As much as our kids don’t want to be reminded, the beginning of the school year will be here before we know it. A new school year also means back-to-school shopping and additional expenses. However, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a budget buster. With some careful planning and smart choices, you can keep your expenses low while stocking up on your children’s school essentials.
12 Back-to-School Money Saving Tips
1. Take inventory of what you have
Every year I go through my children’s school supplies and I wind up finding unopened boxes of pencils and notebooks that were never touched. Go through your home and look for school supplies that can be used in the new school year. This will save you from buying duplicate school supplies and from wasting money on things you already own.
2. Create a list and set a budget
Never shop without a list. This rule also applies to back-to-school shopping. Nothing can bust your budget quicker than shopping without a clear plan. You’ll get distracted by the shiny new inventory and wind up spending more than you hoped for. Also, set a budget and take cash if possible. This will force you to spend your money wisely and keep you from making unplanned purchases.
3. Price check online
Before I step into a store I make sure to check prices online. This helps me ensure that I am getting the best possible deal. Simply go to the websites of your favorite stores to check their weekly mailer. I also like checking out a few of my favorite blogs like Free Homeschool Deals and Passionate Penny Pincher to find out the sales for the week. There are also times that I can purchase items online through Amazon (affiliate link) without having to step into a store.
4. Hit up the dollar stores
Dollar stores can be a great place to stock up on school supplies. Some of my favorites are index cards, tape, file folders, scissors, post-it notes, crayons, hand sanitizer, tissues, dry erase board and activity books. I’m sure there are several other items you can purchase there, but these are the main ones I like to buy at my local store.
5. Take advantage of penny sales
Penny sales are my favorite. Stores like Staples and Office Max typically offer an item or two per week throughout the summer that is sold for a penny. Lately, I’ve noticed that some of these items are now being sold for ten cents, but even that’s a pretty good deal. If you plan carefully you can easily buy notebooks, pencils, and folders for less than a couple of bucks.
6. Shop at consignment stores
I did this every year when my kids were attending a traditional school. I would start early in the summer season and hit up our local consignment shops. I would often find new or almost new clothing for a fraction of the store price. You could take your children’s outgrown clothing and receive credit towards your own purchases to bring down your total even more. If you want to find out how to keep clothing costs low check out this post on How To Save Money On Clothes.
7. Shop on tax-free days
I’m lucky to live in a state that doesn’t tax clothing or textbooks. But if you live in a state that does, save your purchases for tax-free days. This is a growing trend in many states and it’s a great time to take advantage of the savings. Save major purchases for these weekends to maximize your savings. Check out this great list by Passion For Savings to find out if your state is participating and when.
8. Stick to classic clothing pieces
When buying children’s clothing, stick to classic pieces when possible. I know it can be difficult with opinionated teens or little ones that prefer cartoons characters on their t-shirts. But if you stick with a few classic clothing pieces, you’ll be able to mix and match their wardrobe and get more outfits with fewer clothing articles. Also, try to purchase a pair of shoes or sneakers that can go with several outfits. This will prevent you from having to purchase a few pairs of shoes just to match up with outfits.
9. Personalize it yourself
When my daughter was younger she loved notebooks and folders with her favorite cartoon characters. However, these custom school supplies typically cost two to three times more than the plain version. Instead, purchase stickers of your children’s favorite characters or Duck tape with their favorite patterns and let them customize their own supplies. They’ll get what they want and you can keep more money in your pocket.
10. Wait until school begins
I know waiting until school begins sounds a bit odd. But if you have enough supplies to get them through the first few weeks, just wait it out. You’ll find that stores will start to drop prices on clothing and even office supplies since they no longer have a demand for these things. Just have your kids wear their summer clothes the first couple of weeks since it will probably be warm anyway. You’ll also have a better idea of what school supplies their teacher wants them to have, so you don’t overspend.
11. Host a back-to-school swap
If you have friends with school-aged children, take the initiative and host a back-to-school swap. You can keep it simple and only swap clothing. Or you can include school supplies and swap those as well. Keep it simple and ask everyone to bring a snack or a dish to share. I also suggest keeping it kid-free if possible.
12. Shop without your kids
This is so simple, yet I see many parents take their kids with them anyways. I know back-to-school shopping is a great way to get the kids excited about the start of a new school year. But it also means they will have a lot of input on your shopping choices. As much as we say that their opinion will not persuade us, it does. So in order to avoid meltdowns and arguments, I leave my kids at home whenever possible. I can shop in peace without anyone questioning the choices I make. 🙂
What are some of your favorite back-to-school money saving tips? Feel free to share below with others!
Allison @ Frugal on the Prairie
Tuesday 14th of July 2015
I've never heard of Penny Sales but I'm glad you said something! My baby is only 14 months so we don't do any school shopping. But I stock up on pens, notebooks, dry erase markers, etc. for all of my business gear. I will be keeping an eye out on the ads now that I've read your post.