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How to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping

It’s here. The much anticipated (or dreaded) list of school supplies a mile long. To make it worse, your kid walks by in a crop top (that definitely wasn’t a crop top last season) to tell you their shoes don’t fit anymore.

Let’s just say back-to-school shopping will be expensive this year. Not only do you have a lot to buy, but there’s also that whole inflation thing happening. If you’re expecting things to get more expensive, you’re not alone. This year, 84% of people are expecting to see higher prices when back-to-school shopping.1

Listen, that list of yours may be massive, but these 15 back-to-school shopping tips can help you prioritize your spending so you can save money (and we all want to save money).

1. Create and prioritize your list of back-to-school shopping needs.

Before you start shopping willy-nilly, create a list of needs and put them in order from most pressing to least. So, a few new shirts and a pair of shoes might be at the top of the list and that new iPad for homework might be at the bottom (the old one is still kicking). You may not be able to cover everything right away—but creating this list will help you see what you need to tackle first.

2. Make a back-to-school budget.

Now that you have your list, it’s time create a budget. Remember, a budget actually gives you permission to spend! When you make a budget and stick to it, you’re telling those hard-earned dollars where to go (and where not to go).

As you set up your budget, make a new budget category for school-related expenses that happen every single month (like after-school care or club fees).

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Other back-to-school expenses will be a one-time thing—like all those three-ring binders. All those one-time school supply items can go in a separate budget line item.

3. Save on clothing by seeing what you already have.

Kids grow. And growing means outgrowing clothing.

Before you start back-to-school shopping for pants that aren’t considered “high waters” and shirts that will cover your child’s stomach, shop your kids’ closets and drawers. What still fits? What doesn’t? Are there any hand-me-downs from your older kids? All this sorting will definitely take some time, but in this case, time spent is money saved.

4. Spread out the shopping.

Don’t feel like you have to buy a whole new wardrobe before school starts—because you don’t (no matter how much your kids want you to). Spread out the spending over several months to make it easier on your budget.

You’ll feel the draw of those back-to-school sales. But there will be other sales. Trust us. Old Navy, Gap and The Children’s Place send out 40%-off codes on the regular.

Buy a little this month, buy a little next. Don’t blow the budget in August. Not only is that a risky money decision, but your kid is also likely to shoot up another inch by October. Then, it’s back to the racks again.

5. See what supplies you already have.

At the end of last year, your child emptied their cubby, desk or locker and brought home a mixed bag of stuff: part trash, part memories, and part still-useable supplies. If you kept any of that good stuff, can you use it this year?

Look around the rest of your house too. You might already have the right calculator, plenty of pencils, or those neon highlighters your little scholars need to succeed.

6. Know the difference between cheap and value.

Tacos, sandcastles, bookbags and school supplies. What do these things have in common? No one wants them to fall apart. Inexpensive things sometimes do just that with daily use. As you hunt for deals, think more about the word value than the word cheap.

An item can be cheap in more ways than one: cost and quality. If something is low cost, it can be a good value. But if something is low quality, it isn’t worth your money. Especially if you have to replace it in a few months all over again.

This is important when you buy clothing and supplies that’ll take a lot of wear and tear—like shoes, coats, backpacks and jeans (including the ones you hope to hand down from one kid to the next). We’re not saying go crazy, but make sure you keep quality in mind as you’re shopping.

7. Use the dollar store for some back-to-school shopping.

Using that same cheap vs. value thinking, check out your local dollar store. Yes, you’ll see plenty of junk, but you might be surprised at the quality finds awaiting you.

For one, they often get random shipments of name-brand items that sell for up to four times the dollar store price at other stores. Also, certain items like clipboards, poster board, planners and pens are just as good here as anywhere else.

8. Don’t rule out the prepared back-to-school supply box.

If your child’s school offers a prepared supply box, check into it! We can put a lot of stress on ourselves doing all that extra shopping and end up saving only a couple of dollars—or really no dollars at all.

