October 23, 2021

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35 Ways to Save Money on Back-to-School Items

11 min read

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The back-to-school season might be a joyful time for young students who’ve been socially distanced for the last 18 months, but it’s a not-so-cheap time for exhausted parents everywhere.

Take a Look: Explore the Cost of Education in the United States
Discover: 15 Times You Should Splurge, Settle or Skip When Shopping

In fact, a survey by the National Retail Federation revealed that families with kids in grades K–12 planned to spend an average of $$848.90 on clothes and school supplies this year. That amount was is $59 higher than last year’s pandemic schooling costs.

Here are 35 tips to save on shopping while sending the kids off to school in style.

Last updated: Aug. 10, 2021

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

1. Shop Every Week and Start Early

Prices change throughout the back-to-school shopping season, and you never know when a certain item might go on sale. For bigger-ticket items that you know you need, Heather Schisler, founder of Passion For Savings, recommended shopping early to grab the best deals. Pay attention to store circulars to make sure you don’t miss out on a discount.

“Don’t run to the store and buy everything at once,” she said. “You’ll end up paying more for each item.”

Related: There’s Still Time To Save Money on Tax-Free School Supplies in These States

spaxiax / istockphoto.com

spaxiax / istockphoto.com

2. Hold Off on Generic Supplies

You can typically wait to buy basic items like pens and notebooks. “Buy the more specific back-to-school items early to make sure you get what you need — for instance, a calculator or other supplies that need to be a particular brand or model,” said Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal. “For more generic items like paper, pencils and folders, prices will typically drop at the last minute late in the season.”

Find Out: Compare Prices for Your Back-to-School Shopping List at Target, Amazon and More

Djura Topalov / istockphoto.com

Djura Topalov / istockphoto.com

3. Always Search for Coupons

Whether you’re standing in line at the checkout counter or filling your cart online, get in the habit of doing a quick search for coupons before purchasing. While you might not find a coupon to meet your needs, you could wind up cutting your bill for back-to-school supplies significantly, all because you typed a few words into a search engine.

Read: 10 Worst Things To Buy in August

monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto.com

monkeybusinessimages / istockphoto.com

4. Price Match Cheap School Supply Deals

Doorbuster back-to-school sales tend to limit the number of items a buyer can purchase. According to Schisler, whose site offers extensive back-to-school deals, you can price match a product at other office supply stores and even Walmart. Doing this increases the number of items you can get for those low prices.

Find Out: 25 Extra Grocery Costs You’re Probably Forgetting About

South_agency / istockphoto.com

South_agency / istockphoto.com

5. Inventory Your House First

Before taking your kids’ school supply lists to the store, search your own home for items that could fit the bill. You might already have a number of the requisite products, such as pens and empty folders, in your home office.

Anatolii Babii / istockphoto.com

Anatolii Babii / istockphoto.com

6. Sell Before You Buy

While you’re taking inventory of your home goods, it’s wise to figure out what you can sell online through sites like eBay, Amazon or Craigslist. For example, you might have a filing cabinet or desk that no one’s using. By freeing up space — and a few extra dollars in your budget — you can actually splurge on more school purchases later in the summer.

Vladislav Ageshin / istockphoto.com

Vladislav Ageshin / istockphoto.com

7. Buy in Bulk With Friends

Consider the items you can buy in bulk and opt to split these purchases among friends and neighbors. For example, goods like pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, brown paper bags, sandwich bags, tissues, markers and crayons all tend to be less expensive when purchased in large quantities.

Parents whose children are in the same classes or schools can pool their resources when shopping to save both time and money.

Yuri_Arcurs / istockphoto.com

Yuri_Arcurs / istockphoto.com

8. Leave the Kids at Home

If you’re thinking of bringing your kids along for back-to-school shopping, you might want to reconsider.

“Now, I realize some parents like to take their kids back-to-school shopping, as it makes them feel a part of the process, but I’m here to tell you that it’s typically not a good idea to haul them along, especially young kids,” said Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. “Kids are gonna (sic) throw off your money-saving mojo because they are going to want the expensive Hello Kitty backpack, and they are going to want the G.I. Joe pencils that cost five times what they should.”

