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How to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping

There’s no avoiding it: Going back to school in 2020 is, well, weird. Even more? This season looks different for every family. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Sprinkle in some uncertainty and ever-changing schedules, and you can see why it’s so difficult for families to plan for the upcoming school year.

But we don’t have to tell you that. You’re living it every single day.

We may not be able to get your kids logged on to their Zoom links or help you find the right one-on-one tutor, but we sure can help you find room in your budget for the unexpected expenses that might pop up this year.

So, check out these tips for the best back-to-school savings.

Back-to-School Spending

Let’s face it. If you’re like most parents, you’re probably experiencing anxiety over money when it comes to back-to-school spending.

Last year, you might have splurged for a new backpack and matching lunchbox—but this year, you’re having to think about paying for laptops and computer software (and even extra childcare!).

In fact, parents are spending about $70 more on electronics this year than they did last year.1

What Families Are Buying for Back to School

With all the new needs this year, families plan to spend about $790 on school supplies for the school year—that’s $100 more than what families planned to spend in 2019.2


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Seriously—think about all the things kids need to go back to school this year:

  • Traditional school supplies (pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks)
  • Supplemental resources (e-learning platforms, online courses, apps)
  • Electronics and computer software
  • Earbuds or noise-canceling headphones
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Hand sanitizer, masks, anti-bacterial wipes
  • Furniture for homeschooling or remote school
  • Childcare or tutors

Whew! Right?

Yes, spending is a little different this year. And while we may not be able to escape the back-to-school spending game as long as we’ve got school-aged kids, we can decide how hard of a hit it takes on our budgets.

The Best Time to Buy School Supplies

The best time to buy school supplies is . . . now. That’s right—you don’t want your kids to be without the tools they need to succeed, no matter what back-to-school situation you find yourself in. So, if you haven’t already started buying, it’s time to get on it.

And don’t worry—if you’re stressed about shopping in stores right now, join the millions of families buying supplies online. You’ll be able to get what you need from the comfort of your couch. And a bonus? Fast (and sometimes free) shipping makes it easy as pie to get what you need when you need it.

Back-to-School Shopping Tips

You might be a pro at this. But just in case you need a little extra support this year, here’s a list of nine tips and tricks to make your back-to-school shopping process as painless as possible.

1. Make a plan.

First things first: Gather all your (shockingly long) school supply lists. Decide which items are a must before school starts. Use spreadsheets, highlighters, the notes app on your phone—whatever process works best for you. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything on the list before the first day of school. You can often find the best deals on supplies after the back-to-school rush is over. And typically, the kids won’t need every single supply during the first few days of school. So breathe easy, take your time, and remember, you’ve got this!

2. Do your homework.

This step might take some extra effort, but it’s one that could save you big time. And don’t forget—a little research goes a long way. Do a quick google search and determine the retail value of the supplies. Then, once you start browsing sale ads, you’ll know a good price when you see one. Preparation is key!

3. Get on a budget.

Once you have a plan of what you’re going to buy and you’ve done some research on prices, it’s time to budget! And yes—budgeting for school supplies is a must! It keeps you from impulse buying and encourages you to stay on track with your monthly goals. Believe us—the last thing you want to do is dip into your fun money for pens and pencils.

But before you get stressed, stop. If you need help with the budgeting part, we’ve got you covered. The EveryDollar budgeting app can help you set up and follow your monthly budget.

And remember, everything is workable. If school supplies are going to cost a little more than you thought, adjust other areas of your budget. Maybe wait until next month to buy the fancy dinner or update your gym wardrobe.

4. Sign up for store emails.

Like it or not, one of the best things you can do is sign up for all the store deals, discounts and newsletters you can. Many stores send out a weekly list of what’s on sale, and most even throw in a coupon too.

And if you’re really tired of sifting through your personal email for all of those deals, create a separate email address just for this purpose!

5. Visit money-saving apps and websites.

Listen, everyone loves to save money. So, it’s no surprise that there are apps out there for . . . well, saving money!

Make sure to download these money-saving apps before you start back-to-school shopping:

  • ShopSavvy: Simply scan that barcode to find out if you’re getting the best deal. The app will even show if your store will price match!
  • Flipp: This app shows you all your favorite stores’ weekly ads in one place.
  • Groupon: Search for school supply deals and coupons with this money-saving app.
  • Amazon: Do we need to say more?

Don’t forget to use store-specific apps to save too!

6. Shop clearance and dollar stores.

Believe us, during the back-to-school season, clearance aisles will be your new favorite hangout. Check out Target’s Dollar Spot (it’s at the entrance of every store).

Just make sure to keep your eyes on the prize. With so many trinkets on sale, it’s easy to drop $20 on things you weren’t even looking for! This is why making a plan (and sticking to it!) is so important.

Don’t forget about your local dollar stores too. They’ll have the best deals on things like calculators, tape dispensers, staplers and even glue!

If you’re a coupon collector, bring any manufacturer coupons for school supplies along with you. Pair the coupons with deals at stores like CVS, Walgreens, Publix (hey there, BOGO list) and even Dollar Tree. If you’re lucky, you may end up walking away with almost-free or free supplies!

7. Don’t forget to use coupons!

We had to say it again. Coupons and promotional codes will become your new best friends. Why pay full price when you can pay less for the same product? Then, you’ll have room in your budget for all those unexpected expenses, like extra childcare or supplemental resources.

8. Don’t forget about used or even refurbished items.

Let’s talk electronics. They’re just so dadgum expensive. And with technology becoming more and more important in the school curriculum (COVID-19, we’re looking at you!), it’s becoming a purchase you just can’t escape.

Make sure to check sites like eBay and Craigslist for lightly used (and deeply discounted) touchscreen devices, headphones or laptops that won’t send you to the cleaners.

And don’t forget—you can also find great deals on refurbished electronics too! Check out Apple, Dell and other major companies for deals.

9. Leave the kids at home (supervised, of course).

If you decide to brave the stores, there’s no need to add any additional stress to the situation by bringing the kids along. And if you’re buying supplies based on sales and clearance, you’re probably not going to buy brand names or the latest action hero or princess themed supplies. But when your kids tag along, you may end up giving in and spending way more. They have a way of convincing you, right? Don’t be tempted. Staying on budget is key. You can do it.

Life might be a little extra stressful right now, but back-to-school spending doesn’t have to add to it. In fact, money stress doesn’t have to be a thing at all. That starts with a great budget—aka the premium version of our budgeting app, EveryDollar. You’ll get features like bank connectivity, so your transactions automatically stream into your budget for you. And right now, you can try it out for free with a Ramsey+ trial!

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.

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