Sense & Centsibility Blog
Mom and daughter shopping for backpacks

8 Ways to Slash Back-to-School Costs

The beginning of a new school year is quickly approaching, and that means spending for our children’s back-to-school needs. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, families will spend record amounts in 2020 on back-to-school supplies. Specifically, the study predicts $789.49 spent per household for kids K – 12 and $1,059.20 in average expenses for back-to-college shoppers.

Most of us fly by the seat of our pants to purchase new clothing, supplies or books, meaning we’re not saving up for these expenses. The result can be a strain on the monthly budget or added credit card debt.

The best way to be prepared is by figuring out what you will need for this time of year. Then, start early and set aside money each month; make sure it fits within your household budget. If you need to make some room in your budget to set aside money, reduce spending where you can and set spending limits for non-necessities.

Now that we’ve gotten the boring budgeting, pre-planning and savings discussion out of the way, here are eight ways to slash back-to-school bills.

1) Do a supply inventory

Start at home. Go through all the supplies your children brought home at the end of the previous school year. Reuse the supplies that are in good condition for the coming school year and you won’t have to buy stuff you already have.

2) Compare prices

Before hitting the store, comparison shop among multiple stores. This can be tedious, but in the long run it could reduce your spending. Make it easier on yourself by checking out prices online.

3) Shop on sales tax holidays

You may reside in one of the 16 states that offers holidays where you won’t pay a dime towards sales tax on clothing and school supplies. (Unfortunately, Minnesota — where I live — is not one of them.) Click here to find out when these tax holidays are and if your state participates. If your state’s tax holiday has already passed, mark this on your calendar for next year.

4) Use thrift, dollar or grocery stores

A no-brainer, but widely-overlooked locations for buying back-to-school supplies are those good ol’ discount and grocery stores. You’re almost guaranteed to find better deals on crayons, pens and pencils. For example, your local supermarket might have school supplies on clearance this time of year, as it is common for stores to overstock on this merchandise.

5) Shop online

What can be more convenient than dedicating a day hitting the stores? Shopping online, of course! Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online shops such as eBay, Amazon or Overstock often provide competitive deals. This is an especially beneficial resource if you have children going off to college. Textbooks can be expensive, and this can help you/your children save a bundle on those.

Google what you want to purchase and check out the prices. Make sure you’re buying from a legitimate, secure site, though. If the beginning of the website address says “https,” it means the site is secure. Avoid making purchases from sites that don’t have the “s’” and just start with “http.”

6) Save your gift cards

Think of those nice gift cards you get for your birthday, holidays or a special occasion at your job. These can mean less money out of your pocket. Holding onto these gift cards and using them for things such as back-to-school clothes or supplies is just as beneficial as putting away a portion of your paycheck every month.

7) Practice stretch buying

Instead of buying everything before the school year starts, buy what is needed at the time. Split up your shopping by semester, for instance, and set a spending limit for each period. Using this method also gives you time to save during the first semester for what’s needed in the next one.

8) Have your kids help

If you have high schoolers with part-time/summer jobs, teach them to save up for periodic expenses. Having them pay for everything may be a bit too much, so you can start small, like having them pay for their own pens, pencils or notebooks.

Teach budgeting and financial responsibility by planning with your kids. Figure out together what supplies are needed, then teach them to save a portion of their paychecks for supplies. This is a great habit for kids to get into at an early age, so they are prepared for periodic expenses as adults.

Additional resources

School shopping doesn’t need to be stressful if you plan and shop smart. And if you didn’t plan ahead this year, there’s always next year! For now, use the tips above to avoid busting your budget and going into debt. For ideas on how to afford school supplies on a tight budget, check out our blog post, “What to Do During Tight Financial Times.” And read our blog post, “It’s Back to School Time…Again” for more tips on purchasing clothes and supplies.

If you are worried about being able to buy school supplies this year or you have credit cards you’re trying to pay off, LSS Financial Counseling can help. Our counselors will work with you to create a realistic budget and provide steps to help you reach your financial goals. Call us at 888.577.2227 to schedule a free phone session, or get all your support online at your convenience.

Author Ray McCoy is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.