13 Ways to go Back To School
on a Budget

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I remember a commercial a few years ago that displayed a mom riding on a cart through the back-to-school section while It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year played in the background. For moms, this must be an accurate representation when August rolls around. For kids, the end of summer can be disappointing, but a new school year brings fun and exciting things to look forward to as well.

Although it may be “the most wonderful time of the year” for parents and kids alike, it can also be one of the most expensive times of the year. All of the backpacks, notebooks, clothing, pencils — the list goes on and on — adds up fast. Plus, multiply that by your number of kiddos and well, your wallet starts to sweat a little. Back-to-school shopping can be fun and easy on the wallet if you plan ahead and keep these 13 tips in mind. 

Planning to Shop

  1. Reuse supplies. Before you even make your shopping list, dig out the backpacks from the mud room or the back of closets and take a quick inventory of what can be reused. Yes, you are probably going to need new folders, pencils, and crayons, but that backpack will work just fine for 3rd grade as it did for 2nd grade. There are items that can be reused — although your kids will try to tell you otherwise. 😉
  1. Try on old clothes before buying new. A new year comes with a new style. I get it. I was that girl who had to find the perfect first-day-of-school outfit. (The pictures live on, right?) However, the entire closet won’t need to be replaced, no matter how fast your kids are growing. Consider buying a few staple outfits and focusing on the items that might need to be replaced, like gym shoes or fresh socks.  
  1. Plan ahead and budget. Once you know what you absolutely need for the new year, make a list of all of the items you will need and budget these items. Consider how much you plan to spend on each budget category (supplies, clothing, gear) and stick to it!
  1. Consider a budget per kid. My mom budgeted back to school this way. She set up a budget amount for each of her four kids. My budget needs as an elementary (and only) girl were a bit different than my three older brothers who were in middle and high school. My budget needed more wiggle room for clothing, with less focus on a new pair of cleats or laptop backpack. Think of it this way: little kids, little prices; big kids, big prices. (Hello, $80 calculators!) Adjust accordingly to each child’s needs.

Preparing to Shop

  1. Shop on tax-free weekends. Does your state participate in a tax-free weekend? Check this list to find out when it is! This is the best time to shop for back to school because you will save money by paying sans sales tax on certain items! How great is that?
  1. Shop the ads. Once you have your shopping list made, check the ads to see which store has the best prices. Instead of sticking to your favorite store, explore all of the options nearby that you might not normally consider for back-to-school shopping. You would be surprised at what kind of deals you can find at Walgreens. 
  1. Venture outside the designated back-to-school section. When you are in the stores, be sure to check the back-to-school section AND the regular office supplies section. You might find some deals in the regular office section and avoid any promotional markups.
  1. Stock up on supplies. I can see it now: it’s November and someone goes, “Mom, Dad, I am out of _____.” To keep your back-to-school expenses from hanging around all school year, consider buying heavily used supplies in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club. (This is also a friendly tip if you have a bunch of kiddos who need supplies.)
  1. Utilize coupons and price matching. Shopping the ads is great to find all of the good prices. Now pair that with your favorite stores that price match and voilà, no more stopping at 100 stores to get the most bang for your buck. This goes for coupons too. Scour those out and don’t be afraid to use ‘em! 
  1. Shop the tech. With the growing popularity of technology in the classroom (and hybrid schooling due to the pandemic), it is almost impossible to not have WiFi at home for homework. Start a healthy habit of calling your internet provider to discuss your contract price or switch to a cheaper provider altogether. 

Concerned about affording WiFi? Check out Comcast Internet Essentials. If you receive SNAP or your child receives free and reduced school lunches then you qualify for $10 internet! Yes, I said TEN DOLLARS. Check it out! (Pro tip: you can also buy reduced-cost laptops through them as well.)

Related Post: How to Budget for Back to School

Don’t Forget

  1. College kids are starting fresh. Do you have a baby bird about to fly the nest for their first year of college? Don’t underestimate the expenses for these guys. Consider all costs related to dorm/apartment furnishings, groceries, PLUS all of the school supplies. Do their birthdays fall close to the start of school? Consider a sweet dorm gift to double as a  birthday gift. 
  1. Teacher gifts and supplies. Don’t forget to bless the teachers who poured time and effort into growing your kid’s brain this year. Teacher Appreciation Week always sneaks up; be prepared and consider shopping for them during your back-to-school haul.

Did your favorite teacher share an Amazon wish list for their classroom this year? I know mine did! Be sure to add a wishlist item into your budget to support your child’s classroom. 

  1. Go local. If you are on a tight budget this year, check out local back-to-school drives at community organizations and churches, or call the school office for resources to help finish up your supply list. 

Do you have any awesome back-to-school budget tips? Let me know in the comments!

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DISCLAIMER: Although I do have experience in the personal finance field as an Accredited Financial Counselor® professional, I am not a registered financial planner, advisor, or investment agent. Budget Blueprints and any content or resources made available on this site is for informational and entertainment purposes only. I am sharing my personal experience which may not be applicable to others. I am not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or results related to the content in this website. If you need specific financial advice, consult with a licensed professional financial advisor/planner who specializes in your specific need area.