Savvy back to school shopping

Savvy back to school shopping

by Nadia Saar
Stripes Europe

One of the most challenging tasks of parenting is buying supplies and clothing for your children before they start back to school. Every other parent is doing the same thing during those final weeks of summer, making it difficult to find what you need. Here are some tips to keep in mind so that you can avoid some of the chaos of back-to-school shopping:

Although the Exchange meets many back-to-school needs, it can be embarrassing for students when they have the same clothes and backpacks as their classmates. You’ll find more variety online, but you need to keep several factors in mind when placing orders:

1. Ensure that companies ship to APO boxes. Visit for a list of APO-friendly stores.

2. If a vendor doesn’t ship to APO addressess, have orders shipped to a third-party shipper, such as APO Box or Ship it APO, that will forward packages to your APO. Additional costs and longer shipping times will apply.

3. U.S. companies that don’t ship to APO boxes may ship to your European address, but costs will likely be higher.

4. Sometimes websites for U.S.-based companies will default to European languages and currencies. Change your location to the United States for U.S. dollar amounts and shipping rates. Remember, your APO box is considered a U.S. address. 

5. Read the fine print on shipping costs and promotions. Sometimes APO addresses are restricted from promos or have higher shipping rates. 

6. Before ordering clothing, refer to the school handbook for information related to dress codes and prohibited items. 

7.  When choosing clothing sizes, consider that your children may grow before they have a chance to wear an item.

8. Depending on shipping services available, it can take one to eight weeks to receive merchandise. Look for USPS priority shipping for urgent needs.

9.   Check out European companies for clothing and supplies, which can be shipped to your German address.

Your local Exchange carries school supplies for all ages. A broader selection is also offered at the AAFES online store.

To avoid the hassles of online ordering, venture onto the German economy. Traditional and outlet malls have become quite popular and offer a variety of department stores and shops for different age groups and budgets. You can also check out the downtown pedestrian areas of villages for boutiques and discount stores. Visit hypermarkets, such as Real, for one-stop shopping and good prices. Get school supplies, clothing and groceries for the kids’ lunches, all under one roof.

A few tips for shopping on the economy:

Check opening hours in advance. Many stores close during lunch or have shorter hours on Saturday, and almost everything is closed on Sunday. A few times a year, some villages offer late-night or Sunday shopping; at these events, participating stores have extended hours and special promotions.

Carry euros, including coins, because you may need to pay to park, or pay a deposit to use a shopping cart. Plus, some shops do not accept credit or debit cards. If you take a card, make sure it’s a European debit card (EC or giro card), as these are more widely accepted.

Remember a VAT form for tax-free shopping. Beware that participation by vendors is voluntary.

Sizes are measured differently in Europe, so make sure you know your children’s European sizes.

Don’t buy American-branded clothing on the economy because you’ll likely pay higher prices as a result of importation costs, taxes and the exchange rate.

At checkout, ask about return policies, and keep your receipts. If your children are not with you to try on clothing, and the store does not accept returns, it might be best to forego the purchase.

If you need help, just ask. Many retailers prefer to leave patrons to shop undisturbed, so sales associates may not approach you while you browse.

European school supplies, such as notebook paper, may differ from what is listed on supply lists. Make sure these are acceptable substitutes.

Visit thrift stores and flea markets on your installation, as well as yard-sale websites and classifieds. You may find unique and gently used clothing and supplies for a fraction of the cost of new items.

Whatever you choose to do, here’s hoping that shopping for school isn’t as treacherous this year as it may have been in the past. Get an early start and remember these tips for a less stressful experience. You may even have fun shopping this year! 

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