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Shopping Daze

Don't lose money in the back-to-school frenzy.

It’s back-to-school time — and that means filling backpacks and closets with new supplies. Shop smart by starting with the annual sales tax holiday the first weekend in August. Tennessee’s 2011 Tax-free Holiday Weekend begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday, August 5th, and ends Sunday, August 7th, at 11:59 p.m. During the weekend, sales tax will be lifted on clothing (up to $100), school supplies (up to $100), and computers (up to $1,500).

Bargain School Supplies
Department stores, office supply outlets, even supermarkets advertise crazy cheap school supplies. Stores highlight “loss leaders” such as notebook paper for 10 cents or pencil packs for $1 to get you in the door. Take advantage of those offers by stocking up on products you’ll need to replenish over the year, such as pencils or notebooks. Just don’t overstock. Wait for classroom supply lists before buying specialty items. Many schools also offer prepackaged supply packs. With cost of gas today, that can mean added savings.

Finally, before you start shopping, take a quick inventory. Your kitchen junk drawer may hide a good supply of pencils and pens, and maybe even a calculator. My sons recently helped me clean out the closet in our home office where we found at least a dozen single-subject spiral notebooks I bought last August. Cha-ching.

Uniform Deals
Along with school supplies, your kids likely need new clothes. If you’ve got the time, it’s always a good idea to check children’s consignment stores and thrift shops for uniforms. I’ve gotten gently worn clothes at Once Upon a Child in Cordova and Southaven (onceuponachild.com), Summer Kids in East Memphis (summerkidsclothing.com), and Plato’s Closet in East Memphis, Cordova and Southaven (platoscloset.com). Talk to your neighbors and organize a clothing swap.

If you’re buying new, retailers with good prices include JCPenney (polos: $10, pants: $18-$20, skirts: $15-up), Target (polos: $8, pants: pants and skirts: $13-$15), and Old Navy (polos: $7.50, skirts and pants: $12-$14.50).

Textbook Savings
If you’ve got a college student in the family, then I don’t need to tell you how expensive textbooks are. Thankfully, there are a host of websites that offer great deals on used textbooks and rentals (bigwords.com is one of my favorites).
I recently learned of BookDefy.com that helps you swap your textbooks with other students and will also search buyback offers to show you which bookseller is paying the most. If you buy or sell from one of its partner sites, BookDefy plants a tree. The site’s mission is to give textbooks the longest life possible, thereby keeping them out of landfills while saving students money. In my book, that’s a win-win.

Low Airfare Alerts
Sometime soon, we’ll be taking our family to Orlando or Washington D.C. Since my boys have never flown, I’m looking for cheap airfares. Imagine my thrill when I found Airfarewatchdog.com.
If you sign up here, you can receive daily or weekly e-mail alerts on low-priced fares from Memphis (or your airport choice). You can even elect to get notices for specific destinations.
Each week, I review the lowest fares to Orlando and D.C., along with other Memphis deals. So far, the best round-trip fare I’ve found has been $188 (for traveling to either city); the lowest overall fare was a roundtrip from Memphis to Atlanta for $80.

— Bargain Beth is written by Memphis freelance writer and bargain hunter Beth Bartholomew.

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