Weekend Money Tip: 10 frugal tips for saving money on back to school supplies

10 Tips forSaving on Back to SchoolOn Fridays, I share tips I have actually used to save my family money, along with my once-a-month grocery update. The posts will (typically) be short and sweet, giving you ideas to work on saving money or, in this case, preparing in order to save more.

Though we don’t really want to think about it (or maybe some of us are ready!), there is no denying the first day of school is just around the corner. School supplies and clothes for the school year can really add up but if you follow these tips and start your preparations now, you can get what you need and still manage to do it on a budget.

10 tips for frugal back-to-school shopping

1. Take inventory of what you already have

Have kids try on all clothes and shoes to see what still fits and what doesn’t (and consider selling/consigning clothing they’ve outgrown).

Look around the house – what school supplies are left from last year? Can they use the same backpack and/or lunchbox? (My kids will both be able to use the same binder and my daughter will be using the same lunchbox, but I’m on the hook for two backpacks!)

2. Make a list of needs (clothing and school supplies)

After taking your inventory, write down everything that needs to be purchased. Take a hard look at your list to see if everything on it is a necessity. Jot down estimated costs for each item and add them up to see if it’s within your budget.

3. Use a set budget

Stick to your list and your budget to avoid overspending.

Consider giving your child a budgeted amount of money to spend on what they need. This is particularly useful for tweens and teens who are shopping for clothing – it forces them to shop smarter!

4. Host a clothing swap

Gather a group of friends or co-workers and have everyone bring all of their kids’ outgrown clothing and shoes. Everyone can then “shop” for free. This works best for the younger kids, ages 3-11 years or so (probably not going to work as well for teens, just sayin’ – I have two teens and this wouldn’t fly).

5. Shop garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops

With list in hand, hit the garage sales and thrift stores on a weekend and see how many items you can check off your list. This can be fun (even for teens) and saves a ton of money over retail.

Consider consigning all outgrown clothes and shop at the same consignment store. I use this method for “free clothes” at our local consignment store – I just take a bag of clothes/shoes in every so often and shop on my credit.

6. Utilize the Sales Tax Holiday

Many states offer a weekend to shop sales tax free. Though it isn’t a huge savings, it can really add up if you have to resort to shopping retail. Here is a list of sales tax holiday dates for each state that offers it.

7. Shop the loss leaders

Loss leaders are items retailers sell at a loss to attract customers to their stores. They are typically found on the front page of weekly ads (and sometimes on the very last page). Keep an eye out for huge discounts on school supplies in several ads and pick up the loss leaders in bulk when you get the opportunity.

8. Don’t limit yourself to certain stores

Office supply stores often have good sales during the back to school season (watch the flyers), but don’t rule out shopping at alternative stores. Some stores you may not think about are craft stores, grocery stores, dollar stores and even home improvement stores and they often have great deals during back-to-school time.


9. Buy in bulk

When you find a killer deal, stock up! Pencils and pens get lost, notebooks get used up and, before you know it, you’re shopping for more school supplies a couple of months down the road. Pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and glue are great to have on hand for those morning school supply “emergencies” (you know what I’m talking about, right?).

Don’t forget to check prices at warehouse stores, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, who sell office/school supplies in large quantities at a discount.

10. Consider waiting

If you have enough school supplies to get by for the first few weeks of school, consider waiting for clearance prices when stores are trying to clear inventory. After school starts, many stores rapidly mark down their school supplies (Target comes to mind here).

How do you cut down on your school supply costs? Are you able to use anything from last year?

12 thoughts on “Weekend Money Tip: 10 frugal tips for saving money on back to school supplies

  1. No kids here, but there’s are all good tips for me to use “someday” when I have kids of my own. I wonder whether it will become the “norm” to get kids a tablet/laptop even in elementary school? I feel like electronics & software could take back to school spend to a whole new level (and not in a good way for consumers!).

    1. Thanks, DC! I do think some parents buy their kids the electronics, such as a tablet or laptop, for school. My kids go to two different schools and they have access to laptops and tablets provided by the schools. I don’t know if this is typical or not, but my daughter even gets assigned a laptop at the beginning of the year and it’s hers to use throughout the school year.