Do some online price checks to see which is the better deal: buying everything on your own or getting the box from the school. What you find may surprise you.

9. Buy used.

Don’t force your preteen to sport a used Dora the Explorer backpack because it was the only one at the thrift store. But also, don’t feel like everything has to be brand-new every year.

Consignment shops, garage sales, thrift stores and Facebook Marketplace are all great options to find great used items. And heck—as if Goodwill’s prices aren’t good enough in the first place, they usually have at least one half-off day every month. Get. Those. Deals.

10. Take advantage of that back-to-school tax-free weekend.

If your state has sales tax and schedules a tax-free weekend this year, plan your shopping around that date and get in on those savings! Depending on your state, you can usually buy clothing, school supplies, shoes and even some tech items tax-free.

And guess what? You may want to get some new threads, kicks or gadgets—just for yourself. Just make sure your budget is ready for it!

11. Download apps to your favorite stores.

Target and Walmart have apps with some serious savings perks when you’re back-to-school shopping (or doing any shopping, to be honest). You can get special offers, see store pickup options, and check out clearance items—all from the palm of your hand.

Pro tip: Get a Target Red Card. This is not a credit card (so no balances and no interest). It’s a debit card, and you get 5% off every single purchase in the store or online. Heck. Yes.

12. Use coupons while back-to-school shopping.

Hey, coupons aren’t just for grandmas and extreme couponers. You can save so much money by finding coupons online or by checking those old-fashioned paper sales ads. It seems like a lot of work clipping or clicking and then keeping up with it all—but $0.50 here and $1 there really adds up. Literally. That’s why 24% of back-to-school shoppers are planning on using more coupons this season.2 (And you should too!) And like we said before, there’s coupon apps out there that help you save (and keep track of) all those coupons.

13. Find stores that price match.

Some stores will offer to match prices if you find a better deal elsewhere. Office Depot, Michael’s, Kohl’s and Target are a few stores who offer this shopping benefit.

They all have some kind of fine print (like they need to see the competitor’s sales ad or they offer just one price match per day), but check into these details and you can get great deals and cut down on trips to a million different stores for the same school supplies.

14. Limit the kids’ extracurricular activities.

This one’s not just for back-to-school shopping—it’s something to keep in mind all year long. Remember when you were in school and extracurricular activities were just music and sports? Now kids can join clubs and programs for nearly any and every interest you could possibly imagine. But letting them be in the scuba society, join the little-known language league, try out for the track team, and play cymbals in the school band will cost you a pretty penny.

If you want to trim up the extra spending, think about cutting the extra extracurriculars. See what your family budget can handle, and limit the number of extracurricular activities you’ll take on this year. It’ll save you time and money.

Psst. Don’t forget about putting your kids to work. Yep—we’re talking about having them earn a commission. When they see the value of hard work in exchange for those hard-earned dollars, they’ll understand why doing five extracurricular activities this fall just isn’t in the budget.

15. Shop the sales.

To help fight rising prices, 42% of back-to-school shoppers are planning to shop sales this year.3 And if you know anything about us, we love sharing a good deal. Challenge yourself to only shop the sales for your back-to-school buys. If you’re the techy kind, set up alerts on your favorite sites to make sure you don’t miss out on any sales. Sites like camelcamelcamel.com help you do just that. Even a few dollars off can add up fast!

It’s All About That Back-to-School Budget!

Getting ready to go back to school can be stressful, but it’s about 98% better when you follow these tips—especially the budgeting part.

We know for some of you, the thought of budgeting is even more stressful. But it’s about 100% better when you find a way to make budgeting easy. And we know just the thing—EveryDollar. Just set up your budget and keep track of your spending on the go. The best part? It’s free!

That’s right, you can track those transactions in the bleachers before your kid even hits the field with those cymbals. Making and sticking to a budget has never been easier. Download it today and start budgeting!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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