Back-to-School Shopping Without Breaking Your Budget

Published by Catherine Durkin Robinson on

Back-to-school shopping is expensive. Most experts thought spending might decrease this year rather than increase. After all, fewer families need the supplies to support learning at home. Shockingly, according to one NPR report, parents will indeed spend more in 2021, around $850 per family.

Fortunately, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to break your budget. Here are ways to save money and get your kids what they need at the same time.

Make a list of needed supplies, clothes and shoes.

Experts insist that writing out a grocery list saves money. If a list works for food shopping, it should work when shopping for other items, right? A list also ensures you don’t forget anything important, so include any needed uniforms or supplies for extracurricular activities, too.

When adults go back-to-school shopping with a list, they are less likely to overbuy or overspend. They stay within a budget. So write out a list before you leave the house and adhere to it.

Take inventory, you might already have some of this stuff.

Review the list of supplies your children’s teachers send out. Then go through your desk drawers or the family’s supply closets.

What do you already have?

Index cards. Unused glue sticks from last year. More than a few hand sanitizers gathering dust. Check those items off the list without spending a dime.

Then go through dresser drawers and kids’ closets for clothes. What still fits? What needs a simple sewing job or replacement button? Can younger kids wear what your older kids no longer need?

Check those items off the list, too.

How much can you afford?

Budget more than you think you’ll need to spend, if possible.

Planning dollar amounts before shopping, with some added wiggle room, can lower anxiety levels.

Some folks start saving months ahead of time for back-to-school shopping. They put aside a small percentage from each paycheck starting in January. That helps cushion the blow when August comes around.

Go online for back-to-school shopping deals

On social media, you are probably connected to friends and relatives who are in the same boat. Lots of parents need items and/or have items to give away.

Form an unofficial co-op or group page to share with each other. Encourage contacts to offer up any unneeded, unused school supplies and textbooks. Gently used clothes. Sporting equipment.

Get it started with your own post, including pictures, and see how many people respond with their own!

There are also sales promotions all over the internet from August through September. Visit websites and download apps from national chains to local shops. Compare prices.

Sign up for deals or rewards programs. Earn points toward discounts. After so many purchases, many retailers allow you to qualify for free items or special deals.

Businesses also post sales ahead of time and offer exclusive coupons for frequent shoppers.

Set aside an hour or two one day to look online for discount codes. Manufacturers put them out there for experienced shoppers to find. It’s like a treasure hunt.

Signing up for newsletters or emails can also yield some savings. If enrolling doesn’t cost anything and might have a benefit, why not do it?

Learning opportunities

Help your kids, especially teenagers, create and stick to a budget. This skill isn’t taught in most schools. So do it at home. Including them in family budget planning conveys the value of money, delayed gratification and living within their means. It also sharpens math skills.

Take children back-to-school shopping and show them how to read price tags. Make them a part of the process. Look for “buy one, get one free” deals and other savings.

Teach kids to add up items as they go along, so they aren’t shocked at the checkout counter. Get them into the habit of checking receipts to avoid being overcharged.

Understanding the value of money can help set a foundation for lifelong fiscal stability.

Can it wait?

Some stores offer deep discounts on items after the first few weeks of school have passed.

Don’t put off essential items. But if a few items can wait a month, you might enjoy significant savings.

Or you can stock up for next year!

Other ways to save money

Avoid expensive name brand items. They are not necessary and often cost a lot more than identical, yet generic, options.

Check out savings at both ends of the shopping spectrum. For example, big box warehouses have less expensive bulk items for larger families. Fantastic deals can also be found at smaller, less crowded dollar stores.

Shop during your state’s sales tax holiday. Some states do this year round!

Avoid the rush from Thursday through Saturday. If you shop on Sunday or Monday instead, you’ll miss the crowds and find weekly sales. Most stores mark items down after the weekend rush.

Search through magazines, newspapers and snail mail flyers for valuable coupons.

Purchase gift cards that offer a discount both digitally and in person.

Credit cards also offer points and rewards. Purchase items within your budget and then pay them off within thirty days. You’ll avoid hefty interest charges and can use earned points for family vacations or weekend getaways.  

Many online retailers use price checks or price matching. Utilize this feature at checkout to save as much money as possible. Some might even offer discounts or refunds if you find an item for less somewhere else. Keep track of your purchases to save money, even if it’s after the fact.

Find Resources in Your Area

Visit local thrift stores and consignment shops.

Many organizations sponsor back-to-school events. They give away free samples, coupons, or even backpacks with supplies already stocked inside.  

Are you a teacher? Health care worker? First responder? Many local retailers offer essential workers a host of discounts.

In short, these are all effective ways to save money when back-to-school shopping. We might not be able to make shopping for school supplies more fun, but hopefully this makes it more affordable!


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