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Back to School Shopping on a Budget

Updated on June 9, 2011

Summer is coming to an end and it’s time to get back into the routine of the school year and all the things that go with it; sporting events and practices, studying, dance lessons, and assemblies.  Before the first day of school comes the second biggest shopping season of the year, back to school shopping.  Weakening economic conditions will be playing a big part in shopping decisions this year.  56% of consumers plan to shop for sale and bargain items, and 42% plan to spend less than they did last year.   If you are one of the many parents looking to stretch your back to school dollars as far as you can this year I have compiled a list of tips for you.

Having a plan is the most important thing you can do.  Without a plan you will likely spend more than you can afford, and not end up with everything you need.  So what should your plan include?  A good plan needs a budget and a list of wants and needs.

Quick Tips

Let your student help you set up your budget. It can be a good lesson for practical money management in the future and keep them on track during shopping.

Donate old clothes to charities. This is a great way to help less fortunate people in your community with their back to school needs, and can potentially be a tax right off.

Many local clinics and organizations give away basic school supplies for free with immunizations or at back to school fairs.

Avoid school supplies with gimmicks such as lights. They can be a distraction to your student and their classmates.


Your budget should be reasonable. Don’t overextend yourself up front, because you can always hit fall sales after the school year begins.

Wants & Needs List

School Supplies

Many schools publish school supply list before the school year starts. Match up the left over supplies from last year with the list to see what items can be recycled.


When I was a kid before we went back to school shopping we had a “fashion show”. This was basically a fun way to see what we could still fit from last year and what we could put in the give away pile. Most kids don’t want to wear the same things they did last year, even if they can still fit them. A great way to make last year’s leftovers this year’s fashions is to accessorize. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a new belt or add a couple of necklaces than to buy a whole new outfit.


Now you know what you have, what you need, and how much you can spend on it. With consumers planning to spend less this year retailers are fighting to get as many of your dollars as possible. And that’s a good thing for you, because with more competition you get more sales, bargains, and incentives to shop. Start early so you have more time to shop around and find the best deals. Don’t forget about discount retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and TJ Maxx; some of the deepest discounts can be found there.

Some Things to Remember

There are some easy money saving tips that are pretty much common sense, but easy to forget about. Like taking advantage of discounts by buying basic school supplies in bulk so that they can be used through out the year. Set up a central supply shelf or bin to store extra supplies for later. Don’t limit yourself to local retailers. Many retailers have online only specials and offer free shipping. Online retailers aren’t just for clothes and shoe purchases, don’t forget about school supplies. Office supply stores often offer free shipping and discounts too. Many states have sales tax holidays just in time for back to school shopping, most of these take place in August. Visit your states website to check for dates and restrictions and plan to make large purchases during sales tax holidays.

In tough economic times back to school shopping can be stressful. By planning ahead and following a few tips you can save yourself money. Remember to involve your student in the budget and planning process.  And don't forget about online retailers.

Happy Shopping!


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