Shopping cart with school supplies

Back-to-School Shopping: 6 Savings Tips

By Lacey Frazier
Updated
Published

School is just around the corner, believe it or not. And even though we’re not sure yet what “back-to-school” looks like, chances are you’ll need some supplies. It turns out, the average American family is expected to spend around $7001 per child on back-to-school shopping. With other school costs like organization fees, lunches and busing fees, who has an extra $700 to spend on school supplies?! From creating a budget to buying in bulk, check out these tips to get your back-to-school shopping done without breaking the bank.

Create a back-to school budget

First, try creating a budget to help keep your (and your kiddos’) spending in check. Start by making a list of necessities and wants for each kid. As part of the budgeting process, let your kids make decisions about which items to splurge on and which items to save on. Besides saving money now, including children in good money management decisions may help them find future financial success, according to the American Psychological Association.2

Shop at your house

You may already have many of the items on your children’s school supply list…they’re probably just buried in a closet, maybe even from last year’s school supply shopping! Nearly 50% of Americans think their homes are cluttered.3 So for supplies like scissors, pencils, sharpeners, tissues, plastic baggies, etc., consider shopping your own house before actually hitting the stores. You might save money on new things AND de-clutter your home. Win-win!

Swap items

Do you have friends and family with children of similar ages? You could gather some of them—along with their kids' school wardrobe—for an exchange night of hand-me-downs that could save everyone money. If that kind of social clothing swap is your children’s personal nightmare (um, hello humiliation!) try swapping a bag of used clothes for a 15% discount on new items at some stores like H&M.

Make stuff

Contrary to popular belief, for some things you don’t have to shop at all! With a few pantry staples, in-demand personal hygiene supplies like disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer can actually be a DIY project. And why stop there? With duct tape you can make re-usable lunch bags, wallets, a backpack or a headphones case.

For those who choose to wear face coverings, the CDC recommends using a bandana or old t-shirt and hair ties to make a no-sew version at home.4 Look at it this way: at least making their own supplies could be a productive way for kids to pass the time while still at home—instead of watching Tiger King.

Price match

You probably already know that a lot of big box stores like Target, Walmart, Staples, Office Depot and Office Max will typically price match. But let’s talk about their dirty little secret: “price match guarantees” can actually hurt shoppers IF shoppers aren’t paying attention.5 That’s because shoppers can be lulled into a false sense of security.

So. Call them out on their game and actually make them match the best price. Spend a little bit of your weekend time with the circulars and make a list of the “best bargains.” Then hit one store to get all of your shopping done at once—and don’t forget to bring the ads!

Buy in bulk

Are there items that you know your children will need more of throughout the school year? Oftentimes buying in bulk can save you money in the long run.6 If you haven’t already, try subscribe and save programs through Amazon or other retailers to save about 15% per item. Or, team up with other parents for bigger bulk purchases that will bring prices down even lower.

Shop clearance sales

Two to three weeks after school starts, many stores will slash their prices on backpacks, lunchboxes, spiral notebooks, folders, etc. Are there items that your child won’t need the first week of school? Consider waiting until those items go on clearance. Other major holidays throughout the year like Labor Day and even Easter see major sales, too, so pace yourself.7 There’s always another sale.

Look online for tech essentials

For children trying to learn across the country, the show must go on, even if it’s at home. To prep them for whatever learning environment comes their way, stock up on affordable stay-at-home essentials like noise-cancelling headphones, a multi-port USB charger, and webcam. These items aren’t always cheap, so if you must buy, consider joining the roughly 80% of Americans who shop online to compare prices, read reviews, and score the best deals.8 Or check if your local school provides these items for free.

Take advantage of coupons

Extreme couponing does not have to mean a three-ring binder and oodles of time! In fact, it’s not extreme at all. There are many coupon websites out there—Slickdeals, The Krazy Coupon Lady, RetailMeNot, and more—that are dedicated to helping shoppers find a good bargain. Some apps and extensions, like Honey, will automatically search the web and apply discounts on stuff you’re already shopping for online so you don’t have to spend any extra time… but you will spend less money!

Be a super back-to-school shopper!

We get it. Everyone has a different back-to-school reality. And that reality might change on a weekly basis. To prep for all the possibilities in the most cost-effective way, consider shopping your own closet or someone else’s, making stuff, buying in bulk or online, and taking advantage of coupons, price-matching, and sales. With these hacks in mind, hopefully you can prove the shopping survey wrong and save some of that $700 for something else. (Don’t worry. We won’t tell the survey people.)

Sources

1 McGinty, M. (2019, July 15). Record spending expected for school and college supplies. Retrieved from National Retail Federation: https://nrf.com/media-center/press-releases/record-spending-expected-school-and-college-supplies

2 Staff. (2015, February 15). Money and the family: Creating good financial habits. Retrieved from the American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/topics/money-family

3 Staff. (2016, August 29). Americans Have Too Many Things and Not Enough Money, Study Finds. Retrieved from PR Newswire: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/americans-have-too-many-things-and-not-enough-money-study-finds-300319019.html?tc=eml_cleartime

4 CDC Staff. (2020, May 21). How to Make Cloth Face Coverings. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html

5 Mohammed, R. (2012, October 23). Why Price Match Guarantees Can Be Bad For Consumers. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2012/10/why-price-match-guarantees-can

6 Hamm, T. (2019, September 17). Here’s When Buying in Bulk is Really Worth It. Retrieved from U.S. News & World Report: https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/when-buying-in-bulk-is-really-worth-it

7 McGrath, K. (2020, January 6). The Best Days to Shop in 2020. Retrieved from U.S. News & World Report: https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/shopping-holidays-the-best-days-to-shop-this-year

8 Smith, A. and M. Anderson. (2016, December 19). Online Shopping and E-Commerce. Retrieved from Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/12/19/online-shopping-and-e-commerce/

About
Lacey Frazier
Read more from Lacey
Growing up in a family with four very active and involved kids, money was often tight. I was raised to be smart with money by picking up tips on how to spend wisely, pinching pennies where I can, and finding good deals. I love a glass of good wine and a plate of greasy tacos as much as I enjoy sharing the lowdown on getting the most out of every hard-earned dollar. Cheers!

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