It can be challenging to stretch your back to school budget at this time of year. Between the required supply lists and the fact that your kids probably outgrew most of their clothes and shoes over the summer, your spending can quickly spiral out of control.
Read on to find 20 ways to stretch your back to school budget. These are the tips I personally use to spend as little as possible on back to school items. I also search for quality items at the best prices so that we don’t end up searching for full-price school supplies, backpacks and clothes in the middle of the year.
Now is definitely the time to shop, while the school sales are good!
Grab a pen and paper and start making your list….
1. Take stock of what you have. This includes both clothing and school supplies. See what you can reuse from last year – scissors, rulers, backpacks and similar items should have a longer life. If you have a required supply list from the school, use it to determine your needs. Have a little fashion show while your kids try on last year’s school clothes to see what still fits and what needs to be purchased. The goal is to avoid buying anything you don’t need.
2. Make a list. If you haven’t yet, don’t wait. Create a file that includes all essential items, clothing and shoe sizes and wish lists. If you have time, window shop with your child online so you can work together and combine their likes with your budget.
3. Set a budget for back to school. It can be easy to go overboard with new clothes and shoes, especially if your kids are picking out their favorites. Involve your kids in the planning, since they often don’t realize how much items actually cost. Talk about how much you are willing pay for certain things, such as shoes or jeans. Set your limit – and if your kids insist on a certain style, allow them to pay the difference with their own money. It’s a little step that will really make them think about the difference between needs and wants, especially if it means parting with their personal funds. Trouble sticking to the budget? Shop with cash to avoid overspending!
4. Shop the sales. Look for doorbuster-type deals and pick up school supplies now – most are $0.50 or less. (Note that the cheapest items will sell out early in the week). If you have a big ticket item on your list (like a graphing calculator), make sure you compare prices at a number of stores so that you can find the best deal when it goes on sale. Check the weekly Bargains to Bounty school supply deals to make your list.
5. Buy for the entire year. When the prices are good, grab enough supplies to last through the entire school year (glue sticks will dry up, pencils will need replacing almost every month). Don’t forget to stock supplies for completing assignments at home (pencils, lined paper, scissors, crayons, markers, glue). Colorful supply items even make fun stocking stuffers and Easter basket fillers – fun little gifts for your kids or their teachers!
6. Include your office. Now is the time of year when office supplies are usually at the lowest possible prices. Remember to restock your home office with new pens, printer paper, tape and other necessary supplies.
7. Grab gift cards at a discount to stack the savings. If your school, church or group participates in SCRIP, order gift cards or SCRIP Now before you shop. Buy gift cards at Kroger when they offer 4X fuel rewards. Or purchase discounted gift cards from reliable sources – catch a deal like this. Then shop a sale with your coupons, store reward cards, even a cash back offer to create an amazing deal!
8. Choose a quality backpack. Look for a brand that specifically offers a strong guarantee (JanSport, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, The North Face, etc.). In our house, we give each backpack a thorough hand-washing after every school year to make it look just like new again. Consider choosing a solid design so that your child won’t grow tired of it quickly. We’ve tried the latest character backpacks only to wind up with a broken zipper in the middle of the year and few affordable options in the stores. Look for well-made backpacks to begin dropping in price in mid-September and grab one then for the future. Or look for a sale where you’ll save 20-25% off all school supplies when you buy a backpack in the same order.
9. Rewards programs. If a store you plan to shop offers a rewards program, sign up! They’re usually free and can stretch your money further. Check out Sears Shop Your Way, Stride Rite Rewards, Famous Footwear Rewards, even Meijer mPerks personalized rewards for examples.
10. Buy in bulk. Do you have multiple kids who need pencils or glue sticks by the dozens? Grab a large package and divide them among each child, especially if it’s cheaper.
11. Box the lunch. If your child packs a lunch each day, look for a quality bento-style divided box (along with a sturdy lunch bag). You’ll pay for the initial investment, but you’ll save on disposable bags and utensils in the long run (plus it’s earth friendly). Our family has loved EasyLunchboxes (which last about a year) and Planet Boxes (which last much longer).
12. Always Save Your Receipt – If you buy an item and find it on sale soon after, many stores will give you a price adjustment. Simply show your receipt within 2 weeks and the store will refund you the difference. This can include online orders as well. In addition, check the bottom of the receipt for a survey/coupon offer. Stride Rite stores, for example, offer $5 off $15 or more after you’ve completed the survey on your receipt!
13. Wait for clearance sales in September. Grab one new outfit for the first day of school (if necessary), then wait for big clearance sales in September to shop for the rest of their wardrobe at a discount. My kids still enjoy “new to them” resale clothes for the first day, so we choose an outfit from their closet.
14. Consider your second-hand options. Don’t overlook area thrift stores, garage sales, Mom to Mom sales and consignment sales for back to school clothing and dress code requirements. On my last trip to the thrift store, I found 6 kids’ clothing items that were still brand new with tags. Look for gently-used items with a lot of use left in them; I love getting expensive name brands on a budget this way.
15. Swap clothing. Gather friends with kids who might be a size larger or smaller than your own. Set up a swap party, asking each person to bring around 10-12 items. Take the time to enjoy snacks, drinks and adult conversation, then take turns and “shop” the selection. You’ll give a good home to clothes that no longer fit and go home with some that do! Donate left over articles to a thrift store or charity.
16. Stockpile seasons ahead. When you find good clothing pieces or shoes at a discount, think ahead. Buy items in larger sizes and save them up for the next growth spurt. You never know when your child might move into the next size up (for us, it’s usually during the school year and I like to be prepared)!
17. Stretch the wardrobe. Don’t worry that summer clothes are on clearance now – or that your kids have closets full of short sleeve shirts. Layer a long sleeve shirt underneath a summer shirt for a simple way to get more use out of what you already have.
18. Invest in a set of clothes to mix & match. Not only does this make picking out clothes much more simple, but if you grab $5 polo shirts and $10 pants on sale, you can grab an entire school uniform wardrobe under $90. Take a look at these Mix & Match School Uniforms for Boys and Mix & Match School Uniforms for Girls from Old Navy for an example.
19. Look for durable denim. All brands are not equal in price or quality. If you plan on buying jeans for school, take a look at these brands so that you don’t end up with ripped denim mid-year. B2B readers chimed in to share the most durable jeans for kids.
20. Get connected. Sign up for emails to your favorite stores (and follow them on Facebook and/or Twitter) so that you’ll know about every sale. You don’t want to miss a coupon. If you don’t want your personal email flooded with retail promotions, consider setting up a separate email account for this reason.
What is your favorite back to school savings tip? Do you have a tip to share that’s not on this list? Please include it in the comments below!