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(Family Features) Back-to-school season means it’s time to get back to the business of learning. This year you can ace your back-to-school shopping excursion with these time- and money-saving steps that can make getting the whole family ready for a new school year a breeze.

Start with a list.
Walking into the store without a list is an open invitation for impulse buys and forgotten items that end up costing you more time and money with a return trip. Create a thorough list by categorizing all the items you’ll shop for, such as supplies, electronics and clothing. If you want to take an extra-organized approach, try color coding items by the section of the store where you would expect to find them.

Set a budget.
Knowing what you can afford to spend ahead of time can save regret and returns after you shop. Calculate how much you’ll need to cover all the items your students truly need, then tack on some room for wants. One must-have is a high-quality backpack, like the High Sierra Access Backpack, which includes a dedicated storage area for your child’s laptop, among other features. If your total budgeted expenses exceed your available funds, consider browsing weekly circulars to keep your budget in check.

Explore your inventory.
It may be buried under a summer’s worth of knick-knacks, but digging out the supplies your child cast aside at the end of the last school year may be worth the effort. Items like scissors, rulers and protractors may not need to be replaced every year if they’re still in working condition. Assess what items you have that can be reused and those that need to be replaced for the new school year.

Cut extra stops.
Dashing all over town to find all the items on your supply list is not only time-consuming, it’s unnecessary. At stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax, you can find all the academic tools and supplies your student needs to head back to the classroom. What’s more, a store that specializes in school supplies will have a broad selection and ample stock of the essentials.

Try online shopping.
When you know exactly what you need, shopping online is a great time-saving solution. Online shopping makes it incredibly simple to keep tabs on your budget before you make purchases and easily keep track of the items in your shopping cart. If you need to hand-select a few items in person, you can always take advantage of a “buy online, pick-up in store” option. This service lets you do your shopping from home with just a quick stop in-store to pick-up your purchases.

Buy in bulk.
It may seem counter-intuitive when you’re trying to trim your spending, but if you can swing it, go ahead and buy extra items that you’ll likely need to replace mid-year. The sale prices during the back-to-school season aren’t likely to repeat during the school year, so in the long run you’ll save money and avoid a last-minute shopping trip on a busy school night in the future. Items like Stellar fashion notebooks, which give note-taking a fashionable twist, are great to have on hand throughout the school year.

Research specials and promotions.
For many stores, the back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holidays. This means you can expect widespread sales, promotions and special deals, such as “deals as low as a penny.” Some states also offer tax-free holidays near the beginning of the school year, which are honored at multiple retailers and generally restricted to school-related purchases like clothing, supplies and some technology.

Weigh quality vs. quantity.
When you have a lengthy list of items to purchase for each child, it can be tempting to cut corners and skimp on spending. In some cases, being cost-efficient is smart, but do your research beforehand to avoid selecting items based solely on price. Value and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand and if you buy an item that falls apart or breaks down quickly, you may end up spending more to replace the items later. While it may be simpler for students to use printers and other machines at school, an all-in-one Epson Expression EcoTank Wireless Printer at home can be a convenient solution when late-night homework is bearing down.

Make dollars do double duty.
While most families expect to spend a sizable amount on back-to-school purchases (nearly $700, according to a 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation), making that money go a little further can soften the blow. You can help improve education in your community by shopping at stores that give a percentage of proceeds back to local schools. Programs vary; in some cases, you can even designate proceeds to the school district of your choice.

Take more notes on smart back-to-school shopping ideas and deals at officedepot.com.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Office Depot

Rev-up the holidays with 5 return-proof gifts

(Family Features) If the thought of holiday gift shopping makes you want to bail on celebrating at all, it’s time to rethink your approach. Even though your gift list seems like a challenge, make it your mission to earn the title of Ultimate Gift Giver this season.

Fuel your holiday spirit and rebel from the standard gifts with unique items that break the mold. Skip the aggravation of shopping at traditional retail stores, and get your hands on the season’s hottest gifts that reflect the unique style and personality of each person on your list.

The gift of freedom
Not all gifts need to fit in a tidy box with a pretty bow. Give the baddest on your list an experience of a lifetime. It may be a skydiving excursion or a rock climbing adventure. Or, for the ultimate thrill seekers, give them a ticket to learn to ride a motorcycle. This is more than just a motorcycle lesson; it’s the start of a new lifestyle. Check online for special deals, adventures and Harley-Davidson Riding Academy motorcycle classes specific to your area.

Stock the cooler and cabinets
Every gift list has a wine or liquor connoisseur on it, so play to your intended recipient’s style and fill the cooler with a preferred drink or two, or a gift set that comes with specialized glasses. Go further by serving up a new barware set, monogrammed pilsners, or bar decor, such as clocks, signs, picture frames or coasters; gifts sure to match the personality of the coolest person on your list.

