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15 Ways to Save Tons of Money When Shopping for Back to School

Updated on August 3, 2018

Is it possible to send my child to school with nice clothes and supplies without it costing me an arm and a leg?

Back to school shopping can be incredibly fun, incredibly stressful, and incredibly rough on the pockets. Buying enough supplies to last for what one could only hope would be a year (although if we're honest, we're lucky if they last more than half a year) can get expensive and that's only one of the many reasons why back to school season is so god-awful. However, I've been going to school for quite some time now and I've learned a few ways to save some change! So, here are 15 ways to save TONS of money when shopping for back to school!

15. Avoid shopping at expensive places.

This one, like a lot of these tips, is pretty much common sense. Don't go back to school shopping in the most expensive store you can find. Places like Staples and Office Depot are great, but they can get pretty expensive. You can find the same supplies in Walmart or practically any dollar store for much cheaper!

14. Just grab the bare minimum.

Yeah, I know, that hole puncher is the fanciest one you've seen thus far, but how often do you really use a hole puncher? Do you really need a fancy one or could you live with a cheaper one? That dry erase board would look great hanging on your wall, but are you actually gonna hang it up though? Are you gonna use it if you do hang it up?

Back to school time is the perfect time to buy all the little items that aren't a necessity but would look great sitting on your desk or that happen to match the aesthetic of your room. That's cool, you do you, but don't end up stressed about how much your total came out to be because you wanted to buy a planner you'll never use and the fancy pens to go with it.

When I go back to school shopping, I try to only grab things I know I'll need during the first few weeks of school. Pencils, paper, binders, composition books and maybe color pencils. I don't usually need a stapler or even a calculator during the first few weeks, so I save buying that stuff for a later date. Sure, you could go ahead and get it out of the way, but if money is tight and you can only get a few things at a time, don't stress because you don't have a ruler on the first day.

13. If you have the materials and a knack for making things, get creative and do it yourself.

All the hours you spent binge watching DIY videos on Youtube just might come in handy around this time. Now, not all of us are great at making things, but some of us can get quite crafty and that is a great skill to have! Instead of buying the cute five dollar binder, buy the plain ninety-nine cent binder and decorate it yourself! Use your washi tape or your glitter or your paint, or make a photo collage online, print it off and glue it to your binder! This way, your supplies will be more personalized and fun and they'll be cheaper.

Don't go crazy and buy a bunch of things to decorate your supplies with though. This is supposed to help you save money. If you don't already have the materials at home, try to borrow some from a friend.

12. Reuse 'old' supplies.

One of the most exciting parts of going back to school for a lot of people is going shopping and buying brand new stuff. Even people who hate going back to school enjoy it because practically everyone enjoys getting new things! However, if you need to save money it's probably best to check the back of your closet or take a peak in your storage bins to see if there's anything on your supply list that you already have. Every year I buy about five binders and every year I end up using three at most. Every year I buy about fifteen packs of paper and every year I use ten at most. Every year I buy an ungodly amount of pencils and every year I end up with a drawer filled with unopened packets of pencils. You don't have to use the same supplies for years on end, but sometimes the easiest way to save is just to check and see what you already have. You may have bought it the year before, but if you didn't use it, it's still new.

11. Get a supply list from your teacher.

A lot of the time, people just grab a basic supply list from the front of the store when they walk in or look on the school website for a list. That's why so many people end up spending a bucket load on school supplies. Those lists, more often than not, try to cover all grounds, meaning it's gonna include everything children of the past, present and future have needed and will need. These lists include things like dictionaries, encyclopedias, specific types of science equipment, etc. These lists make you believe that you're gonna need all these things several times throughout the year when in reality your science teacher doesn't even know what you're talking about when you mention the two hundred dollar science crate you begrudgingly bought for her class.

Buy the necessities, wait until orientation or the first day of school to talk to your teacher and ask them what you'll really need for their class. More often than not, they just want you to have a notebook or a binder and something to write with.

By the way, be careful about what you buy from their personal supply list as well. A lot of teachers will tell you to get specific things for their class fully expecting to use them throughout the year, but then all of a sudden it's the end of the school year and both you and your teacher are surprised to realize that you've used exactly none of it. Wait a few days, maybe even a few weeks. If you haven't used what was on the list within the first three months of school, you're probably not going to use it, but if later on in the year you finally do get around to using it, just go out and buy it then!

10. Think like a minimalist

Back to the whole 'just buy the bare minimum' thing, literally, just do that. Just buy the things that you absolutely cannot survive school without. How frequently do you use dry erase markers? Does your child really use the hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes that always find their way on the bottom of the supply list? (And yeah, I get it, sharing is caring and buying those things so that everyone in the class can use them is great, but if you need to save money then I'm sorry, you don't need to be buying tissue and crayons for everybody else's kids.) Just get the pencil, paper, and binder. I don't know any other way to say it.

9. Be strict with yourself and your kid.

No, little Beth does not need a MacBook just because it's time to go back to school. Bobby Jr. can upgrade to an iPhone X later on, he doesn't need to right this second. You don't need to buy that overly expensive office desk when you know you'd rather sit and do your work on the couch. I don't care how many TV ads you see about how successful kids with thousand dollar desktops are, you do not need it.

