to tons of potato chips, drinks and even the stray microwave meal from time to time.

The only issue with the food aspect of these places is the pricing is marked up well beyond what any routine budget or vacation can handle. Paying $11 for a can of tuna isn't going to catch up with you quickly, and that money you saved on that hotel room won't last very long at that rate.

Of course, if you forgot a toothbrush or need contact solution at this exact moment, you might have to suck it up and spend some money. But if it is not an emergency and the item can wait, you'd be better served driving a few minutes away and buying it from a retail store like Walmart or Target.

Sometimes thinking about saving money in the midst of a trip, be it personal or business, takes the fun out of the experience, but let's face it everyone has money on the mind and the more you think about it first and foremost, the easier it will be to come home after the trip and not fret about the looming credit card bills that will follow.


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