Fuel a rebellious style
Ditch the same old hat and glove combo and amp up the cool factor with Harley-Davidson MotorClothes for the chicest on your list. The Vintage Leather Biker Jacket boasts unrivaled classic rebel style on and off a motorcycle. For the woman in your life, consider the Lace Accent Hoodie, which offers a cozy winter look and adds flair to any outfit. 

Celebrate with sound
Bring on the good times with some good ol’ rock and roll. A gift that lets the rocker on your list enjoy their favorite tunes is sure to please. There are countless ways to bring them closer to their favorite sounds, from stylish headphones to Wi-Fi speakers. Or, turn back time with a turn table perfect for kicking back to the sounds of classic vinyl.

Present a project
Inspire the tinkerer on your list to get hands-on with the gift of a special project. Let him learn woodcarving or get started micro-brewing beers. Project packages reflecting nearly every pastime you can imagine – even bacon curing – can be found online.

Stepping off the beaten path and opening up your imagination make finding the perfect gift a more enjoyable endeavor – and make your presents immune to the dreaded re-gift and return list. Check out the guide at H-D.com/Holiday, which offers something for everyone, whether they ride or not.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (couple walking)


Find something on everyone’s list

(Family Features) No matter who you’re buying for this holiday season, your shopping list is sure to be long and complex. Simplify it with these holiday hints, which feature something for everyone on the list. From gifts that keep on giving, month after month, or the latest in handheld functionality to a stylish classic and tasty treats both sweet and rich in flavor, this guide has you covered – right down to shipping your gifts to their intended recipients.

Book of the Month

For the Reader in Your Life
Books can make great gifts … but how do you pick the right title for the booklover on your list? With a Book of the Month gift subscription, you can delight the readers in your life by letting them choose. Each month, members get to select from five new hardcovers specially chosen by a panel of well-known judges. Whether you give a 3-, 6-, or 12-month membership, your gift will last well beyond the holidays. Visit bookofthemonth.com/gift.

Kyocera Hydro WAVE

Handheld Reliability Meets Functionality
Stylish, sturdy and smart, the waterproof Kyocera Hydro WAVE sports a large, beautiful 5-inch display and is designed to protect against everyday phone hazards. The Android-powered smartphone’s durable design is certified to U.S. Military Standard 810G for shock and is waterproof for up to 30 minutes in up to one meter of water. The latest in the Kyocera Hydro Series, Hydro WAVE weaves affordable reliability with enticing functionality and is available through T-Mobile and MetroPCS.

USPS Packaging

Holiday Shipping Made Simple
Whether you’re mailing Christmas cards or sending gifts to loved ones across the country, you want a good value for your holiday shipping. The U.S. Postal Service makes it easy to schedule a free package pickup and even offers free Priority Mail boxes. You’ll also get end-to-end tracking so you know exactly when your package will arrive. Visit USPS.com or stop into any U.S. Post Office to complete all your mailing needs this holiday season.

Chicago Steak

Dry-Aged Holiday Perfection
Be sure to please even the most discriminating steak connoisseur this holiday season with an artisan Bone-In Ribeye from Chicago Steak Company. Cut French-style, this ribeye undergoes a six-week dry aging process and is abundant in marbling and rich in flavor. Visit mychicagosteak.com/dry-aged-beef.asp to take advantage of a special offer of four 18-ounce artisan, dry-aged bone-in ribeyes for $209.95 (regularly $249.95) plus free shipping, 12 free steak burgers and a free bottle of steak seasoning by using promo code DRYAGED.

Gratify Gluten Free Pretzels

A Sweet Gift for the Holidays
Just in time for the holidays, find chocolate covered Gratify Gluten Free pretzels in four limited edition flavors: luscious White Chocolate and Peppermint, delectable Dark Chocolate and Peppermint, decadent Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter and rich and creamy Dark Chocolate coated pretzel twists. With flavors and textures so delicious, you’ll be surprised to know they are gluten free. A taste so good, you’ll put on your Gratify face. Visit gratifyfoods.com for sweet savings.


An Iconic Gift from the Past
Take style up a notch for the guys on your list this holiday season. One of the most recognizable tennis shoes of all time is back. The Stan Smith by adidas Originals features premium leather, perforated stripes, a terry sock liner and a contrasting heel tab. Choose Fairway Green for the ultimate throwback look, or find other colors and styles of this iconic shoe for adults at Foot Locker stores and on footlocker.com. Introduce kids to a classic with youth versions available at Kids Foot Locker stores and online at kidsfootlocker.com.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images (stocking)

Family Features

10 ways to simply back-to-school shopping

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

While kids and parents alike eagerly await the fresh start of a new school year, the back-to-school season is not without its share of stressors for busy families. The start of school means new schedules, teachers, shoes, backpacks and friends; as well as new academic challenges.

