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Save on Back to School Shopping

back to school shopping


I can’t believe it’s already time to think about back to school, but sticking my head in the sand about the impending start of the school year does nothing to help us get prepared. Last year the average family spent almost $700 on back to school costs. Unless your kid requires a computer, I don’t believe it’s necessary or wise to spend that much. Before heading out to stock up on school supplies, take some time to prepare. There are tons of ways to save on back to school shopping.

Look Around the House for Functional School Supplies

Once you obtain the necessary school supply list, take a look around the house. It’s tempting to pick up the list from the store and throw everything in the cart that same day, but there is a good chance you don’t need to buy everything new.

We were able to find an unused glue stick, some markers, folders, scissors, rulers, notebooks, and plenty of paper towels and tissues. Our PE shoes from last year still fit, so that’s a nice savings. Kids also don’t need new backpacks and lunch boxes every year. We will be using our same backpack from 1st grade. It was from Land’s End and was a little more expensive than something from Walmart, but it has really taken a beating and held up well.

I still need to buy some supplies, but we’ve already knocked out a third of the list. An added bonus was cleaning out the junk drawer and art supply shelf. Not only is my home more organized, I also found a $20 gift card from Payless that I though was gone forever. It really can pay to declutter!

Set a Back to School Budget

It’s very easy as parents to get caught up on back to school sales. We want our kids to have the best, so it’s tempting to give in when they find that perfect shirt or backpack they they just can’t live without. After all, it’s on sale, right?

In reality, having no boundaries only sets kid up for future disappointment when they don’t know how to control spending and have access to credit. It’s a recipe for disaster.

With younger kids, parents need to have a set budget and stick to it. Don’t be tempted by cute. With older kids, it works really well to give a budget for clothes or shoes and let them choose. That way they can have whatever they want with the understanding that paying more for name brands means less quantity. Once you have a budget based on what you can afford, it’s time to go shopping.

Is it Cheaper Online?

I always try to buy online if possible. It saves time, and I am not tempted by sales or store displays. Another nice thing about online shopping is having the ability to comparison shop pretty easily to make sure you’re getting the best price.

If you have a Target Red Card or can have items sent to a local store for pickup, you shouldn’t have to pay for shipping. For folks who are thinking about joining Amazon Prime, the first month is free. Back to school time might be a great opportunity to try it out for the free two day shipping.

Shop During Tax Free Weekend

For many states, next weekend means no sales tax up to certain minimums on various clothing and school supplies. If you’re buying pencils and paper, it won’t save a ton, but if your kid needs clothes or a laptop, it could mean significant savings. Even if you don’t have kids, it might be a good time to jump on buying a computer. I wouldn’t pay more in retail price just to save the sales tax, but if the asking price is right, why not save as much as possible? Check this list from Taxadmin.org to see which states are participating and how much you can save.

Take Advantage of Reward Points and Cash Back Options

For those of you who use points for cash back or travel, back to school shopping can offer some nice rewards. Currently, if you have a Chase Freedom card, there is a 5x bonus for purchases from Kohl’s. With a Chase Ink Bold, any purchase from a office supply store offers 5x points. Almost every credit card has a shopping portal for extra bonus points on purchases from various stores.

If credit cards rewards aren’t important but you still like to shop online, don’t forget to use a cash back portal like Ebates. Right now, they are offering around eight percent cash back from clothing stores like Old Navy, American Eagle, and JC Penney, plus up to 5.5 percent cash back on certain Amazon back to school purchases.

Financial Literacy is the Best Back to School Gift

If you have kids, back to school shopping is a necessary evil. Remember that financial literacy is one of the best gifts we can give our children. Setting a good example of how to shop responsibly during the craziness of back to school is a lesson that will last long after shoes or jeans purchased today are long gone.

How much do you intend to spend on back to school? Do you feel that back to school sales and shopping have gotten as bad as Black Friday? 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/stockimages


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. You bring up a good point saying that back to school shopping is a great way to teach kids about financial literacy. I think if I was a parent I’d have a hard time not going overboard on back to school shopping because it would be easy to get caught up in the “cute” of it all!

  2. It’s crazy for me to think about back to school stuff, yet my friend’s kids in Atlanta actually just started back to school today. We save every year on back to school stuff by doing a thorough inventory at the end of the previous year and salvage everything we can. The more you can reuse, the less you have to spend on new stuff. We also outsource some of our shopping. My mother-in-law loves to buy new sneakers for my son, so we hit her up for those and my mom likes to clothes shop so we let her help out there. It’s nice to have grandparents who can and want to contribute to back to school.

  3. June was our back to school month in our country. I recycled some old notebooks of my daughter, thankfully she understands that she should not waste any of it. She still uses her old school shoes and school bag.

  4. We don’t have kids, so we’re spared that expense. I think the one exception to shopping online is the loss leaders at Staples, OfficeMax, et al. Even if you don’t need pencils or notebook paper, take advantage and then donate them to your local food bank. The parents who have trouble affording food also have trouble affording school supplies.

  5. Ah back to school, the worst time of year for kids 😉 Unfortunately with grad school I will have to shell out quite a bit for textbooks.

  6. My kids are now excited to go back to school and use their new school supplies, which most of it were bought online. But, I’d prefer to bring them at the store so that they can pick which items they want to have. My practice is to prepare their school supplies two months before the school starts. Do the shopping when it’s sale.

  7. Jon @ Money Smart Guides

    Being smart with your spending and sticking to a budget is huge. I remember growing up going back to school shopping. There was always a budget and many times I didn’t get the clothes I wanted because they were too expensive. At the time, I didn’t understand it, but looking back I do. I might not have had the designer brands, but in the end it doesn’t matter anyways.

  8. I spent about $100 total between 1st grade and pre-school. I didn’t buy any school clothes this year because the kids really don’t need any. I know it’s going to get worse as they get older, but this year wasn’t so bad!

  9. Clementine Holly Grace Freya Mary MacRobert-Smythe

    I have spent probably a lot probably around a couple of thousand, instead of my daughter (14) getting a job, she does a part time job helping disadvantaged kids. The best thing about going back to school, is all of the new stationery.
    We have spent so much time finding boarder items for her new boarding school!

  10. Mary Elizabeth Freya Charlotte Smythe-McCarron

    I always love going back to school shopping with my daughter. We have bought so much colorful stationery! I wish I could be back in high school or at Yale where my boys go, I love the new clothes, new pe kit, new backpacks and the immense amount of stationery. I recommend fineliners and highlighters and coloring pens and pencils for those with teens, the stabilo and staedtler ranges are great, I have bought so many felt pens over the week and so many pens and pencils (my daughter and sons revise better with color). I love going to the mall and shopping with my daughter.
    Oh to be in her shoes…

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