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Has it been three months already? It seems like just yesterday that kids were jumping up and down in excitement for summer vacation, and yet here we are again. Kids across the country will be heading back to school, which means excitement (for you and them!) and a dive into the bank account.

School shopping can be expensive. In 2015, American households spent an average of around $630 on back-to-school shopping. New supplies, shoes, clothes and electronics come at a steep price, but if you’re mindful, you can cut down on these costs. We’ve included several tips to save you money on the essentials and then some so your kids can be prepared to go back to school.

Make a List

Your children’s school most likely has a list of supplies they need, but what about everything else? They’ll need a backpack, shoes, new clothes and maybe electronics. Make a list of everything your kids need and in what quantity so you have a realistic understanding of what you’ll have to spend. This will help you remember necessities and have guidelines to look at when you hit the stores. If you go to the store without a list, you’re more likely to make impulse purchases.

Create a Budget

Determine what you can afford to spend and then budget accordingly. Make sure both you and your kids are on the same page. It’s never too early to teach kids the value of money, so explain to them you only have a set amount of money to spend.


It can be hard to say no to kids, especially when it comes to their education. But realize that you aren’t limiting their education or their preparedness for school. You’re just setting limits on the amount you’re willing to spend. In 2015, families spent $97 on school supplies and $533 on shoes, electronics, clothes and accessories, all of which adds up fast.

Children in school need pencils and folders, but they don’t necessarily need pink glittered pencils or folders with cartoon characters on them. Allow kids to pick one or two specialty items, then purchase the generic brands for everything else. Recognize what’s necessary and what’s not. Kids need clothes that fit, for example, but they don’t need designer brands that cost four times the cost of non-designer versions.

If they’re older, consider asking them to pitch in for school supplies that are above and beyond what they really need. If they really want designer clothes or specialty school supplies, ask if they’re willing to pay for them on their own.

Shop at Home

Once you’ve made your list, check craft drawers, backpacks and your kids’ rooms to see how what supplies can be salvaged from last year. You might not be able to reuse folders, but you probably have more pens and paper than you realize.

I’ve been out of high school for several years, but my house is still filled with unopened notebooks, brand new pens and fresh binders. You might be tempted to go out and buy brand new supplies at the beginning of each year, but looking around your home before you go shopping can save you a lot of money.

The same goes for clothes. Go through your kids’ closets and figure out what still fits. Donate the clothes that don’t fit, and make an inventory of the ones that do. If your kids already have several pairs of pants that fit, you might not need to purchase any more, but if they have only a few tops, you can make a note to purchase more now or in the future.

Buy in Bulk

Consider purchasing school supplies in bulk. If you have several kids or know certain supplies will be needed repeatedly through the years, purchasing in bulk when items are on sale will save money in the long run, and you won’t have to worry about replenishing supplies later on. If you don’t need, say, red pens in bulk, consider sharing the quantity and cost with another parent.

Check the Sales

Check your Sunday paper for store adverts, and look online for deals on supplies and clothes. Staples and OfficeMax will have low prices on school supplies, while stores like Kohl’s and Target will discount summer clothes and have back-to-school sales on outfits for fall.

Comparison Shop for Big-Ticket Items

It pays to compare prices on big-ticket items like clothes, electronics and even backpacks. Check local stores and online to see which has the better deals on the items that will cost you the most. Stores are competing for your money, so they will be offering very competitive prices to get you in the door. Use this to your advantage! Remember: Saving a few dollars here and there on pens and notebooks won’t make up for the extra gas and time it takes to shop at different stores, but saving a large amount on electronics will make the effort worth it.

Shop at stores that offer a price match guarantee. These types of guarantees mean that if you bring in an ad for a competitor store offering a better price, the store will match it. Staples not only offers a price match but will also give you an additional 10% discount toward the item if you find a better price. Take advantage of these extra deals now, when prices are low.

When comparing two items, make sure you look at quality, not just the price. High-quality items that are more expensive might be worth the investment if they last longer than lower-quality versions. Lower-quality items might save you money in the short run, but they might need to be tossed after a few months, meaning you have to shell out cash for them more than once.


There are so many ways to save on back-to-school clothes. Once you’ve created a list and a budget for your kids’ clothing needs, check out the summer clearances at major department stores. Stores such as Kohl’s and Macy’s will have back-to-school deals as well as summer clearances during this time. Stores like these typically offer coupons for cardholders that can be used on top of the sales, allowing you to stretch your money further.

Clothing swaps are becoming more popular, too. Parents with kids of similar ages get together with items of clothing their kids no longer wear and swap them. Similarly, consignment shops and thrift stores offer gently used and sometimes new items at bargain prices. These are particularly good options for younger kids, who might not be as picky about where their clothes come from and will be growing out of them shortly anyway.

If your kids insist on designer brands, overstock stores like T.J.Maxx, Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack offer designer clothes, shoes and accessories for a fraction of the price. Go to the clearance sections for even better deals. These stores might also offer school supplies and home goods so you can do all your shopping in one place.


There are several ways to save on electronics. If a new version was just released, look for the version it’s replacing. You can also sometimes buy refurbished used devices. Many third-party websites sell these, but you can also purchase them from stores. For example, the Apple Store sells previously used computers that have been refurbished so you know they are up to Apple’s quality standards.
Certain stores also provide discounts or gifts for high school and college students. Best Buy offers laptops and desktops for $100 to $150 less for students. When I purchased my MacBook Pro at the Apple store in college, I didn’t save money on the computer, but I received a free iPod with my purchase. I didn’t technically save money on the computer, but I didn’t end up spending additional money on a new iPod, which I was planning to purchase anyway, so it saved me quite a bit in the end.

Back-to-school shopping can be time-consuming and expensive, but with proper planning, you can save on all the essentials and then some. Now that you’ve saved, consider putting those savings toward your kids’ college education. Do you have any tips for saving on back-to-school items? Post them in the comments!

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