For many families, back-to-school shopping is one of the most exciting times of the year, especially for students.

As a parent, I know school supplies can be expensive. To help you save money, I took my teenagers shopping and crunched the numbers — online and in store — so you can feel better about how you spend your money this school year.

 
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To get started, I found school shopping guides from four major retailers in our area: Walmart, Office Depot, Target and Fred Meyer.

Many stores also have supply lists from your kid’s teachers on their website or on their apps; it’s as simple as searching for your school or classroom and pulling up a list. If not, you can always find one from your child’s school.

Shopping in store

If you shop in store with your children, you may find your grand total a lot higher. With my two teenagers, staying on budget was definitely a challenge.

Designs and colors play a huge role and balloon your overall price. One example I saw when I was shopping — a simple ruler for 54 cents.

The ruler was plain and my daughter wanted something with a design, which was more expensive. The cost? $1.97.

That's a difference of $1.43 and if you have multiple children, that can really start to add up.

Name brands also play a large role in driving up costs.

At Office Depot, a 24-count of Crayola crayons was on sale for 75 cents, but I found a generic box for just 33 cents.

If you’re not paying attention to what your kids pick out, they might grab the most expensive option. Both of my kids were only picking out the name brands because they felt they were "cool."

Shopping online

In my house I say, "You get what you get and don't have a fit."

This is usually followed by eye rolls, blank stares or full-blown tantrums. If this sounds like your house, then shopping online is the way to go. You only buy what you need and you don't pay for anything extra.

"Last year we relocated our area up to the front of the store to continue the convenience piece of it," said Nichole McLelland, a Walmart store manager in Eagle River. "Also added the reserve parking out front so folks have the ability to quickly park, come in and get their items and then leave unless they have other shopping to do."

At Walmart, customers are able to order notebooks and folders in different colors as some teachers require. You can also make changes when they pick up their items.

"Typically the way that it works is [customers] use our Walmart app," McLelland said. "It's exceptionally user-friendly. You would select the items while you are shopping and it will tell you if  [the item] is available for pick up within our store."

The first time you use the app it takes about an hour for it to process the order and payment. After that, McLelland said it takes less than 20 minutes.

"Customers have the autonomy, provided that it is a pick-up eligible item, customers have the autonomy to select the color they are looking for," McLelland said. "Whether it was purple, orange, college, wide-ruled, whatever it is that they are looking for. They choose, based on the item they select, what it is they are going to get: size, shape, color, all of that."

The items are kept for up to seven days and can be picked up when your ready to get them — perhaps right after work.

Tips to keep in mind

Something that could save you money is keeping your child's items from the year before — crayons, pens, a backpack, lunchbox or even a pencil box.

Saving just a few items, especially if you have more than one kid, can add up to major savings. It also allows you to spend a little more on some of the most popular back-to-school items.

While we were shopping, one of my children managed our list while the other kept track of our prices. Despite our best efforts, we were still $14 off of where we thought we were.

I also don't know if we got everything we wanted or if we have to go back because my teens didn't read the small print, like needing 12 glue sticks instead of a pack of three.

Keep in mind, our shopping was on a slow day and weeks ahead of the major school supply rush, so we had the aisles to ourselves.

In the end, it all comes down to you and what you want.

If you enjoy shopping in stores, expect to spend more but also know you are creating an experience.

Shopping online will save you time, money and a few headaches, but you can make it enjoyable as well.

Most kids are excited to see what they are getting for school and any notebook can be personalized with a few cheap stickers.

Grade school kids won't worry about the generic name on their crayon once it's in a box and they color just the same.

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