Adding some fun and excitement to the newness can help smooth the way. For example, allowing kids to help choose their outfits for the first day of school can help diffuse that nervous anticipation. Similarly, the chance to put a fresh set of pens to use or show off a cool new notebook can provide a distraction from those first-day jitters.

If the shopping itself is adding stress to your household, ease the back-to-school burden on your family with these helpful tips to simplify shopping for the school year ahead.

Make note of your inventory. School lists often carry over each school year, so make sure you aren’t buying multiples of things you already own. Some supplies are more exciting when refreshed every year, but buying the same old boring ruler year after year is simply a waste of money.

12705_bPOMake a list with your children. Put everything you need on that list, and be clear that once the list is done, it’s done. Having everyone on the same page with a complete list helps ensure nothing vital is forgotten, and the list can serve as a handy tool to keep your budget in check. Get uber organized using vibrant Sarasa gel pens by Zebra to create lists color-coded by kid or category to make your shopping more manageable.

Begin shopping as early as possible. Hunt bargains before the traditional back-to-school season to get the best deals. Not only will you save some cash, shopping before the rush will give you a wider selection to choose from, so you’re sure to find the items you need in the styles you (and your kids) want. Spreading the shopping over several weeks or months also allows you to distribute the expense across several pay periods, helping lessen the chance that you blow your monthly budget with one mega shopping excursion.

Be a savvy online shopper. Check out your favorite brands and retailers online, and sign up for their email alerts, so you’ll be in the know when the best deals hit. Many retailers now offer online-only specials, so watch ads closely to know when you’re better served making purchases in-store or online. Also keep an eye out for free or reduced shipping for extra savings that make it even cheaper than buying in person when you factor in the cost of gas. Remember that you can also rely on social media to follow back-to-school offers and hashtags.

Create a back-up bin at home. You may find that your kids consistently run out of certain items midyear. Devote a special area of your home to keep extras in stock, and take advantage of sales during back-to-school season or buy in bulk to get a better price.

Put quality ahead of price. While it’s tempting to go for cheap when your list is long, remember that sometimes quality buys actually save more in the long run. You can buy a ton of cheap pens that skip, or simply stop working. Or you can look at alternatives, such as Zebra’s Z-Grip brand, which are affordable, quality pens that allow children to focus on writing, not on the pen. Known for delivering a smooth-flowing writing experience at a great value, a Z-Grip pen truly delivers for young learners.

Make your children shopping buddies. Involve your kids in the back-to-school shopping process by giving them a budget. Help them allocate money for all the expenses, including clothing, school supplies, shoes and more. Use the opportunity to talk about how shopping smart for the necessities can leave room for some fun buys, too.

Reduce and reuse. Save plastic and money by encouraging kids to embrace reusable items, such as lunch bags in place of paper sacks and plastic containers instead of sandwich bags. If water bottles are allowed at school, look for a durable refillable option that can be used again and again.

Make the old new again. Turn barely used items into something new by decorating or adding stickers. Not only is this a fun activity that can help get the kids excited about and engaged in planning for the year ahead, it’s easy on the budget and eco-friendly. Keep leftover supplies on hand to revive the enthusiasm with fresh designs at the end of the quarter or semester.

Swap with other moms. Make back-to-school time more fun by hosting a swap event with other moms for clothing, backpacks, shoes, etc. It seems that kids are forever trading with their friends, so embrace that mindset and see what exciting new treasures you can find for your kids to call their own.

Find your zen during back-to-school shopping at www.zebrapen.com/findzen.

Make it a peaceful shopping experience

Though back-to-school shopping can be fun, it can also be overwhelming. These tricks may help you add some Zen to the experience, or at least cut some of the chaos.

Know yourself: Are you better at doing all of your shopping all at once, or would you rather make separate trips throughout a couple of weeks to ease the stress? There is no one “right” way to tackle back-to-school shopping; just go with what works best for you.

Create a democratic shopping experience: Instead of taking it upon yourself to get the supplies you think your kids need, turn it into a fun experience for every-one to enjoy. Ask what your kids want and what colors they like. Encourage them to stimulate creativity with whimsical supplies, such as the fun and funky patterns of Cadoozles mechanical pencils.

Want your high school or college bound academians to have a little extra swag for school? Look for a few simple purchases that reflect their confidence, such as Zebra Steel pens, with a sleek design perfect for the advancing student.

— Family Features