11 Frugal and Time Saving Tips for Back to School

Back to School


In the first part of this series, I wrote about saving time and money on back to school shopping as a working mom. In this part, I’m going to expand some more on how to save money – especially if you have more time some years. I’d like to share with you 11 ways I save money and time back to school shopping for my older boys.

Get the list: Don’t shop without the back to school list. If you haven’t gotten it from the school yet, wait until you do. The last thing you want to do is buy a bunch of items thinking you’ll need them, only to have to run out again and do returns or get more supplies, wasting time and money. For some reason our schools always send the list the week before school starts. I wish they would send it at the end of the prior school year, so you could have more time to score better deals, but it is what it is. This is why it drives me crazy to see all these early back to school sales-why would I go shopping when I have no clue what supplies will be needed?

Stick to the list: This year I read a horrible article (which unfortunately I can’t find now) complaining all about how shopping with your kids for back to school was so hard, because they always want to get things not on the list (or fancier things than you need) – kids these days, ha ha ha. Ugh. I always want to talk to the authors of articles like that and just shout “be a parent!” By buying them things that aren’t on the list you’re teaching them bad money habits. Making and sticking to a list is an important skill to teach your kids, to help avoid impulse purchases as adults.

Set limits: Let’s say you don’t want to be as strict as me on the list (stop being such a Grinch! you’re thinking; a few superhero folders won’t hurt anyone). Fine, then set a limit on extra purchases and have your kid stick to it. This is the “be a parent” philosophy showing up again. Even if you can afford to get whatever your kid asks for, you’re not giving them the tools they’re going to need as adults. Instead you’re spoiling the kids, which can be fun in the moment but as a long term pattern will hurt them.

Have teens do their own shopping: I’m going to do this next year when my oldest is a teenager. Set them free in the store with the list a budget, and a calculator – and have them pick up their own supplies. If you do this for all of high school, then by the time they go off to college they’ve learned important financial lessons. Offer to let them keep any extra they don’t spend, and show them how to find the best deals and coupons. If they want to spend more, that’s fine – they can earn the extra money or spend their own allowance.

Check deal sites: I always check deal sites for coupons and sales. My favorites are Hip2Save and Krazy Coupon Lady.  I also am sure to check out Retail Me Not to see if there are any coupons for a store before shopping online or in the store. I can almost always find something that saves me a good percentage of the purchase price. Just don’t let the deals tempt you into buying things not on the list (see above). If you find a particularly great deal and your kids don’t need those supplies, you can always pick up a few to donate if your budget allows.

Keep old supplies: Old folders, used notebooks, binders, backpacks, never used pencils, pens and highlighters – keep them all. Of course if something is damaged or unusable (I’m looking at you, pencil nubs) you can just toss it. But if you’ve followed the next tip on buying to last and the following one on bulk buying, you should be able to build up a store of supplies at the end of the school year that you can just take out of the cabinet when you get the list. Old folders and binders can be freshened up with a Magic Eraser (as long as they’re plastic). Backpacks can get a few new patches or keychains. Pencils, pens, and highlighters can just be taken out of the cabinet again. Even if they were used last year, as long as they’re still usable they’re just fine. And if you’ve done bulk buying, you should have extra supplies from one year to store in the cabinet.

Buy to Last: I know this is a repeat of my prior post, but this is the best tip I’ve found over my eight years of school supply shopping. I’ve had backpacks fall apart after less than a year of use. Folders start ripping in December. Mechanical pencils that stop working. So when I buy something, I decide whether or not its something that needs to last a long time before deciding how high quality it should be. Folders? I get sturdy plastic ones that last for years. Notebooks? No need to get expensive ones, I may just get extra (see next tip). Pencils? The old fashioned kind are less expensive and last longer. This will keep you from needing to restock in the winter.

Bulk Buying: There are some things you’ll just run out of throughout the year – pens, pencils, glue, etc. Usually the best deals you’ll find on back to school are in the summer, sometimes long before you get the supply list. I buy multi-packs, or if somethings a great bargain I’ll pick up several and stash it in my supply closet. That way I’m prepared when something runs out in March and I don’t need to run to the store (and spend more money!)

Bargain Stores:  If you want to get all your back to school shopping on the cheap, you usually can’t beat Target and Walmart. The only issues I’ve had is that sometimes they don’t have everything you need, especially if you wait for the back to school list from your child’s teacher.  That’s actually why I shopped at Staples this year, which also has great deals and good prices.

Sales tax holidays: This is an easy way to save whatever amount of sales taxes is usually charged on your purchases. Check at the start of the summer when your state is having one (if they are) and pop it in your calendar so you don’t forget about it. Before the tax holiday be sure to “shop the closet” and note what.

Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops: This tip works best for younger kids in my area, but sometimes I can score something for my middle schooler too. At a thrift shop or consignment store, you can find great bargains on clothes and shoes. Sometimes they even still have the tags on them! At stores in my area, I’ve been able to find expensive name brand clothes at Walmart prices. You do need to carefully check for quality, but using these kinds of stores for part or all of your back to school clothes shopping.

That’s it! Hopefully this helps you with your next round of back to school shopping, or if you find yourself needing to restock midyear. Heck, my middle son didn’t need new clothes for back to school, but now that it’s October all his pants have mysteriously become shorter! They grow like weeds. Have a fabulous Friday!

Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.

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1 thought on “11 Frugal and Time Saving Tips for Back to School”

  1. This is interesting, I’m from England and we (all kids in State school) do not need to buy any supplies. The school supplies all pens and pencils and books etc. Only at A Level/sixth form do the students need writing pads.
    We only have to buy uniform and bag.

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