The start of the school year is fast approaching and parents are feeling the weight of that endless to-do list: make sure the kids have every school supply on their scroll-sized list. Plan a shopping spree for new school clothes. Sports equipment? Dig out the old stuff and see if it fits or search the internet for the next size up. 

With all the last-minute school buzz, it’s easy to feel more frazzled than prepared. Keep these Better Business Bureau back-to-school shopping tips handy and sending the kids back to school will be a breeze. 

Make a list. You can wait for the school supplies list to come out, or start shopping without it. Even if you don’t have the exact list, you should have an idea of what to purchase regarding school clothes, and basic supplies. Jot everything down on a list and stick to it! Impulse buying can rack up a big bill fast. Many schools now offer entire back to school kits through a service that also provides school supplies for children in need. 

Shop your home. You may already have some of the items from last year hidden in your home. Why purchase the same thing twice?

Research big ticket items. Before purchasing that expensive laptop, tablet or dorm refrigerator, be sure to do your research. Research the brands, warranty, customer reviews and the prices at various stores to be sure you’re getting the best deal. Also check the retailer out with BBB at bbb.org.

Look for the sales. Compare prices between different retail stores, save your coupons, sign up for email alerts and redeem any cash-back or rebate offers. This will help you get the best deals, saving you a nice chunk of change.

Ask for student discounts. Many stores and software companies offer discounts to students that have either an .edu email address or a student ID. Even if you don’t see a discount advertised at the store, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Shop in bulk. Some teachers ask parents to buy bulk items for the entire classroom to use throughout the year. Talk with other parents about what they’re getting and see if you can all split the cost.

Know the return policies and save your receipts. Kids can be fickle. They can love a new shirt yesterday but hate it today. Ask about return policies before making your purchase. Be sure to save your receipts just in case you have to return the item later.

If you prefer to shop online, make sure you take precautions to ensure you’re personal and financial information stay safe. The BBB recommends the following online shopping tips: 

• When shopping from an online website the first step is to make sure the URL starts with “https” and includes a lock symbol. The “s” in “https” stands for secure, that way you know your information is being protected.

• Look up the website’s privacy policy and contact information. If it is not clearly listed, or they only have an email 

as the point of contact, take that as a big red flag and shop elsewhere.

• Do your research. An unknown website may offer a similar product at a lower price. The lowest price isn’t always the best route. Check for user reviews and badges for consumer protection agencies.

• Be sure to use your credit card instead of your debit card, as credit cards not only provide additional protection, but it’s also easier to dispute a fraudulent charge.

• Be extremely wary of any website or store that asks for your child’s personal information in order to access special deals.

• If you’re buying supplies through a website like Craigslist, make sure you don’t wire money to someone you’ve never met. Use PayPal if possible, but if you are using cash, make sure you meet in a public place and bring a friend.

• If you use Facebook, you know banner ads are all over the place and many ads even cater to your tastes. Some, however, are just click bait ads to drive you to a different website where you could potentially be asked to input personal information. Take note of the ad and go to the store’s website directly.

• Visit bbb.org for more consumer tips. 

Hannah Stiff is the Montana Marketplace Manager for BBB Northwest + Pacific. She can be reached at Hannah.stiff@thebbb.org.