Karen Belz
August 26, 2013 9:00 am

It’s back-to-school time! Back when I was in school, there was always the mixed emotions of excitement and dread. Dread, because – duh. Summer is over, and homework is going to be part of your every day. Excitement, because it’s an excuse to buy new clothes (long sleeves that you’ll be extremely hot in the first day, but it’s new and cute) and see some old friends.

Below I’m going to list a few ways to save some money during this momentous occasion – because you can be well prepped without breaking the bank. But first, a disclaimer for the teens and pre-teens: If your parents are taking you shopping, you don’t need to get the shirt by that brand everyone else is talking about.  Make sure to pick out things that are practical, and speak to you. As a representative “old person” I can tell you that brands really don’t matter. And if your friends won’t talk to you unless you wear the brand? They’re terrible friends. Cut your losses now. Moving forward!

First, let’s talk about school supplies. It’s so easy to get caught up in making sure you’re stocked up on notebooks, loose leaf paper, and binders – but some of the best advice that’ll save some cash? Go minimal on your first day.

The reason being: In high school, my teachers all had different classroom requirements. Some teachers told me that I needed a 5-subject notebook for their class alone, while others required full binders. Bring a notebook, and keep track of what you’ll need moving forward. Take a look at the syllabus, and get a firm idea of what you’ll need now, and what you might not need at all. Don’t buy the pencil case because there’s a display of them at Target, if you don’t truly need it.

Book covers have evolved quite a bit throughout the years, but think about giving your books a little bit of personality on the cheap while keeping those edges safe. Consider buying some card stock and glue dots, and design your brown paper bag covers to your liking. Show your creative side!

College Kids: When I was in college, the biggest campus expense was books. Professors often make a list of the required reading for the semester, and you could be spending a good $500 to $700 per semester buying literature that you, honestly, may only end up using for a passage or two. If your college was similar to mine, there’s a good chance that you’ll only get a fraction of the cost back when you sell them at the end of your semester, and possibly nothing if the publisher created a “new edition”. Differences between editions could be a simple sentence change.

If possible, try to get the list of books you’ll need before you’re at the campus bookstore, and see if you can buy them cheaper online. If you have a really good friend in the class (preferably someone who lives in your dorm, or close by!) see if you can split the cost. And while I can’t advise you to seek out an old edition (after all, I don’t know what your curriculum is!) there’s a good chance that the information will be almost identical in both versions. If you go this route, just make sure the pages and chapters are similarly numbered, to avoid confusion for assignments.

Even better – do you have a friend who already took the course? Is the course using the same book? Offer him or her more money than they’d get by selling it back, but less than you’d spend buying it new.

Now let’s talk about clothes. For most people, back-to-school shopping means that a fresh wardrobe is in their future.

Unless you’re a novice with online shopping, I’d choose purchasing shirts online over pants, skirts, and dresses. Typically, with sizes, shirts can be a little easier to predict, and cheaper. Unless you’re completely aware of the store (for example, you only buy jeans at Old Navy), keep in mind that your Aeropostale size 8 may be an American Eagle size 10. While a dress might be cute online, it may be much too short to be school appropriate when you have it on. With that knowledge, one of the most reliable websites for coupon codes, free shipping and general deals is RetailMeNot. Bonus – it’s free to use! Also – never discredit Target. About 85% of my wardrobe is from Target, and I’ve never found tights better than these, for just five bucks.

Never discredit the Salvation Army, either. If you’re low on money, you can often find something great for very little. If you buy a lot of your clothes there, make sure you pay it forward and donate clothes that you’re no longer wearing. Not only will it clear out some closet space for your new finds, but you can very likely make someone’s day!

Parents: Have you heard about Schoola Stitch? It’s a new website that offers slightly-used children’s clothes from 70% to 90% off – and even better, 40% of the profits made benefit the school of the child who donated them. Since children can often grow like weeds, this might be a good opportunity to keep a healthy wardrobe flowing, while helping support education as well. The website has all the basics—except socks, underwear and bathing suits—for kids aged 1 through high school.

Lastly, let’s discuss makeup (for those of your back-to-schoolers who currently wear it.) First, I’m going to make sure you’re all aware of our column Notes From The Powder Room, by the lovely Cezanne Colvin. Cezanne was the person who introduced me to e.l.f., which is a brand that packs a lot of punch. Even better, it’s super inexpensive – so if you’re a girl who likes to experiment, this might be your brand. It’s about a step above Wet ‘N Wild in cost (but if you read the column, you’ll realize that Wet ‘N Wild should be appreciated for its specific charms as well.)

For those of you who are more adventurous, have you ever tried making your own makeup? This list from stylelist.com has ten great D.I.Y beauty products that you can make at home – from foundation and blush, to eye makeup remover (if your first attempt at D.I.Y eyeshadow is a bust!) Again – makeup should be fun, and a great craft to learn if you want to save some money.

What are some of your tips on saving money this September? Are you looking forward to going back to school?

Image Credits: forshiggles.wordpress.com (book cover), Shutterstock (text booksmakeup, featured)

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