Back-to-school time has become its own shopping season, second only to Christmas. The Huntington Bank Backpack Index found an annual index chart that tracks the average cost of back-to-school supplies. It now costs an average of $1,000 to send a child back to school for supplies, clothes, health checkups, sports, and more! That’s as much as an average mortgage payment, and each year costs continue to inflate. If you multiply this amount by two or three or five children, it’s easy to see why parents begin stressing hardcore in mid-July when back-to-school fliers and ads start showing up.

If your children are starting kindergarten this fall or heading off to college, you can buy them everything they need without completely destroying your bank account. Let’s look at some strategies to help you back-to-school shop this year.

Do a Supply Sweep

You might already have plenty of school supplies lying around the house, but you just don’t realize. Closets, desk drawers, and basement bins could hold hidden treasures that can save you money. Start by rounding up all of the office supplies that you already own, and then make note of the items that you don’t need to buy. Keep this list in your purse or car so that you won’t forget it when you shop for school supplies. 🙂

After that, go through your kid’s closets and begin sorting. Clothing that kids have outgrown, as well as worn clothing, should be donated or thrown away. Once you complete this “supply sweep,” you’ll have a clearer picture of what you actually need to buy. The sweep is meant to prevent you from buying something you already have on hand.closet mess

Plan a Supply Swap

Remember to host a “supply swap” before you head out shopping. For example, you may have packages of big erases that you bought for cheap that you probably will not use. Also, your friend may have several pens she’s willing to trade for the erasers. Talk to friends and family who have school-aged children and see if they have extra supplies they’d be interested in trading.

Shop at Garage Sales & ~ThRiFt Stores

If you don’t already know, garage sales can be full of deals for back-to-school supplies. You might find gently used shoes, clothing, backpacks, and even school supplies.

Begin attending garage sales very early. It may take time, but you can score some incredible bargains by doing this, and it’s a great way to save money on the hundreds of dollars spent on the shopping spree in August for back to school clothes.

There are also awesome deals found in thrift stores too. Clothing is very affordable there, and many stores run sales specifically for parents shopping for back-to-school items. Remember to start early at the stores though, around the middle of July, because the selection will be picked over quickly and definitely by the first day of school.

If you purchase back to school clothing in the middle of summer, put them away until school starts so that the newness doesn’t fade out.

Check Consignment Shops

Consignment shops are great places to find used clothing because everything they offer has already been sorted, so unlike the thrift store, you won’t have to dig through jeans from 1975 to find designer clothing on a budget.

If you live in an area with several consignment shops, find out if they’ll be having a sale in late summer.

Check the Dollar Store

You can get some incredible bargains on school supplies at the dollar store, where you’ll find basic supplies like notebooks and pencils. You might find classroom supplies at the store as well like Kleenexes or hand sanitizer. Just like everything else, start shopping in the summer months, because you never know what items stores will order or how long these items will stay in stock.1-dollar.png

Shop on a Sales Tax Holiday

Many states have sales tax holidays when shoppers can buy items without paying sales tax. On these days, one can pick up clothing, computers, and school supplies tax-free! I wish everyday was a sales tax holiday…

Find the date, or dates (hopefully), of your state’s sales tax holiday. Most states have a holiday during the first week of August, although some have tax holidays in July or toward the end of August.

Follow Stores on Social Media

Many companies send their loyal followers coupon links and advance notice of sales. If you do plan to bargain shop this year, monitor your favorite stores on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to find deals.

Compare Prices

Most parents will have to buy some kind of electronic for their kids for school. A great way to save on these is to keep an eye on Amazon’s ever-changing pries!

There are also a lot of apps to help you save money by comparing prices across many different retailers. Check them out in your app store to download the best one.

Don’t forget to look to your grocery store or nearby drugstore for bargains on school supplies as well. Make sure to check out local circulars starting in mid-summer; you might be surprised to find that some items are actually cheaper when they’re on sale at these stores than large retail stores. Additionally, many stores have reward or loyalty programs for their customers that enable you to earn points or even “store dollars” when you purchases these items

Focus on Saving on Big-Ticket Items

When you’re back-to-school shopping, it’s easy to get paranoid about the cost of glue at Target compared to at Walmart. It’s important to watch prices on small items, but you do only have so much time and energy on back-to-school shopping (especially energy).

It’ll be more valuable to use this time and energy to save money on bigger-ticket items such as computers, tablets, and other electronics. For example, saving $400 on your college student’s new laptop should mean more to your budget than saving $3 on your middle schooler’s glitter glue or lunch box. Stay focused on saving money on your biggest expenses first, and then worry about the cheaper things.

Make Your Kids Work for Their Supplies

If your kids expect expensive back-to-school gear, MAKE THEM WORK FOR IT!

A few suggestions would be to assign them chores or send them out into the neighborhood to earn the money needed for these pricey items. Make sure they’re careful around their neighborhood though, and avoid strangers who are creeping around. 😦

Hold Off on New Clothing

Every child wants new clothes when they head back to hit the books. While retailers do put clothing on sale for back to school, Consumer Reports states that this isn’t the best time to buy a new wardrobe for your kids. Prices typically will go down in September after the big clothes-buying rush is over.

A better strategy is to buy one new outfit for your kids to wear the first day of school and then do most of your shopping when prices drop further.

Save on School Sports & Activities

Don’t discard your children from doing extra curricular activities just because of the costs. There are plenty of ways to save money on extracurricular activities for your kids.

