Back to School Budgets: Tips to Help You Save on Supplies
Seems like back-to-school season hits the stores earlier every year, but no matter how many beach days or vacays you’ve had with the kids, that Back to School shopping list can loom large over your wallet, especially if you have multiple children to equip.
Whether you’re shopping for school supplies for your first grader, a fall wardrobe for your tween, or a furnished dorm for your co-ed’s first year at college, it’s possible to spend both wisely and economically.
Read on for a few tips to help you save on back-to-school supplies.
1. Set a Budget:
It might sound obvious, but budgets are often the first thing to go when you’re spending an entire day shopping. Establish a realistic budget and stick to it, even if it means sacrificing here and there.
If you set a specific budget for each category — clothes, supplies, tech — only shift funds from one budget to another if it’s unavoidable.
Pro tip: Share the spending limit with your kids to level-set expectations before heading to the store.
2. Shop Early:
The sooner you start, the better. If you can spend little by little rather than all at once, you’ll feel less overwhelmed by a deadline or total dollar amount.
Remember, you don’t have to purchase everything up front — sales often get better once the school year starts, so stick to your budget and plan for additional shopping when needed.
3. Prioritize School Supplies:
Don’t leave the house without a shopping list. If you have multiple lists from different teachers, consolidate them so that everything can be found on one sheet.
Make sure the essentials stand out, whether with a highlighter or by listing them at the top of the page. Occasionally stop to ask yourself whether you really need new binders or if you can re-use last year’s.
Pro tip: Look for major bargains on basic supplies at your local dollar store or on the web: Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and online liquidators like HJ Closeouts Inc. are just a few to keep in mind.
4. Go Online:
Apart from not having to leave the house, the beauty of online shopping is that many sites have promo codes to help you save or even avoid paying for shipping. Just be sure to keep return costs in mind.
Pro tip: If you tend to forget to include the promo codes, add the Chrome extension Honey to your browser — it’ll automatically check for promo codes and rack up points that convert to HoneyGold, which you can use to save more money when shopping online.
5. Research Text Book Savings:
If you need books for an entire semester or school year, buy used or look into renting. Some textbooks are even free to borrow from your local library, and many libraries have access to audiobooks or ebooks.
- Buy used or new: B&N, Amazon, AbeBooks, CampusBooks, Bigwords, AllBookstores
- Rent: Chegg, CampusBookRentals, BookRenter, eCampus
6. Hunt for Frugal Fashion Finds:
If your kids insist on wearing name brands, head to off-price retail stores like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx first, then look for markdowns near the back of your favorite retail stores. Avoid shopping online unless you’re certain your child hasn’t grown out of last year’s size for that same brand.
Pro tip: Warm weather often sticks around for a few months, so don’t worry about stocking the closet for the whole year just yet. Encourage your child to find creative ways to layer their summer threads.
7. Jump Start Your Child’s Education:
In the spirit of heading back to school, capitalize on the teachable moment and use back-to-school shopping to improve your child’s financial literacy. Set a budget for the trip, and place some of the purchasing power in their hands.
Whether you use all or some of these back to school shopping tips, be sure to work through at least a few buying decisions together — it’ll help illustrate the need for compromise, so your student can better understand the value of money.
Let them have some say, but explain that saving on the essentials can help them afford a new outfit, a nice backpack, or the trendy shoes they’ve been eyeing.
They’ll be grateful for this lesson when they’re old enough to buy a home.