  2. These are great tips! Your idea about waiting is an idea that I had not thought about before, sort of like waiting until AFTER Halloween to get all of the cool decorations cheap for next year!

    With a teenage daughter, clothing is the biggest budget buster. Getting clothes for our son is a piece of cake!

    1. Thanks, Jon! Oh yeah, waiting works! You’re right, it’s like the after Christmas or Halloween clearance. I usually wait on backpacks for a few weeks since I can get them half off at Target a couple of weeks into the school year.

      I have a teen daughter (and son) too. We’ve always shopped second hand for the most part. We do have to hit Target for school dance dresses occasionally, otherwise we shop at a great local consignment store with the latest trends. It’s the opposite at our house, I guess, as my 16 year old son is the one that thinks he needs to have name brand everything. He has fewer clothes since his are more expensive, plus if he goes above a set amount, he’s on the hook for paying for the remainder.

  3. Being in a year-round school is such a mixed bag when it comes to back to school. On the one hand, the sales have barely started when we have to cart in a year’s worth of pencils, crayons, and glue sticks to the classroom. (so far, the teachers have just pooled all supplies and almost none of the supplies we buy are intended solely for our kid.)

    On the other hand, there’s absolutely no need to buy special “back to school” clothes when your kid’s break is only a week long. We can easily wait until October clearance sales before getting any new clothes.

    As for DC’s computer question, in my child’s elementary school the drive is for the kids to use school tech instead of providing their own. I guess that gives a standard set of programs, security protocols, etc. . If kids had to bring their own tech, you’d probably see a wide gap: some budget laptops, some top of the line, some dated handmedowns, and some kids with no equipment at all. You’d also see a wide range of programs installed, some of which might be disruptive.

    My daughter does have some web-based computer programs she can access at home as well as at school, but she can use my computer for that and they are not required (yet).

    1. Thanks for sharing, Emily! I can’t decide if I would like the year-round school schedule or not. I think there would be some benefits though – you can travel off peak, shop for school needs when they go on clearance, and don’t have such an adjustment with school ending/beginning each summer (or maybe you still have that?).

      I think most schools provide the computers/tablets (at least from my experience). What I have noticed is my son uses his personal computer at home in the evenings for homework a ton. Most of his homework is done electronically – no papers are printed any more, just shared via Google Docs, which may mean those without the technology at home may have a hard time keeping up.

  4. Thanks for the list, Amanda. My little one is just over two now. We will be nearing the days soon where we will have to buy school supplies and I’ve heard many co-workers talk about how much there is to buy, etc. Sounds a bit daunting and big responsibility on parents these days.

    1. No problem! Time flies – you will need to shop for school supplies before you know it! Usually the school provides a list of needed supplies, plus the kids need backpacks, lunchboxes, and clothes – which is why taking an inventory of what you already have can save some cash.

    2. This is a great list and #1 is incredibly important. We have TONS of school supplies at home and if you don’t inventory what you have, you will go out and buy a lot of repeats. My son is entering his senior year – so just a tip from a “seasoned” parent (and educator). Buying quality items (like an LL Bean Back Pack – which we still have 12 years later!) is worth it as long as your kids know they won’t get new things each year. (He isn’t still using that Back Pack but we store things in it – and it is in great shape!) As a high school teacher, I watched kids just dump things in the trash (from their lockers) on the last day of school. Winter coats, school supplies, calculators – anything. Make sure they bring things home a few days before the end of the year – and that will save you too!

      1. Thanks, Vicki! It’s interesting getting a teacher’s perspective on this. I can’t believe the students throw away that much stuff! My son lost 2 graphing calculators within a month or two, so he is on the hook for a new one if and when he needs it. Since I have to buy two backpacks this year, it’s great to hear of your experience with LL Bean. I’ve been considering spending more on quality backpacks to see if they would last more than a year, so I may give them a try.

  5. Ah sales tax free weekend.. I remember working those days as a cashier at Sears. Not very fun times. *shudders*

    Like everything that has to do with saving money, it’s important to write it down and know exactly what you need to buy to limit impulsive buying (especially when you go to the grocery store hungry). I’ve been out of school for 2 whole months now but wish I had this list when I was going into a new semester.

    1. Thanks! Yes, planning saves money no matter what your dealing with. Going to the grocery store hungry can kill the budget!

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