9 Tips for Smart Back to School Shopping

Looking forward to getting that back-to-school supply list? I know how expensive school supply shopping can be! Here are some ways you can save some money on back-to-school supplies!

Going back to school is exciting!  A new year, backpacks bursting with fresh supplies- scissors, glue, colored pencils, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paper, pencil case, notebook, USB drive. The list can go on and on- and sometimes, it certainly feels like it does. Each child gets sent quite an extensive list, and it can be costly to stock up on all the school supplies that they need. Not exactly compatible with a frugal lifestyle!

If you are on a tight budget or have multiple children, you can quickly feel that sting in your pocketbook, and suddenly the luster and freshness of brand-new school supplies seem to dim. Even if you are not very frugal, you will need to find ways to save money on back-to-school shopping!

According to the National Retail Foundation (NRF), parents in 2020 expected to pay an average of $790 for grade school or high school students and over $1,000 on average for college students. That is a lot of money!

9 Money-saving Tips for Your Back-to-School Supply List:

Make a Budget and Stick To It

If you have older kids, let them know in advance how much they have to spend. This way, they can pick which items they want to “splurge” on and which ones they don’t. They may want to spend a lot on a nice notebook but stick to the cheaper pencils and pens.

Shop Early

Many stores have back-to-school deals on certain items already. Quickly glance through some deal sites and store ads to see which items are on sale and stock up on the basics- pens, notebooks, glue sticks, etc.

Shop Around

Different stores- physical and online have different things on sale at different times. Usually, office supply stores are the most expensive place to get the supplies on your school supplies checklist, and big box stores, dollar stores, or online stores are cheaper. Shop in those places first and save the expensive stores for those specialty items- like the big glue sticks or specific black ballpoint pens that your child’s middle school teacher insists on.

Coupon and Cashback

Look online for coupons and take advantage of cashback apps. These little savings can add up in a big way! Use Ibotta, Rakuten, or Top Cash Back to apply coupon codes and get some savings on your big purchases of loose-leaf paper!

See What You Can Reuse

Not everything needs to be new every year. Go through last year’s supplies and see what can be used, passed down, and what needs to be replaced. I have a container of unused or highly used school supplies from previous years that we go through each new school year to see what we can use again!

Plan Before You Shop

Make sure you have your school supply lists along with an idea of what items you already have so you don’t end up overbuying. If you have multiple kids who need the same items, you may be able to split value packs and make sure to have an idea of what each child needs BEFORE you shop.

Stock up on Basics

Are crayons, pens, or paper on major sale? Do you think you may need to buy more throughout the year? If you have the resources, buy some extra basic supplies that are on sale so you don’t have to buy them at full price later in the year. For example, glue sticks and pencils often go on sale throughout the year, and you can get big boxes for fairly cheap. These are items that I will most probably and definitely need. I feel comfortable buying them, just in case!

Don’t Take All Your Kids at Once

If you have more than one child, don’t try to take all of the kids shopping at once. That is just asking for trouble. When the pressure of numerous kids gets to you, you are more likely to make snap decisions that make it harder to stick to your budget. Take one kid at a time, even though it may mean more time. You will probably spend less money and have an altogether more positive experience. If you can, do some of your shopping by yourself. Taking your kids to the store with you usually means spending more money and increases your stress level!

Decide What’s Important Together

Kids spend all day in school using their school supplies. Certain supplies will be more important to a specific kid than to another. Your high school student may want a nicer or better reusable water bottle than your ten-year-old who really wants branded notebooks.

Discuss with each child which supplies are the most important and agree on which you will spend more money on and which items you will buy store-brand or cheaper quality. If your budget allows, agree on how much and how many “special” school supplies you will buy. This may be one or two “fun” notebooks or “fancy” markers, while the rest are generic. When you include your child in the decision-making, they are usually more willing to play along.


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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.

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