8. Stick to the budget.

If your budget is a hundred dollars, do not spend a hundred and ten. If your budget is five hundred dollars, do not spend five hundred and fifty. Stick. To. The. Budget. I know it's hard and I know it's very tempting to go over the limit, but have some willpower. Put unimportant things back if you go over the budget. Figure out some kind of way to stay under it.

If you don't have a budget, you need to make one. Going into a store with no certain amount of money that you're willing to spend in mind is a surefire way to come out of the store with an excessive amount of supplies that you'll have trouble finding a place to store later and a thousand dollar credit card bill next month.

7. Remember the taxes, people.

Taxes can get pretty expensive depending on where you are. Sure, eighty-two cents is a great price for a pack of paper but how much is the tax gonna be when you buy thirty packs? Most of us aren't gonna whip out a calculator in the middle of an overly crowded store and figure out exactly how much we'll be spending on tax alone, but be cautious and remember that taxes are still a thing no matter how great the sale appears to be. Try to catch tax-free sales if you can, they really do help!

6. Don't stick to one place.

School shopping is usually pretty hectic whether you're shopping for clothes or supplies and that's probably not gonna change even if you go to Walmart at 1 am. Most of the time, you're gonna wanna just get in and get out as quickly as possible, especially if you're not a fan of crowds. That being said, if you wanna save a coin you're gonna have to be patient, smart, and willing to drive around to a few different stores.

Typically, dollar stores are gonna be a lot cheaper than stores like Walmart and OfficeMax, so start there. Whatever you can't get from there, get from the next cheapest store. Work your way up to the more expensive stores and let those be your last resorts.

5. Buy things throughout the year.

This one really doesn't work if you use up all the stuff you get right when you buy it, but if you can store it away and forget about it until next back to school season, you should be all good! You might notice that a few weeks after school starts, stores start having major sales on things like lunchboxes, bookbags, shoes, clothes, whatever. Buy that stuff right then and there if you can! That way, next year when everyone else is scrambling to buy a thirty dollar lunchbox, you'll already have the same one, purchased months ago for only ten bucks. Make a checklist and keep track of what you've bought and what you need to buy. You'll probably already have everything you need and more next time it's time for school.

4. Shop online.

Driving around all day hunting for cheap school supplies could either be really fun or really tedious depending on who you are and what you're into. It can also be a huge waste of gas if the stores aren't near each other. This is where online shopping comes in. If you'd rather search around online for good deals, please do it! Generally, there will be a wider variety of things to choose from and it might turn out to be a lot cheaper. If you're going to shop for supplies online, it's best to get started early. You don't wanna wait until two days before school to start ordering things because then you'll either have to put a rush on the items (which costs extra money, of course) or you'll have to wait for who knows how long for all your stuff to come.

3. Catch the sales.

I think I've left the most basic tips for last, but you'd be surprised how many people just don't think about doing these things. As we've already mentioned, back to school shopping can get pretty hectic, especially when everybody is in the same store trying to catch the sale before it's over. Trust me, I know how much it sucks to be clustered together in a tiny aisle with a huge amount of people, brawling with little Susy's mom for the last pack of ninety-nine cent crayons, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Don't skip out on the sales just because you wanna procrastinate. Don't go a day before the sale starts. Wait. For. The. Sale.

2. Don't let sales fool you.

Yeah, yeah, I know what I said, but sales are designed to bring in more money. It's just like when you're shopping online and they offer free shipping. Sure, I only needed to buy a pair of earbuds and a phone charger, but if I get seventy-nine more dollars in my cart, I get free shipping! FREE SHIPPING! The same way you get suckered into trying to get free shipping is the same way you get suckered into buying one pair of jeans at full price and getting the other pair at half off (When you really didn't even need the first pair you decided to buy) and that's the same way you get suckered into buying ten packs of ninety-nine cent pens when you could've just bought the eight dollar pack that comes in more colors and lasts a lot longer.

(In case no one here feels like doing the math, the eight dollar pack actually would be cheaper than the ninety-nine cent packs. Glad we got that cleared up.)

1. Use your coupons.

Nobody wants to be the crazy coupon lady that held up the thirty-person long line because she had eighty coupons to use, but also, and more importantly, nobody wants to be the person who spent six hundred dollars on school supplies when they could've easily just spent three hundred. Coupons are like a superpower. You have the power to bring down huge numbers and that power is just sitting in your wallet, waiting to be shown off. Don't keep the power waiting longer than it needs to.

Shopping online happens to be great because of a thing called coupon codes. Whipping out coupons in the store can be embarrassing, but sitting in the comfort of your own home, sprawled across the living room couch with potato chip crumbs forming a line down your chest while you scroll through an endless amount of codes for cheap supplies? What's embarrassing about that?


Use your common sense and you should be able to escape the store without tears in your eyes. In case anyone needed one last reminder, just say no to the back to school television set you're being offered. You do not need it. Thank you for reading!


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