Are school supplies and back to school clothing putting a strain on your budget year after year? Stop the money drain with these 10 ways to save money on back to school shopping.
Our children go to a small private school two days a week and are homeschooled the other three days a week, but that doesn’t mean they need any fewer school supplies each year. Thankfully I am able to apply a lot of my best thrifty tips for living on less to back to school shopping to help shrink the cost of those supplies.
10 Ways Thrifty People Save Money On Back To School Shopping
(Links in this post are affiliate links. I will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking those links. See my disclosure page for more information)
1. Make A List
If your school is like the one my children attend, they probably send you a handy email with a downloadable supply list inside– make sure to print it out. On the back side of that list write down what your kids need beyond those supplies, things like new shoes, socks, sweatshirts, and school uniform items if your school requires them.
A few notes on how we decided what clothing items are needed for back to school.
To make a complete back to school wardrobe list I have each child dump every item of clothing they own on my bed and then we go over each and every item together. Does this item still fit? Sometimes if I don’t believe the answer to this question I will have them try it on–especially my sentimental child who wants to keep every article of clothing that sparks memories. Is the item in good condition? If it has stains or rips it goes straight in the trash. I know I am not the world’s best stain removal wizard and I don’t have time to mend. Do they still like wearing the item? If not and it passed the stain and rip test it goes into a box for the thrift store.
Once we have our pile of items that is staying we sort it into t-shirts, long sleeve tops, sweatshirts, shorts, jeans, etc so that we can see where there are wardrobe holes. I aim for four of each type of clothing item, that seems to be the magic number in our home to avoid the ‘Oh, no! I have nothing clean!” morning panic. If the child has less than four, we decide together what colors would work best with what they already have and add that article of clothing and suggested colors to our list.
I then divide the list into items they need right away and items that can wait. So if they need t-shirts we will get them right away since it is warm when they start school, but if they need a new winter coat then that can wait until cooler weather arrives, allowing me more time to find a great bargain. I store their lists in a zippered pocket in my purse so I have them with me at all times to refer to when I find deeply discounted clothing items in their size.
2. Shop Your Home First
Chances are you have a few items lying around your house that could be on that school supply list you printed off. Perhaps you bought a few extras last year just in case, or there are other items that were barely used. If so, don’t rebuy them; use what you have.
I know that might be hard to hear for some. After all there is a certain thrill as a child to going to school the first day with all new supplies, but is it really worth it? How long does that thrill last? I am guessing it dies by the end of the first week of school.
Teach your children instead to be wise stewards of money and the environment by using up supplies they already own. I am not saying they have to go to school with pencils with only an inch left or erasers that are as big as a pinky fingernail. But if the pencil was sharpened and used once and the eraser still looks like new, use them up this year and pocket the savings.
3. Buy Quality Where It Counts
My middle child is a senior in high school this year and he is going to go to school with a backpack he has used already for all three years of high school and it will probably make it to his very last day of this fourth and final year of high school.
The backpack is a Swiss Gear backpack (very similar to this model) bought on clearance one January for another purpose and then put away for school. I paid about $5 more for it than a cheap version would be. That $5 difference has paid me back again and again. As of today after three years of constant use only one small accessory strap has fallen off. Other than that it is in perfect working order. My daughter has the same brand in a different color, and her’s is now in its second year of use.
I find the same applies for binders, I bought my son several Five Star brand binders (like this one) his first year of high school and he is still using them going into his fourth year.
At home we use better quality pencils (this is our favorite brand), erasers and pens because I know they will last longer. However, I don’t send them to school with them because I have learned the hard way that my children are very absent minded with little items, meaning they get misplaced long before they get used up. Knowing this I send them to school with less expensive brands.
4. Shop Sales Or At Least Go To The Store Known For Lowest Prices
I only buy supplies for two children so I don’t do the school supply sales game where you go to store after store grabbing the lowest priced items at each one. If you have more children to buy for I can see it being worth your time. I suggest you follow the site Money Saving Mom during the back to school shopping season. The site does a great job of listing where you will find the lowest prices on school supplies.
