Swap 'n save: Rentals and trades are helping keep supply costs down

Karen Caffarini

Going back to school is expensive, between the school supply list that seems to grow every year, backpacks, new shoes and clothes. Add in expensive sports equipment and band instruments, and some parents might need to take out a loan to foot the bill.

Here are ways to slash costs on just about everything for school – from pencils to college textbooks to tubas.

• Swaps – Has your basketball player grown three shoe sizes in the last year? Did your daughter decide to switch from clarinet to tuba? You’re not alone.

That’s why swaps are growing in popularity, both online and in local communities, for everything from sports and band equipment to clothing. At the online sports equipment swap site SwapMeSports.com, you register for free as a buyer, seller or trader and work directly with another user to make a deal. If you want to set up a school- or community-wide sports or band swap meet, you need to find a good venue, gather together at least 10 other parents with items to swap (the more the better), set guidelines to ensure all items are in good working condition and set values for the items so there are no lopsided deals. Clothing swap parties can be fun ways to get new, fashionable outfits without spending a dime.

Tips: Make it a true party, with invitations, food and drinks to add to the fun; set up mirrors and changing rooms; and place items in categories. Invite people of all sizes and ages, but be sure to have at least one other person of the same size at the party. It’s no fun being the only size 16 at a party of size 2s.

• Textbook options — There are a number of ways to slash the cost of expensive college textbooks. Go to your school’s bookstore online and compare the cost of your required text if you buy it there new, used or if you rent it. (Most colleges have rental options now.) Then look for the book at online sites such as Amazon.com or cheapesttextbooks.com, using the ISBN number, and compare costs. One particular book, Mathematical Methods in Physical Sciences, was $176.25 new, $132.25 used and $88 for rent at a college bookstore, but only $65.16 new and $45 used at an online book site.

• Hip, used clothing — Some resale shops are geared specifically toward certain age groups, such as Plato’s Closet, which carries only clothing worn by teens and 20-somethings. All the clothes are in great shape, trendy and carry a great price tag compared to the original cost. At platoscloset.com we found heels by Paprika for $12, a Heritage 181 miniskirt for $8 and a Lauren Conrad blouse for $10.

• School supplies — First, look for items around the house that can be reused. Surely you don’t need to buy a new plastic ruler and scissors every year. Purchase supplies at stores that match competitors’ prices so you can get the best cost for each item without spending your savings in gas. Take advantage of all the free pencils, pens and erasers you get at various businesses. If you have no money for school supplies, check your local paper to see if there are any school supply fundraisers going on, which provide free supplies for those in need.