Here comes another school year, and that can mean it’s time to get shopping for some nice new pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and cool clothes. But don’t expect it to come cheap: Last year, the cost was estimated at $661 per school-age child, and this season could well top that.
No one wants to go into credit card debt to get their kid outfitted for the first day of school, so here’s help.
Read on for 31 back-to-school shopping tips that will save you money while getting your kids prepped for a great year ahead.
1. Check the Circulars
You might receive weekly circulars in the mail that include coupons to local stores that can help you save money on school supplies. If you don’t receive any circulars or you want more, using a website like Flipp can give you access to digital circulars and coupons you can use at the store.
2. Download Honey
The Honey browser extension is helpful when it comes to back-to-school savings. Installing Honey on your web browser will enable the extension to automatically search for coupon codes and deals when you check out online, saving you both time and money.
💡 Quick Tip: Help your money earn more money! Opening a high-yield bank account online often gets you higher-than-average rates.
3. Use Online Coupons
Some websites, such as Coupons.com, RetailMeNot, and Savings.com, offer online coupons. Browsing these sites may lead to savings on school supplies you need.
4. Join Target Circle
Doing back-to-school shopping at Target will let you earn rewards through Target Circle . You can access hundreds of deals as well as earn 1% back when you shop (or 5% back when you shop with your Target RedCard). You can redeem your savings on later purchases. Another perk: You may also see special discounts on back to school, such as 20% off a purchase for college students.
5. Use Cash Back Credit Cards
Making school-supply purchases with a cash-back credit card is another option to save some money. Then, you can put your savings towards future purchases or use the cashback to pay a portion of your credit card bill.
6. Get Cash Back for Shopping
7. Sign Up for Store Emails
If there are a few stores you know you’re going to be shopping at this year, then sign up for their email list ahead of time to receive coupons and find out when they are running sales. Some stores offer a percent-off coupon or a dollar-amount discount for signing up for their emails or texts.
8. Download Store Apps
Along with signing up for emails, you can also download store apps to receive exclusive savings and deal alerts. You may receive a one-time coupon at the beginning and then additional deals after that.
9. Ask Friends for Their Old Supplies
If you have friends who aren’t using their old supplies anymore, they may be willing to give them to you so they don’t go to waste. This could save you a lot of money, especially when it comes to paying for college textbooks.
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10. Join Parent Groups
Consider joining local parent groups on Facebook or other social media platforms to see if anyone is giving away supplies or selling them at a steep discount. Connecting with other parents before the first day of school can also be a good way to form friendships and trade back-to-school shopping tips.
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11. Look on Used Goods Marketplaces
You may also be able to find the supplies you need on used goods marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Keep safety precautions in mind when meeting strangers to complete a transaction: Consider meeting at a police station, bring someone with you, and trust your instincts if you feel the situation is unsafe.
12. Wait to Make Some of Your Purchases
Your children are not going to need all of their school supplies on the first day, or perhaps even in the first month of school. Instead, you can ask your children’s teachers what they will need right away and then wait to shop for the rest of the supplies when retailers start marking down their inventory, which typically happens in September or October.
13. Create a Budget
Before setting foot into a store, come up with a back-to-school monthly budget so you know exactly how much you can spend and avoid impulse purchases. Without a plan, it can be easy to spend too much and get caught off guard when you get your credit card statement in the mail.
14. Take Inventory of What You Already Have
You may already have what you need for back to school in your home. Look around for extra pencils, art supplies, books, and other items that you thought you needed to purchase but may already own.
15. Pay With Cash
One of the old tricks for sticking to a budget and saving money is to pay with cash instead of a debit or credit card. Paying with cash may make you more mindful of your purchases because you see the cash disappear when you spend it. You might not be tempted to spend as much if you opt for good, old-fashioned dollar bills and coins.
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16. Negotiating on a Cash Purchase
Cash is also helpful for negotiating. Though you may not be able to negotiate prices at a big-box store, you might be able to at a local shop, flea market, or yard sale if that’s where you’re headed for school supplies. Let the merchant know how much you’re willing to pay, and they may just be willing to cut a deal with you.
