Money Health

6 Back-To-School Shopping Tips to Save Money

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Due to budget cuts, families all over the country have been forced to take on more school-related expenses that school districts can no longer afford. In addition to clothes and backpacks, parents need to ensure their children come to school equipped with pencils, crayons, glue, paper and other supplies. They need enough for themselves, plus more to share with their classmates. 

All these supplies can really add up. In fact, it’s estimated that parents can expect to spend $1000 or more per child for back-to-school essentials. Fortunately, there are as many ways to save money as there are items to spend it on. You just have to be strategic about your approach.

1. Don’t Buy What You Already Have

Before you buy anything, take a survey of what you have already. Your house might be bursting with office supplies you can repurpose for your children’s needs. Look in closets and drawers for pens, pencils, glue, paper, etc. Just because something isn’t brand new doesn’t mean it’s not acceptable for use at school. 

Not only does using what you already have save money, it reduces clutter in your home, freeing more space for other purposes. That sounds like a “win win” situation!

2. Ask Friends and Family Members for Supplies

The people in your life, especially if they have older kids, almost certainly have extra items lying around their houses. Ask your friends and family for extra supplies they could contribute to your back-to-school haul. 

Arrange a supply and/or clothing swap for parents at your kids’ school, or at your church or some other group you’re affiliated with. This is especially convenient for schools that require uniforms, as frequently a kid will wear a uniform for just one year before needing a new one.  These events not only save you money and give new life to things people aren’t using, they can stimulate deeper connections with your community. Preparing for school can be stressful for families, but turning that preparation into an opportunity for socializing can make it a little more fun.

3. Pay Less for Big Ticket Items

Do some research to find the lowest prices on big ticket items like graphing calculators, computers, or specialized attire. Compare prices at big box stores online, get on mailing lists for updates on sales or coupons, and use coupon and cash back apps to keep abreast of deals at stores that carry the things your kids need and earn money with what you spend. 

4. Shop at the Dollar Store

You can purchase plenty of small ticket supplies, even from trusted name brands, at your local dollar store. Make that your first stop before big box stores like Walmart and Target, or office supply stores; you might be surprised at what you can find. Pencils, rulers, glue sticks, and even simple calculators could all be sold at dollar stores.

5. Save Money on Extracurricular Activities

It’s not just the classroom that feels the hit of budget cuts. Extra-curricular activities like sports and music require special equipment for participation, and parents are having to foot the bill for this stuff more and more often too. 

You can find tons of used sports equipment on websites like Craigslist, LetGo, Facebook Marketplace, and Play It Again Sports, which also has brick-and-mortar stores in some cities.

Decathlon is a sporting equipment store that offers beginner-level equipment for much cheaper than the more specialized or high end items professionals or more experienced sportsmen use. 

When it comes to musical equipment, consider renting instruments from local stores or looking for used items online. These tactics can save you a bundle, as some of these items can be quite expensive purchased new. Until your child is playing at the professional level in their musicianship, they don’t need a top-of-the-line saxophone.

6. Get Clothes from Thrift Stores

Children grow so quickly, their clothes often don’t have a chance to wear out before they no longer fit. This works in your favor when shopping for children’s clothes at Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village, or whatever your local chain. Additionally, many local charities and churches in towns all over run their own thrift stores, so shopping at one of them is a great way to give back to your community. 

Thrift store shopping can be fun for the whole family, and can allow your children to get a little more creative in their dressing. You can encourage them to cultivate a personal style rather than just wearing that graphic t from Target that every other kid has…and at a significant discount!

Back-to-school shopping has come to rival Christmas in terms of family expenses, but with a little thoughtfulness, planning, and ingenuity you can gather all the supplies your family needs to have a great school year without breaking the bank.

Kate Robinson Beckwith is a freelance writer who loves to use her way with words to help people get a better understanding of their finances. She lives in the Bay Area where she spends her weekends taking in culture, making books, and hiking with her husband and her goofy three-legged pitbull mix.