Swap Your Way to Back-to-School Savings

Last Updated Jul 29, 2011 3:01 PM EDT

I'm always on the hunt for new ways to save money on back-to-school items. Last week I wrote about how to score discounted gift cards for retailers like Target and Staples. Another idea I think families should consider is hosting a swapping event with friends.

I have to admit that I've never hosted a swapping event myself. But I love the idea that friends can get together and trade their gently used stuff. Not only will you get rid of some things that are taking up way too much space in your closet. Hopefully, you should also save some money and find items that you need for the upcoming school year.

So how does a successful swapping event work? Amy Chase and Melissa Massello of Swap.com sent me some tips.

Swapping 101
Size Matters
Don't make your party an exclusive event. Instead, invite everyone you know. "The bigger & more diverse your group, the greater the selection -- and the better the chances are that there will be something for everyone," say Chase and Massello.

Set Some Rules
Specify what kind of items your friends should bring to the swap. Since the idea is to save on back-to-school supplies, emphasize clothing, books, sports equipment, uniforms and backpacks. Ask the newer moms to leave their toys and baby gear at home.

Also, decide if you want to set some swapping rules. A popular policy is a one-for-one exchange, say Chase and Massello.

Selecting Items
Not sure what to pluck from your child's closet? Here's a simple guideline: If your son or daughter hasn't worn an outfit in a year, swap it. Young children outgrow clothing so quickly that it simply makes no sense to hold onto anything unless you're saving it for a younger sibling.

Having said that, Swap.com doesn't recommend bringing anything to a swap that isn't in great condition. So leave the stained and worn out frocks at home.

Keep it Social
Let's be honest, swapping stuff is only part of the reason your friends are going to show up. They will also want to socialize and catch up with pals and neighbors they haven't seen all summer. That's why Chase and Massello recommend serving food and drinks and presenting everyone's things in a stylish way. Leave the clothing in a pile and no one will feel like sticking around long enough to sort through the junk.

Give Back
Chances are there's going to be plenty of back-to-school items that don't get traded. Rather than asking your friends to take all their stuff home again, offer to donate the unwanted things to your favorite charity.

If you like the idea of trading but don't have the time to host an event, Swap.com offers an online marketplace for swapping CDs, movies, books, and video games for just the cost of shipping.

Have you ever hosted a swapping event? What are your tips?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Walking to School image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
More on CBS MoneyWatch:
Save on Back-to-School Items
Toddler Gear: The Only 5 Items You Need
Beware of Credit Card Issuers and Bad Advice
Insurance: What College Students Need