There it is. The list of school supplies a mile long. And then your kid walks by in a shirt that wasn’t a crop top last season and tells you their feet grew a size and a half during flip flop season.
You’ve got a lot to buy, but these 14 tips on back-to-school shopping can help you prioritize your spending and save money.
1. Create and prioritize your list of back-to-school shopping needs.
Before you start spending money on the school year, create a list of needs and put them in order from most pressing to least. You may not be able to cover everything right away—but this list will help you see what to tackle first.
2. Make a back-to-school budget.
Once you have that list of needs, you need to create a budget to make it all happen. What school-related needs will occur every month (like after-school care or an extracurricular activity fee)? You may want to make a new budget category for school and then add budget lines for these new recurring expenses.
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Other needs will be a one-time thing, like all those three-ring binders. You can make a budget line for back-to-school supplies to cover all these things.
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 longer pants and wider shirts, shop your kids’ closets and drawers. What still fits? What doesn’t? Did you save the older kid’s stuff to hand down? All this sorting may take time, but in this case, time is money.
4. Spread out the shopping.
Don’t feel like you have to buy a completely new wardrobe before school starts—because you don’t. Spread out the spending over several months.
You’re going to 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 email 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 anyway.
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 highlighters your little scholars need.
6. Know the difference between “cheap” and “value.”
Tacos, sandcastles, zoo fences 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.”
A thing can be cheap in more ways than one: cost and quality. If something is low cost, it can be a good value find. But if something is low quality, it isn’t worth your money.
This is especially important when you’re purchasing clothing and materials 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).
7. Use the dollar store for some back-to-school shopping.
Using your “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 go for up to four times the cost 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.
Here’s the thing: 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! Check into the prepared supply box your school probably offers each grade.
Do some online price checks to see which is the better deal: buying everything individually on your own or getting the box from the school.
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 to purchase. 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 is having a tax-free weekend this year, find out when 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. Make sure your clothing or miscellaneous budget line 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. You can save so much money by finding coupons online or even 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.
13. Find stores that price match.
Some stores will offer to match prices if you find a better deal elsewhere. Office Depot, Walmart, 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 read into these details and you can get great deals and cut down on trips to a million different stores.
14. Limit the kids’ extracurricular activities.
This one’s not just for back-to-school shopping—it’s for all-year-long savings. Remember when you were in school and extracurricular activities were just music and sports, and the options felt pretty limited? 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, and play oboe in the school band is going to cost you a pretty penny.
See what your family budget can handle, and limit the amount of extracurricular activities you’ll take on this year. It’ll save you time and money.
If the kids are old enough to do extra chores to earn commission money or take on a part time job to cover their extra clubs (without their grades and time management suffering), that’s an option too. But don’t bust your budget or kill your calendar trying to do everything out there.
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.
Okay, okay, okay—for some of you, the thought of budgeting is even more stressful. But it’s about 100% better when you use the premium version of EveryDollar—available only in Ramsey+. You’ll connect your bank to your budget, so every school supply and extracurricular expense will stream right in. Just drag and drop them to the right budget line.
That’s right, you can track those transactions in the bleachers before your kid even hits the field. Keeping tabs on your spending was never this easy. Check it out in a Ramsey+ free trial.
This school year will be awesome. Make a plan, make a budget, and make some memories!