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Learn more while spending less on school supplies

Posted Friday, July 22, 2011

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Yonkers, NY — Going back to school can be expensive. From purchasing school supplies to prepping for class, the costs can add up fast. The September 2011 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, prepares readers for the new school year with easy ways to save on back-to-school items and free websites that will help you brush up on any topic imaginable.

“The start of the school year is such an exciting time, but it’s also a costly one,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “It’s not always easy to find deals on school supplies and educational resources. Make sure you do your research before you buy for back-to-school – you’ll be surprised by how much you can save.”

3 Ways to Save on School Stuff

It may seem like summer has just begun, but now is actually the best time to start planning your back-to-school shopping. Here are a few ways to cut costs and still get everything you need:

  1. Skip the sales tax on school and work items: The ideal time to buy clothes, computers, and supplies is when you can get a triple discount and combine a sale and a coupon with a state-tax holiday. That’s when some states lift the tax on certain items, usually for just a few days around this time of year. Sixteen states have tax holidays this year. To find out whether your state is one of them and when you can save, check out To find sales at stores near you, check online at SaleLocator. Nab coupons at and RetailMeNot.
  2. Snag free school supplies: The first rule to saving on back-to-school basics is to avoid buying stuff you already have. So before you hit the stores, take inventory and see what you have at home. Chances are, you have some brand-new markers or barely used glue. Make a list of what you still need, then stock up at the big back-to-school sales, when you can snag pens and notebooks for pennies. Find bigger items, such as books, backpacks, calculators, and clothes, free at swap sites such as and Swap Mamas. Enter items you want or items you have, and swap with people anywhere in the country or locally. (Bonus: You’ll save on shipping with a local swap.)
  3. Save big on textbooks: New websites make it easy to find college textbooks at deep discounts. Check Better World Books and Neebo and get free shipping. Other sites include AddAll, Bigwords, DealOz, GetchaBooks,, and Or try e-books, which can save money and trees. CaféScribe lets you download books and try them free for a week, then buy and download what you want to keep. Prices vary by book and by site, and you’ll find lots of bargains.

Learn Anything—Free!

It’s good to be a grown-up—you can go to school and not have to take math if you don’t want to. Instead, how about a class on how to make a chocolate soufflé? Or maybe a modern-art course taught by an Ivy League professor? The Internet makes it easy. ShopSmart recommends the following websites, which offer free courses in a wide range of topics:

  • Academic Earth ( — Best for: Tapping Ivy League brainpower
    Users can access more than 1,500 lectures on video by professors at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and other top-tier universities. Videos include single classes on topics as diverse as art, architecture, and astronomy, and can be grouped into courses.
  • iTunes U ( — Best for: Exploring the world
    Apple’s iTunes is good for more than downloading music. Use it to find more than 350,000 lectures, videos, and films from universities and cultural institutions around the world.
  • Howcast ( — Best for: Learning everyday (and obscure) skills
    Learn from video and text guides created by experts sharing their knowledge of the world. Videos fall into 25 broad but finely subdivided categories, including the environment, first aid and safety, and parenting and family. The offerings cover the serious (how to survive a heart attack) and the frivolous (how to play charades). Lessons can be accessed online or on an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, or BlackBerry.
  • Khan Academy ( — Best for: Brushing up on math and science
    If you want a refresher on finance basics or are tearing your hair out trying to help your 10th-grader understand geometry, this site is a great place to start. It features more than 2,100 videos simply presented on a sort of neon blackboard. You can also find practice exercises in kindergarten-to-12th-grade math, science, and the humanities, and an entire section on SAT prep. Videos are designed to be viewed at your own pace, and the site generates statistics for tracking your (or your kid’s) progress.
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Learn more while spending less on school supplies
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