First, think about limiting your children to just one after-school activity a piece, instead of doing the entire circus. By limiting their choices, you give them the opportunity to focus on what they’re most interested in. This will force them to make a choice, and when they take ownership of this choice, they’ll likely feel more dedicated to what they’re doing and really put their whole heart and mind into it in and attempt to improve. Sticking to one activity will also help you avoid having an over scheduled child and gives more of a balance on academics, family time, and friends.

If you want to save money on sports equipment, one strategy is to buy used. You can find used gear in good condition on many swapping websites and can also sell our own equipment on the site as well. If you want to save money on music lessons or band participation, your best bet is to buy or rent a used instrument. Craigslist and eBay are also great places to look for used instruments.sporty

Shop Through Ebates

Online cash back shopping venue Ebates acts like a shopping gateway. The website allows you to shop online at over 2500 major store brands like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Gap, Barnes & Noble, Dell, Kohl’s, DSW, and Macy’s, all while giving you cash back on your purchases.

How much you earn typically varies from 1-6% of your total purchase price. However, many retailers offer short-term rebates of 10% or more, as well as special sales just for Ebates shoppers. Many users of the site receive $300 or more throughout the year using Ebates, which they then use to buy back-to-school supplies.

Just Say No

Bringing your kids back-to-school shopping can be a fun family bonding experience. Unfortunately, it can also add hundreds of dollars to your shopping bill if you cave to their requests for designer jeans and expensive backpacks.

One suggestion to save some money is to let your kids know before you leave the house that you’re going to be sticking to the school list and won’t consider purchasing anything extra when you’re there. I know this can be difficult, but try to stick to your word. It’s a good lesson taught for you and your child!

Another idea would be to just go school shopping on your own. Maybe buy your kids just what they might need on their first day and then while they’re in school, hit the stores to knock out the rest of the list by yourself. This will not only be relaxing, but you’ll actually save money too.

Save on College Supplies

If you have a child who is heading to college, you’re likely going to experience a brand new level of back-to-school shock. In addition to the increasing cost of college tuition, parents spend an average of $888 on school supplies for college students, according to TIME. The costs broken down are:

Electronics: $211.33

Apparel and Accessories: $137.29

Dorm Furnishings: $114.21

Food $105.88

Personal Care Items: $78.03

Shoes: $70.39

School Supplies: $64.64

Gift Cards: $57.54

Branded Gear: $49.41

As you noticed, this break down doesn’t even include the cost of textbooks, which can run $200 or more apiece! According to, the average cost for a college-bound student, including textbooks, is more than $1200; this number doesn’t include the cost of a laptop, which is a necessity for most students.

There are many ways to save on back-to-school shopping for your college student as well. 🙂

The most important tip to save money on college textbooks is to buy your textbooks secondhand and avoid the campus bookstore. You can save up to 90% off the cost of textbooks when you shop through Amazon Student, or Chegg, which has the option of either buying or renting textbooks.

While the cost of renting a textbook might be lower up front, it might not always be the best deal because when you’re done with the book, you can’t resell it; you have to send it back to the rental agency so there is no way to make money. Do the math first to determine which is the better option for you financially.

Another strategy to save money on college textbooks is to purchase older editions of the book on your list. However, be careful if you decide to go this route. Some professors might have a specific edition he/she wants you to use. If the syllabus doesn’t specify, check with them to be sure which one they want you to have.books

Dorm Room Supplies

Before purchasing dorm room supplies, do some homework first. You wouldn’t want to purchase a brand new coffee maker for your daughter’s dorm room only to find out the school bans individual coffee makers.

Once your child has decided on a college and the dorm they will be living in, head to the school’s residency page and look up their particular house or dorm. Find out the dimensions of each dorm room, what the school supplies as a courtesy, and what items are banned. For example, some dorms don’t allow electric kettles, toasters, or microwaves. You can also check out Bed Bath & Beyond’s college locator page, which has an extensive list of what each school’s dorm supplies and what they don’t.

Shop for dorm room essentials like rugs, sheets, and light cooking equipment at garage sales and thrift stores, where they’ll cost a fraction of what they cost new. Also, try reaching out to friends and family members and ask them if they have any items they are willing to pass on to your student; chances are they’ll be glad to help!

If you have their contact information, you can also save money by reaching out to your child’s future roommate. Talk to them before move-in-day to determine who will bring what so that you don’t bring two of the same thing and waste money.

Also, check your child’s college or university website to see if they have a rental program; many schools do! In these programs, you can rent items like microwaves or mini fridges for cheap, and you won’t have to move them out at the end of the year, which is a huge plus!!!

Last, start checking Craigslist for the city where your child will be attending school. Students who graduate from school in April or May will often sell – or even give awayitems like futons, TVs, and couches because they don’t want to ship or move these items back home. If your child’s school isn’t too far away from your home, you can pick up some great bargains from graduating students, if you’re willing to store these items over the summer. It can also pay to drive around campus neighborhoods at the end of the semester; many students will simply leave items out on the curb for anyone to pick up. 😦


Many parents don’t want to think about shopping for the coming school year, especially in the midst of summer. However, back-to-school shopping can creep up on you and your family quickly, so it pays to be prepared. The best way to save money is to start planning far ahead in time, so that you can take take advantage of every deal and coupon that comes your way!

Good luck this fall.

-Lauren L.


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