17. Look for Price Matching
Some stores will match another store’s price if you show them that their competitor is offering a better price on the same product. Prior to going to the store, take a few minutes to compare prices online, and bring proof of the lower price when you shop. Price matching policies vary from store to store and can usually be found on a store’s website.
18. Buy in Bulk
When it comes to how to save on school supplies, you may be able to save big if you buy in bulk from wholesale clubs or warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. Some of the best things to buy in bulk for back-to-school include pens and pencils, folders, and notebooks. Bulk purchases of things like paper towels, toilet paper, and shampoo might also make good financial sense. Joining other parents to split costs on bulk purchases might just result in a new, like-minded friend group.
💡 Quick Tip: If you’re creating a budget, try the 50/30/20 budget rule. Allocate 50% of your after-tax income to the “needs” of life, like living expenses and debt. Spend 30% on wants, and then save the remaining 20% towards saving for your long-term goals.
19. Buy Refurbished Electronics
If you need to pick up electronics like laptops, tablets, or phones, consider buying a refurbished version instead of a new device. Certified used models are often available directly from the manufacturer or from reputable online sellers.
20. Head to the Dollar Store
While the dollar store isn’t the ideal place for all your back-to-school shopping needs, you can find a number of inexpensive items there to save money on. These items include pencils, pens, crayons, folders, and clipboards.
21. Shop on Tax-Free Days
Some states hold annual tax-free days, usually in July or August, which can be perfect for back-to-school shopping. Check online to see if and when your state offers this money-saving option.
22. Use Your Student Discount
College students may be able to use their college ID or student email address to score discounts on electronics and other items. Check out stores around your college that offer deals to students.
23. Buy Used Textbooks
Another way to score some back-to-school savings is to purchase used textbooks. BookFinder.com searches all the bookseller websites to find the best deals on your textbooks.
24. Keep Your Receipts
If you keep your receipts and find out that items you purchased have been discounted further, then you may be able to get a price adjustment or a partial refund to make up for the price difference. Policies vary by retailer, but it doesn’t hurt to check sales after you’ve made a purchase and ask the store if they offer price adjustments.
25. Buying From Thrift Stores
Thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army often have back-to-school essentials like clothing and backpacks. Plus, buying used items can be environmentally friendly. Families who are facing financial difficulty affording school supplies may qualify for assistance through various charitable organizations, such as The Salvation Army or even their local school districts.
26. Find Brand Giveaways
By following brands on social media or contacting them directly, you may get free samples or promo codes to get discounts on goods.
27. Turn in Those Rebates
Sometimes, you won’t be able to access back-to-school savings at the time of purchase. Instead, you’ll need to send in rebates. Look for products that offer rebates and remember to keep your receipts and anything else required for the savings.
28. Invest in Quality Purchases
While you may want to buy everything at discount stores, poor-quality items may not even last an entire school year. For items that get a lot of use, such as a backpack, consider paying a bit more so they last. For example, you may be able to use the same high-quality, well-made backpack for several years before it wears out.
29. Use Alternatives for Your Kids’ Favorite Characters
Your child might really want a backpack with a specific character on it, but next year’s favorite character will probably be different. Buying your child a plain backpack and then adding some keychains or stickers that feature their favorite character is an inexpensive compromise that will keep your kids happy and save you big bucks.
30. Buy Reusable Items
While plastic and paper bags may be convenient, you’ll save much more money (and the environment) if you buy a reusable lunch bag and containers instead. Find a lunch bag that’s easy to clean to save time as well.
31. Hold a Clothing Swap
Kids quickly grow out of clothes, so it’s not budget-friendly to buy a lot of expensive new garments. You can invite over some friends and neighbors who have kids and swap used clothing instead. Or you might try Nextdoor and see if people in your community want to see about a trade or offloading some outgrown clothes.
💡 Quick Tip: When you overdraft your checking account, you’ll likely pay a non-sufficient fund fee of, say, $35. Look into linking a savings account to your checking account as a backup to avoid that, or shop around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting.
Taking some pre-shopping time to estimate costs is a good practice when trying to figure out how to save on school supplies. Setting a financial goal and saving a little bit at a time is a good thing to do whether the goal is purchasing school supplies or something a little more expensive.
Photo credit: iStock/TARIK KIZILKAYA
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