7 Ways to Save Money on Back to School Shopping

August 18, 2009

Back to school specials are here! It’s that time of year, and parents are dreading how much money they will spend over the next couple of weeks. The average family will spend about $600 this year on back-to-school supplies and clothes for their kids.

That’s a big chunk of change, especially for a families struggling to make ends meet during rough economic times. Here are some tips to help save money on back to school shopping.

1. Don’t follow the supplies list strictly. Use your own logic and consult your kids about which supplies are most important. I remember being in grade school and hardly ever using about 25% of the stuff my mom bought me.

2. Recycle old supplies. Your kids might not have used some of their old supplies, and it could still be sitting in their backpack. Hole punchers, staplers, pencils, pens, and hardcover binders are all examples of supplies that can be easily reused.

3. Buy in bulk. If you are shopping for more than one child, try looking at Costco or Sam’s for bulk items like folders, pens, pencils, crayons, and note cards.

4. Don’t take your kids with you to shop, if possible. Get a babysitter, keep one parent at home, or drop them off at grandma’s. They will try to convince you to buy stuff they don’t need, and they are very brand conscious, but won’t care what brand it is after a couple of weeks at school.

5. Don’t buy your kid a whole new wardrobe. I think some parents get into the habit to buy their kids an entire new wardrobe when they go back to school.

Sure, if your kid hasn’t gotten new shoes in a while and is growing out of old ones, then take advantage of back-to-school sales. But if you just bought them new clothes in the spring or summer, let them pick out two new outfits and possibly a new pair of shoes. Anything more is overkill.

6. Take advantage of tax savings. If your state has a tax free week or if a business decides to pay the sales tax for you, make sure you shop at those times or at those businesses. I know that JC Penney had a promotion going on that they would discount your purchase by the amount of sales tax, so it was like you didn’t pay any sales tax.

7. Stay away from sales traps. Some sales are only sales to encourage you to spend more money than you normally would. “But 1, get one half off” can be dangerous, because it could force you to buy more and spend more than you expected.

Saving money is a lifestyle. If you train yourself to save money in all situations, it will begin to feel automatic. Back-to-school is one of those times of years that we just expect to spend a lot of money, and we might let our savings guard down a little bit. Consider some of these tips, and you’ll save enough money to throw towards all of the other expenses your kids will incur during the fall months.


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Erik Folgate is a husband and father living in Orlando who's been writing about money online for 6 years. Digging himself out of $20k of debt after college and his former experience in the insurance industry give him some useful insights into personal finance issues.

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