Isn’t it exciting to get your kids ready to go back to school?
For some parents, it’ll be their child’s first day at school, and for others, the beginning of a new grade level.
Don’t let the expense of back-to-school shopping ruin that excitement for you.
In this article, I’ll show you some simple ways to save money on back-to-school shopping so you can spend more time enjoying the new milestone.
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How much should I budget for back-to-school shopping?
You should budget about $100 – $150 dollars on school supplies every school year. According to a survey done by the National Retail Federation, most families spent between this amount in 2010 (source).
If your back-to-school supplies include electronics such as headphones, a laptop, or an iPad, then you should expect to spend a lot more than that amount.
The strategies listed below will help you save a significant amount of money on your back-to-school shopping.
How To Save Money On Back-to-School Shopping
Look for free backpacks and school supplies drive in your area
Some churches, police precincts, and nonprofits host back-to-school drives.
They give away backpacks filled with supplies like notebooks, crayons, and pencils to low-income families.
If you’re looking to save money on back-to-school shopping, this could be a good way to do so.
Try looking in your area for any organization that runs drives like these to attend.
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Look through your home for supplies you no longer use
You’d be surprised how much stuff you’ve accumulated since you’ve lived in your home.
If you want to save money on back-to-school supplies, you should first look through your home to see what you find.
Sometimes we buy duplicate things because we misplaced them or simply forget we have them already.
I’m sure you have some pencils, broken crayons, and pens laying around that you haven’t used.
Reuse and Upcycle what you already have
I can’t tell you how many notebooks I have laying around my home that has only a few used pages.
Whenever my kids need a new book, I simply rip out all the used pages in an old notebook and give it to them.
There’s no reason to go back-to-school shopping for new school supplies when you can reuse old ones.
You may have a drawstring backpack or even a small diaper backpack laying around. Those could be used as new backpacks for your kids.
If you think outside the box, then you’ll save a lot of money on back-to-school shopping.
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Use cashback apps like Rakuten and Fetch Rewards
If you’re not part of a rewards program like Rakuten or fetch rewards, then you’re leaving money on the table.
Reward programs allow you to get points or cash back every time you shop online or in-store.
With Rakuten, you get paid monthly for every participating website you shop at. Fetch rewards give you points that you can redeem for cash or other merchandise.
I personally use both to save money when I shop.
If you’re going to spend money on school supplies you might as well get something out of it in return.
Buy used items online
Another good way to save money on back-to-school shopping is to buy used items online.
Online bookstores will list items as used-good, like-new, etc., and mark them down significantly. I know Amazon does this with most of its products to reduce waste.
If you want to save money on back-to-school shopping, then I suggest buying used items whenever possible.
A textbook with scratches and handwriting on it will still work as well as a brand-new textbook.
Compare prices online before going to stores
One reason people go over their budget when shopping is that they only visit one store.
When it comes to shopping for school supplies, you’ll save more money if you can compare prices between different stores.
Make a list of at least 5 stores close to you and what they each charge for the supplies you’re looking for. Decide which one to go to based on who has the best price.
Some companies even offer a price-match guarantee for items sold at a lower price somewhere else. You can take advantage of this if you compare prices beforehand.
I have created a comprehensive back-to-school shopping guide to help you save the most money on your shopping trip. It has daily and weekly planners, a price comparison guide, a school and clothing inventory checklist, and so much more.
Don’t impulse buy
Impulse buying is when you buy items you didn’t plan that are not in your budget. Most impulse buying occurs in the checkout line where small flashy things are placed in your face.
They’re usually listed at a very low price to entice more buyers. The problem is that low prices eventually add up.
When you go back-to-school shopping, make a list beforehand of all the items you need, and don’t stray from your budget. That’s the only way you’ll save money.
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Claim childcare tax credit when you file
If you’re a parent, then you should be taking advantage of the child tax credit offered by the government.
If you have dependent children, you may get some money back after you file. That’s money that you can use towards paying for school supplies.
Buy supplies that last longer
When it comes to school supplies there are different categories. There are consumable school supplies and there are reusable supplies.
Consumables are those that “finish” and have to be replaced and reusables can be used over and over until it runs out.
I like to buy consumable school supplies that last longer. An example is these jumbo crayons from Amazon. They’re thick and harder to break, which makes them last much longer.
Another school supply I love is the Rocketbook Smart Reusable Notebook. It’s best for kids in high school or college. Your notes are recorded in the cloud as you write in the book. You can then erase it with a damp cloth and reuse it again.
Buy school uniforms right before the end of the school year.
School uniforms usually go on sale before the end of the school year. This is because they’re no longer needed during the summer break.
That makes it the perfect time to buy school uniforms. In New York where I live, school goes out in June for summer break, so May would be the ideal time to start buying school uniforms.
If you wait too long, prices will hike up again at the end of summer around July and August. That’s when most parents do their back-to-school shopping because school starts in September over here.
So buying school uniforms when they’re not in demand will help you save money on back-to-school shopping.
