Are you the parent who carefully scans every ad and flyer that comes in the mail from May through September, comparing the price of each item you need from a diligently organized spreadsheet, and clipping coupons for erasers and crayons like a skilled surgeon performing a life-saving organ transplant? Perhaps you're the parent who flurries into the local discount store at 8 p.m. the eve before school starts, scrapping with the other parents over the last pack of broken pencils and the lone, crushed pack of notebook paper. Who needs a list? Pencils: check! Paper: check! Now, get on the bus ...

 

Whichever style suits you, there are ways to score the best deals on those Marvel Trapper Keepers and Lisa Frank spiral notebooks without tromping through every store in town or even spending half an annual salary online. Here are some uber-easy tips for getting the best prices on the must-have stuff, so you can send the kiddies back to school in style and still have money left over to celebrate at Starbucks after surviving the school drop off line.

 

1. Don't Go to Several Stores for Moderate Savings

 

Coupon snippers and deal seekers are tempted to visit every store in town to cash in on small savings at each place. The time and gas they spend getting from store to store, however, erases any savings advantage of this shopping technique. Find a store or two offering the best average prices, and stick to these on shopping days. This also eliminates extra spending on "impulse buys."

 

2. Do Take Inventory of Items That Can be Recycled This Year

 

Before you hit the stores, take stock of what still has a serviceable life to offer. Perhaps some of last year's binders are still holding together, a few pairs of blue jeans might still fit, and a stash of notebooks is hiding in a closet somewhere. Shop around the house before hitting the stores. Have younger kids try on older kids' outfits from last year, and check the hall closet for unused pens, loose-leaf paper, and other common school items. If you tend to buy in bulk, you may already have more than you realize.

 

3. Don't Overspend to Get Free Shipping

 

Online shopping saves time and money, but only if approached the right way. Like shopping at several brick-and-mortar stores, spreading your orders over several online retailers can cost money in the long run if you keep tagging on extra items to qualify for free shipping. Find one or two online retailers with reasonable prices, and order everything from these to avoid paying shipping costs. Most websites offer free shipping on orders over $35 to $55, which is quite easy to hit if you do all your ordering from one or two websites. When ordering online, shop as early as possible. Be prepared for potential back ordering, shipping delays, sold-out or unavailable items, and other such snags that tend to happen when shopping online.

 

4. Do Spend Time Browsing Sales Before Shopping Day

 

You'd never hit Black Friday without a plan, and the same rule applies for back-to-school shopping. A few weeks before shopping day, start browsing circulars and online ads to find where the best deals are. Select the ones offering the best overall prices, and try to avoid stores that offer a huge savings on a single item while keeping high prices on the rest. Have a plan for where to shop and what to buy before shopping online or in stores. The exception is when you can get enough savings on a single item to make up for paying extra on the rest, such as an iPad at half price or buy-one-get-one-free on big-ticket items like laptops.

 

5. Don't Forget to Get Supply Lists from the School

 

Instead of filling up your cart with markers, pencils, paper, and notebooks, find out exactly what the school and teachers are asking for. This eliminates buying the 64-pack of crayons when the 12-pack will do, or loading up on expensive three-ring binders when all you need are cheap spiral notebooks. However, things you know you'll need all year, like loose-leaf paper and pencils, are best bought in volume at this time of year when prices are lowest. This keeps down on emergency trips during the school year when you're tired and busy.

 

6. Do Piggyback Shopping With Other Parents

 

Some parents divvy up shopping responsibilities. This is one way to take advantage of all the sales around town without driving to 15 different places. For example, assign each parent a specific store, where they can buy all the needed sale items for everyone. You might instead choose to assign each parent a specific item to buy for each member of the group, and let them do the research on when and where to buy for maximum savings.

 

7. Don't Get Wrapped Up in Small-Ticket Items

 

When choosing which places to shop, don't focus on how much their small-ticket items cost. Saving $20 on a large-ticket item, such as a tablet computer or nice backpack, makes up for paying a little more for many inexpensive items on your back-to-school list. Think about this: if you pay 1 cent more for every pencil, 100 pencils will only cost you $1 more. However, it takes lots of dollars to make a significant difference in the price of a computer or a heavy winter coat.

 

8. Do Shop on Special Sales Days

 

Lots of stores have special back-to-school shopping days, and some states offer tax-free weekends for school supplies. Find out when these special savings days are, and plan your shopping then. A tax-free weekend, for example, can save you about 10 percent off your entire purchase. Ten percent off $300 in supplies is well worth dealing with a few crowds and lines at the register. Just plan to shop early, because the best deals tend to go fast.

 

Make a plan and stick to it to earn an easy A on your back-to-school shopping.