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In 2018, families spent an average of $684 to equip their kids to go back to school according to the National Retail Foundation. And that’s just kindergarten through 12th grade. Parents with college students spent an average of $942 last year!

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever tackled the task of back-to-school shopping. School supply lists seems to get longer and more diverse every year, while at the same time technology is replaced with newer, faster, or fancier models at an alarming pace. And then there are new clothes, shoes, backpacks, and all the miscellaneous must-haves. For parents, the annual ritual can be exhausting and incredibly expensive.

But back-to-school doesn’t have to break the bank (or credit union). MAX has several savvy shopping tips to help you save this back-to-school season!

Take advantage of tax-free weekend

2019 marks the 14th year Alabama has offered a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. Beginning Friday, July 19, 2019 at 12:01 a.m. and ending Sunday, July 21, 2019 at 12 midnight, purchases of select school supplies, clothing, and computers will be exempt from state sales tax, which is currently four percent.

Four percent may not sound like much savings, but if you spend the 2018 average amount of $684, you’d save $27.36. Although local sales taxes may still apply, you’re still saving enough to treat the kids to lunch midway through the shopping day! Most cities and municipalities in Alabama honor the program, but you can check here to be sure your area is participating.

Plan your shopping strategy

Sure, shopping can be a fun distraction for some folks, but back-to-school shopping is serious business. You’re not browsing for cute tops — you’re on a mission to secure very specific items, and you’re on a deadline. This type of shopping requires a strategy for serious savings.

Around the month of July, and especially approaching the previously-mentioned tax-free holiday, retailers begin advertising their back-to-school bargains. Although the ideal scenario is that you’ll find every item on your school supply, computer, and clothing lists at the lowest prices all at one store, unfortunately, that rarely happens.

To save the most time and money, take a few minutes to plan which stores you’ll visit in what order and what items you’ll buy at each. Compare prices posted in weekly newspaper ads or their non-print alternatives on the (free) Flipp app. Include online retailers, too, but be sure to add in any shipping costs. Make a shopping list for each store so you’re less likely to get distracted while shopping; using an app like School Supply List ($.99 in the App Store) makes it easy to stay organized and check off items as you go.

Coupons, cash back, and Coinstar...oh my!

You don’t have to be a “crazy coupon lady” to get great deals and deep discounts on back-to-school must-haves. You don’t even have to pull out your clipping scissors, because of course, there are apps for that, including the aforementioned Flipp and Retail Me Not. Many stores still match prices, too, so if you’d prefer to fill your buggy at one store instead of hopping from shop to shop, don’t forget to ask the cashier to match the lowest price from another store’s ad.

Opting for delayed gratification could also serve you well in saving money. Use a low- or no-interest credit card that offers cash back rewards, or MAX’s Smart Rewards Visa Cards to get money back on your back-to-school purchases.

And lastly, since pennies really do add up to dollars, consider emptying your laundry room jar or piggy bank of coins into one of MAX’s Coinstar machines for a fee of four percent for members and 12 percent for non-members. A year’s worth of coins could turn into a lot of back-to-school cash!