What I do is simply head to the one store that I know has in general the lowest prices for school supplies overall in my town and I buy them there. I might not save the most money, but I also save time that I could spend on other money making or money saving ventures. You personally need to decide which approach would work best for your family and your financial situation.
5. Use Cash Back Sites & Apps
Even though I don’t store hop for school supplies I will open up every cash back app and site I can think of to see if perhaps I can get a bit of money back on my purchase.
If I am shopping online I check these three sites to see who is offering a cash back deal on the store I am about to shop at. If several of them offer a cash back, I check to see which one is offering the highest rate.
- Swagbucks (what I like about Swagbucks is there are so many other ways to earn points)
- Topcashback (what I like about Topcashback is their lack of cash out minimum)
- Ebates (what I like about eBates is their large variety of stores)
The smartphone apps I use most often for savings in store (some do offer online savings too)
- ibotta–Does rebates for both in-store and online shopping. Great selection of stores!
- Shopkick–Earn points just for walking into the store
- Receipt Hog–You don’t earn a lot using Receipt Hog, but it is so simple to use.
6. Consider Buying Secondhand
When I mention considering secondhand items to fullfill your back to school shopping list I am not talking about just clothing items. I have bought my children like-new binders at yard sales as well as report folders, pencil cases and more at a fraction of retail costs.
Secondhand clothing will save you even more money, though. I personally find yard sale clothing to be the least expensive, but it is also very hit and miss as to whether you will find what you are looking for. If you want to save money and you are short on time I would head to the biggest thrift store in your area.
You can also shop for secondhand clothing online. I have personally used Thredup dozens of times with good success, I make sure to check the “like new” and “new with tags” option to ensure good quality. You can get $10 off your first order at ThredUp when you use my referral link (these words highlighted in blue are it). If you like name brand items I think you will like what you find at ThredUp. They have all sizes from infants through to adult.
7. Buy Ahead When You Find Deeply Discounted Items
You know that every year you are going to need pencils, pens, erasers and paper so why not stock up if you see some deeply discounted a few months after school starts? Place these items in a plastic tote with a lid so they won’t get beaten up. Next time back to school season comes up you have a jump start on shopping.
8. Use Discounted Gift Cards
Discounted gift cards can save you anywhere from 1% to as much as 20% or more on your shopping, but you do have to think ahead. I usually pass unless I can save 5% or more. Our family likes using the company Cardpool, but there are others out there. A good site to use to help you get the best deal on discounted gift cards is Gift Card Granny. You simply sign up for an account and then you can start searching for the gift card you want and it will show you all the places offering that gift card at a discount.
The key to using discounted gift cards wisely to save money is to only buy them for stores you shop at often and always for a little less than you plan to spend. That way you are not stuck with a bunch of gift cards for places you either won’t shop at in the next 12 months or with less than a dollar on them.
9. Keep Track Of What You Spend
Each and every year keep track of what you spent on school supplies. Use that information to create a budget for the next year. To be on the safe side always add about 10% to the amount you actually spend for next year’s budget to allow for rising prices or a change in supply list.
10. Earn Gift Cards For Things To Help You With Next Year’s Shopping
Did you know that there are companies that will give you points for searching the web through their search bars, or for printing and using coupons, or shopping online? You can then cash those points in for gift cards. These are all actions you probably already do for free so why not get paid to do them? One company that does this is Swagbucks. I have used them for years. Swagbucks makes it simple for everyone to earn anywhere from $5 to $25 or more each month without changing their online habits all that much. Simply download their search bar and use it instead of your current search engine.
Hope these tips help! Do you have any to add?
Three Related Posts You Are Going To Want To Read:
- 20 Thrifty Ways To Spend Quality Time With Your Child
Thrifty and Thriving: More Life for Less Money is not your typical “how to save money” book. It does not list 25 ways to save on food or 10 ways to decrease your electric bill. Instead, it shares more than 40 key practices and principles that thrifty families use every day. Get your copy here. Available in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.
Become A Snail Pacer
Receive a monthly newsletter full of tips for making life changes at a realistic pace.