Saving Money on Back to School Supplies

Save Money When Back to School Shopping

Back to school normally means a shopping trip that can quickly overtax your wallet. This single shopping excursion can have a major impact on your budget if it gets out of hand. There are a few ways to save money and still provide your children with the experience and excitement of getting ready for school. This can actually be a great opportunity to have fun with the kids and introduce them to creative budgeting.

Create a Checklist

The all important checklist is your ticket to saving money on back to school supplies. You can find pre-made checklists online and at many local discount and dollar stores. Use a generic checklist as your basic template and tailor it to meet your child’s specific school supply needs. Next, divide the checklist into two sections. One section of your checklist is for supplies that are one time only purchases such as backpacks, lunch boxes, rulers, protractors, mini-staplers, safety scissors, and binders. The second section of your checklist should be for items that will need to be restocked throughout the school year such as paper, erasers, pencils, notepads, and crayons. By separating the list into two categories you can be sure to stock up on items that will need to be purchased again when you find a good deal.

Where to Buy Back to School Supplies

Your first back to school shopping experience should be at home. Find as many of the supplies on your list from around your house. You probably already have a bunch of cool pencils, erasers, crayons and other school treasures that can be found in various places around the house. You might even want to make a game of it with the kids, a kind of scavenger hunt with a prize at the end. Grab your checklist and check off all of the school supplies you find. You don’t need to buy what you already have.

Before you venture out to the nearest mall, pull all of the sale ads you can find to get an idea of the prices at various stores. Make a few notes on your checklist ‒ which store is offering what supply at the best price. Now is also the time to make use of the two sections of your checklist. You do not need to buy large quantities of supplies that need to be restocked at regular intervals. Keep these supplies down to a minimum.

The first store you should visit is the neighborhood discount and/or dollar store. Go through the store with your shopping list and compare the prices of the sale ads to those of the dollar store. Purchase all of the items on your list at the dollar store if the prices are better than the sale ads for other stores. A word of extreme caution ‒ do not over buy! Dollar stores normally have really great prices and it’s easy to fall into a shopping frenzy. Only buy what is on your list ‒ avoid impulse shopping.

You may also want to wait a week or two after school starts for supplies your child doesn’t need immediately. Many school supplies are significantly discounted once school starts. This is the time you might want to stock up for the year. Keep all of your school supplies well organized so you know exactly where they are when you need them.

Back to School Clothes Shopping

Once again your checklist is the best way to ensure you get everything your child needs and still manage your budget. Find out if the school has a specific dress code before you start your clothes shopping and take that into account when developing your checklist. Next, go through all of your child’s clothes and find out what still fits and what needs to be purchased. Clothes that no longer fit should be donated or traded at the local thrift or consignment shop. You might even receive cash or store credit at some of these stores to help stretch your shopping dollars. Or you can have a garage sale and make a few extra dollars to help with your back-to-school expenses. Your child can look like a million bucks for less if you shop wisely.

Clothes can be a little trickier than school supplies as children may have their own ideas of what’s trendy. If they absolutely must have the latest teen idol on their shirt you can agree to one or two trendy shirts and still stay within budget. Use the same principle of mix-and-match for your child like you do for your own wardrobe you’ll be able to save money and please the kids. A few pairs of pants or jeans in neutral colors that can be matched with various trendy shirts will meet your child’s need to be fashionable while saving you money. Pants are typically not as noticeable as shirts so spend your money where it will have the most effect.

Try a few alternative shopping strategies before heading for the local mall. It might be kind of fun to go through the racks of your local thrift and consignment stores. You can also make a day of shopping and treasure hunting at the nearest swap meet or neighborhood garage sales. Another fun way to shop is online. Sit down in front of the computer with the kids and make up a wish list. You might even find some great deals in your own living room.

Finally, consider shopping throughout the year for both supplies and clothes. Keep your checklists updated and spread your school-related expenses out over time. You can stay on top of the latest trends, look for the best deals, and save money in the long run. At the very least, back-to-school expenses won’t hit your wallet with a huge wallop at one time.

Save on Textbooks

Finally, for your older child’s back to college needs, you can save a lot of money carefully shopping for textbooks. It’s no surprise that college textbooks are one of the biggest scams around. You buy a book to use for a semester only to take it to the bookstore to sell it back and guess what? You only get a fraction of what you paid while the bookstore just jacks the price back up to almost full retail and sells them to the incoming students. College students can literally spend a thousand dollars a year or more on textbooks so being able to save even 20% each year could mean hundreds of extra dollars in your pocket.

One of the easiest ways to save is to buy your textbooks at a place such as TextbookX. Here you’ll find new and used textbooks and general books up to 90% off retail prices. Even better, you’ll get free shipping on orders over $49. Once you’re done with your textbooks you can resell them, but don’t just go to your local college bookstore. If you have a little extra time you can sell them to a place like TextbookX, Amazon, eBay, or even throw up an ad in your local Craigslist page and take out the middleman completely.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

6 comments
GeraldACavender
GeraldACavender

You need to set a budget on how much you are willing to spend for each child. You might also don’t want to bring them along as you shop not only to avoid buying things they don’t need but also to avoid tantrums if they don’t get what they want.

Ginger
Ginger

Really great list of tips. It's so important to save in any way possible in this suffering economic state we are in. I have a tip to share which actually involves your cell phone bill - that tip is to GET RID OF IT AND GET PREPAID! I'm telling you it was one of the smartest decisions I have made. I use the Tracfone service to be precise and even got a phone on it for my kid as a "back to school" gift. It is saving my family so much and I definitely reccommend giving it a shot :)

Les Beans
Les Beans

This is a great list. Thanks for your ideas.

May I share mine?

I like to concentrate on so-called fixed costs, like utilities, cable and phones. Got my kid a prepaid cellphone, a Net 10. Very nice phone and excellent value. Nice way to manage cost and keep them low too.

Good way to stay in touch and save $$$

SMU Cox MBA
SMU Cox MBA

Another way to save on textbooks is to buy the international editions. Often the printing isn't that good and the bindings can be very cheap, but you can find books for 50% or more off the regular price.

I also recommend posting in your dorm or other campus bulletin board. We used to have a text book exchange. Post a list of what you have and what you need and see if you can swap for it. Alternatively, offer to buy the book from someone on campus for slightly more than the bookstore will pay for it during the buy-back.

Melissa @ PureFi
Melissa @ PureFi

Good suggestions here! Another resource, particularly for clothes, would be Freecycle. By joining your local Freecycle group you can post things you want to get rid of as well as find things you need.

See http://www.freecycle.org/

Credit Girl
Credit Girl

In college, the only thing more expensive than tuition and housing is textbooks. Another thing you can do is check your college's website to see if they have a forum or even a Facebook where students exchange books. It will save you tons of money.