Buy school supplies offseason
Just like I suggested above, the best time to save money on school supplies is when it’s not in demand.
Towards the end of the school year, but not the month before school begins will be the ideal window.
This way, the items won’t be in such demand that companies will hike up the price.
Shop at thrift stores and other consignment stores
Where I live there are various consignment stores, stop n’ swaps, and thrift stores. Those are the best places to save money on back-to-school shopping.
You can find everything from backpacks, socks, and shoes, to books and clothes there.
Before you go to the big buck stores to shop for school supplies, try your local thrift stores first.
Use your local buy-nothing group
I’m a huge fan of buy-nothing groups. I’ve gotten so many free items from there.
When I had my second child, my local buy-nothing group donated a crib, a swing, blankets, clothes, a playmat, and diapers.
I don’t think I spent any money on baby items until my second kid was 3 years old.
If you’re looking to save a huge amount on school supplies then try your local buy-nothing group.
To find one, type in the name of your neighborhood with the word “buy-nothing” next to it. For example “buy-nothing Rego Park”.
Hunt for deals before buying
During the back-to-school season, there are a number of deals that come out. Some companies offer a buy 1 get 1 free deal. Others offer price match deals and so forth.
Before you go shopping, do some quick research and make a list of companies offering deals. This will help you save money on back-to-school shopping.
Buy refurbished technology
Some schools require laptops, iPad, headphones, and other technology as part of their supplies.
If you want to save money on school supplies, then consider buying refurbished technology instead of new items.
Refurbished techs are those that have been repaired and have their parts replaced to make them look new again.
So you’ll be getting a brand new tech for a fraction of the price.
Shop in the clearance aisle offseason
Before going to the store’s main section, check out the clearance aisle first.
This strategy is more effective when items are off-season.
If you go through the clearance section during the end of the school year, you’ll find heavily discounted items like books, crayons, and other supplies.
Companies have to keep up with demand so items that aren’t in demand will be cleared out.
This is a great way to save money on back-to-school shopping.
Ask teachers to give you unused school supplies
Having been a teacher myself, I know firsthand that teachers clear out their classrooms at the end of the school year. This sometimes means getting rid of things they no longer need.
Their trash could be your treasure if you just ask.
Most teachers would be glad to give you some of the school supplies they didn’t end up using.
This is a great strategy to save money on school supplies.
Facebook marketplace is the go-to for deals nowadays. You should check out the Facebook marketplace before you head to the store. You could find deals on backpacks, shoes, and other school supplies.
Ask family and friends for supplies
People are always getting rid of stuff to make room in their homes. Especially during spring cleaning.
Make a list of the items you anticipate your child needing for the next school year. Ask your family and friends to keep you in mind if they are getting rid of any of these items.
That will help you save money on school supplies like notebooks, pens, pencils, and crayons.
Try the dollar store
Whenever I need to get school supplies in a bind, I always go to the dollar store. Most items in the dollar store are heavily discounted compared to those sold in other retail stores.
I actually don’t see why you can’t do all your back-to-school shopping at a dollar store. Besides electronics, shoes, and uniforms, dollar stores have everything you need to save money on back-to-school shopping.
Buy supplies in bulk
Buying in bulk helps you save money because you’re paying less per unit compared to what you’d pay for each individual item.
You also pay less in sales tax when you buy in bulk. Let’s say you buy 1 pencil for $1 dollar, and you pay a 0.10 cent sales tax. So the total comes out to be $1.10 dollars.
If you were to buy 5 more pencils individually, you’d pay $5.50 dollars (paying taxes 5 times in a row). If you were to buy those same pencils in bulk (let’s say 30 in a pack), you’d only have to pay taxes on it once.
You’d also save on transportation and reduce your carbon footprint because you won’t have to make multiple trips.
Every little thing adds up when you’re trying to save money on school supplies.
Buy store brand
Store-brand items are just as good as name-brand items (source). Most store-brand items are made in the same factories that also make name-brand items.
Companies that make store-brand do it to help customers who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford that product to be able to access it.
It’s a win-win situation for them. Store-brand items are cheaper because they drive more sales (since that’s what people can afford), which results in more revenue for the store. ‘
That’s why you should always go for store-brand if you want to save money on school supplies.
Use a rewards credit card when shopping
You should always shop with a credit card that offers rewards when shopping.
Using a credit card will help you build your credit score. This is important to securing your financial future.
Besides building your credit, a rewards card will give you points or cash back that can be redeemed later.
Every year we plan a vacation entirely on the reward points we accumulate from the previous year’s spending. That’s how we pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms.
Final Thoughts on Saving Money On Back-to-School Shopping
Back-to-school shopping shouldn’t be a stressful experience if you plan accordingly. That’s why I recommend getting a back-to-school shopping planner to help you get organized and prepare for your shopping trip.
Buy what you can and leave the rest. Don’t stress too much if your budget doesn’t allow for all the items on your back-to-school shopping list.