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Save on Back-to-School Items

Believe it or not, it's time for parents to start thinking about back-to-school shopping. Indeed, retailers like Staples and Target have already started their seasonal promotions. But even if you're like me and plan to wait until late August to get the job done -- never know when the kids will suddenly grow -- there is still one thing you should do now that will help you save some money later. Consider purchasing discounted gift cards online.

I'm a huge fan of buying discounted gift cards. So I decided to go onto two of my favorite exchange websites -- Plastic Jungle and Cardpool --to see if I could find deals on unwanted cards for the retailers I will likely patronize in about a month. I didn't have to try very hard before I found oodles of deals for savings up to 17% for stores including Kohl's, Old Navy and Best Buy. Best of all, you can combine gift cards with other coupons and promotional codes you find online.

Here are some examples of the gift card discounts I found at Plastic Jungle and Cardpool:

Retailers Plastic Jungle Cardpool
Barnes & Noble..................................n/a..........................................10%

Bed Bath and Beyond........................10%..........................................9%

Best Buy.....................................5%...........................................5%

Children's Place..................................10%..........................................n/a

Gap.........................................................9%...........................................7%

Kohl's....................................................15%..........................................17%

Old Navy..............................................9%...........................................7%

Pottery Barn Kids...............................10%..........................................11%

Sports Authority................................13%..........................................13%

Target....................................................3%...........................................3%

So what's the downside? Not much. But you should be aware that since you are buying another person's unwanted gift card, you can't request a specific dollar amount. You simply have to choose from whatever is available when you log onto the website. That means someone might be selling a $200 gift card even though you may only want to spend $150.

My advice: Only buy a gift card to a store you frequent on a regular basis. Since gift cards don't expire, even if you don't use the total face value during the back-to-school season, you can use the remaining balance at any other time.

Also, if you don't see a gift card to a retailer you want, you can set up an alert and have an email sent to you as soon as someone tries to unload a card from that store.

What's your strategy for saving money on back-to-school supplies?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Infinite Target Registers image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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