CROMWELL — It may seem like you still have a little time left for summer fun, but it’s already time to start thinking back-to-school.

With back-to-school specials already popping up in stores, parents and students can start their shopping early and spread it out to avoid a hefty back-to-school shopping bill all at once.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average $696.70 compared to families with college students who are expected to spend an average of $976.78.

Overall, consumers are expected to spend a combined $80.7 billion for back-to-school and back-to-college shopping.

Better Business Bureau Serving Connecticut offers up the following tips on how to shop smart when starting your back-to-school or back-to-college shopping:

Make a list. 

You can either 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

Write it down and stick to it. Impulse buying can jack up your overall total in a hurry.

Shop your home.

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

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 dough.

Bring your own bag. 

Connecticut retailers are now required to collect a 10-cent fee per single use plastic checkout bag. Not all retailers may have made the switch to paper so avoid the plastic bag fee and “bring your own bag” (BYOB) to carry your items.

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.

Ask for student discounts.

Many stores and software companies offer discounts to students that have either a .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.

Know the return policies and save your receipts. 

Ask about return policies before making your purchase. Be sure to save your receipts just in case you have to return the item later.

Shop safely online.

When shopping from an online website the first step is to make sure the URL starts with “https” and includes a lock symbol. 

An unknown website may offer a similar product at a lower price but the lowest price isn’t always the best route. 

Read reviews or check out the retailer on BBB.org and always use a credit card or PayPal if possible.

Shop tax free.

Connecticut residents have another way to save money too, which is to shop during Sales Tax Free Week. 

Beginning the third Sunday of August, Connecticut residents can shop tax free for most clothing and footwear sold for less than $100.

This year’s Connecticut Sales Tax Free Week runs Sunday, August 18 through Saturday, August 24.

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