Going Back-to-School Shopping without Going Broke

It’s that time of year again — children across the nation are headed back to school. Of course this is also when adults spend hundreds of dollars purchasing their kids new supplies and outfits for the occasion. This year it’s expected that parents will spend over $75 billion on back-to-school shopping, begging the question: why does it have to be so expensive?

If you’re looking to save some money this back-to-school season, here are a few tips to get all of your shopping done without breaking the bank.

Shop generic

Does your child love Star Wars, Disney princesses, or Nickelodeon cartoon characters? Hot properties like these are not only featured on backpacks but also folders, pencils, binders, and much more. However the problem is that these licensed items come at a premium price.

Instead look for quality products with fun colors and patterns that don’t have characters.  If your kids really want to add their favorite TV show or movie characters to their gear, consider picking up some stickers for them to place on their folders and notebooks. In fact some notebooks may even have a clear folder on the front where you can slip images you’ve printed off or a page of stickers for decoration. Or, if you’re artfully skilled, you could even attempt to use puff paint to literally add some character to your child’s new bag.

Look out for tax holidays

Sometimes waiting until the last minute to do your back-to-school shopping can actually pay off. That’s because several states (mainly in the south and midwest) offer tax holidays on select school-related items for a certain period of time before the semester begins. No two tax holidays are exactly alike so be sure to note all the rules and requirements if there is one in your area. Also be advised that, since these can amount to some good savings, stores may be busier than normal on tax holiday days and their selection may be limited as a result.

Take inventory first

There are some items that you probably will need to buy every year for your kids but not every back-to-school supply needs to be purchased new. Look around your house and see what items can still suffice to get the year started including extra pencils, barely used folders, or backpacks that survived the last term. Don’t waste money on items you already own!

Get the essentials, wait for the rest

As your children get older, their back-to-school supply needs will change. While a backpack and some writing utensils are safe bets, different teachers will require different items such as composition books, subject-specific folders, or three-ring binders of varying sizes. That’s why it may make sense to hold off some of your shopping until after the first day of school when your student will likely get a list of required items. Best of all, while selection may be limited, many retailers will likely still be hosting back-to-school sales so no need to worry about paying extra.

Don’t forget to look online

Not only does Amazon offer plenty of back-to-school supplies at prices comparable to other stores’ sale prices but many retailers also allow you to order online as well. This will help you ensure you get the exact items you want as well as save you the time and effort of having to drive to the store. Just watch out for shipping charges and keep in mind that it may actually make more sense to order online and pick up in-store if that service is offered.


Back-to-school shopping is a time when plenty of parents accidentally overspend. Thankfully those mistakes are easily avoidable if you shop smart. By following these tips and being mindful of how much you’re plunking down, you can send your kids back to school in style without going over budget.

Author

Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded DyerNews.com in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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