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

Kzenon / Shutterstock.com

9. Teach the Kids To Budget

If you do bring the kids to the shops, it’s never too early to start teaching your kids some financial literacy. By establishing a budget for their back-to-school shopping, you can make them part of the process while teaching them that money is a limited resource. Doing this puts kids in back-to-school mode a little early, ensuring that they’re learning — and your budget isn’t being blown.

Learn More: Costly Mistakes People Make While Grocery Shopping

qoppi / Shutterstock.com

qoppi / Shutterstock.com

10. Go to Amazon’s Coupon Page

While Amazon is not known for its coupon deals, the mega-retailer does offer coupons on school and office supplies. Shop the bargains first when making a purchase to save.

temmuz can arsiray / istockphoto.com

temmuz can arsiray / istockphoto.com

11. Buy Your Textbooks Used

Since 2006, the cost of college textbooks has increased by 73% — that’s more than four times the rate of inflation, according to Student Public Interest Research Groups. Today, individual textbooks often cost more than $200 and are sometimes as much as $400.

However, buying a used textbook can offer significant savings. One algebra textbook, which retails for about $100 on Amazon, is available used on the site for just $45.

xijian / istockphoto.com

xijian / istockphoto.com

12. License an E-Textbook Online

You can also save money on back-to-school shopping by licensing electronic copies of your textbooks. Typically, these textbooks are available for set periods of time, such as one semester.

Geber86 / istockphoto.com

Geber86 / istockphoto.com

13. Comparison Shop Textbooks

If you want to save even more money on your textbooks, do some comparison shopping before making a purchase.

Try TUN’s Textbook Save Engine or CampusBooks’ search feature to determine which options are the cheapest for individual books. Be sure to look up books by the ISBN numbers, so you can be sure you’re comparing the right versions.

petrunjela / Shutterstock.com

petrunjela / Shutterstock.com

14. Take Advantage of Tech Deals for College Students

Many stores provide discounts on electronics for college and high school students. James recommends checking out the Apple Education Pricing page or Best Buy’s College Student Deals site. Be prepared to provide proof of your student eligibility with an ID card or college transcript.

Discover: The World’s Most In-Demand Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

Pamela / istockphoto.com

Pamela / istockphoto.com

15. Be Cheap — But Not Too Cheap — With Backpacks

James cautions that backpacks are big budget busters for many families. “The best way to save on a new backpack is to always avoid the big name brands and more importantly always avoid the character-themed backpacks,” he said. “Those are always priced 20 percent to 30 percent higher and simply not worth the extra money.”

However, he warns that you still want to buy quality backpacks, such as Timberland, Rockland and Embark products, that will actually last through the entire school year.

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

16. Buy Used Gear

If you’re in the market for a serious backpack, or maybe a bicycle to pedal around campus, try sites like GearTrade to score discounts on these items. Not only do gear-swapping sites offer shoppers the ability to buy high-quality used items for less, but they also sometimes boast deep discounts on new items.

zoranm / istockphoto.com

zoranm / istockphoto.com

17. Time Your Electronics Purchases

Consumer Reports’ Best Time to Buy Things report notes that spring and fall are the ideal seasons to purchase laptops and desktops. If you’re planning a large electronics purchase this year, be sure to shop then to find the best deals.

Check Out: 23 Secret Ways To Save Money on Amazon

Tye Carnelli / istockphoto.com

Tye Carnelli / istockphoto.com

18. Host a Clothing Swap

Throw a quick party, invite your friends and tell them to bring some clothes their kids have outgrown.

“You can have a clothes swap with friends and neighbors with gently used clothing that no longer fits,” Lal said. “This works especially well with parents of children with the same gender as yours but at different ages.”

For best results, be somewhat selective with your invites. You also might want to schedule a Goodwill pickup, so guests don’t have to haul their leftovers back home at the end of the day.

XiXinXing / istockphoto.com

XiXinXing / istockphoto.com

19. Join a Mailing List

Sign up for store emails early and keep your eyes peeled. Think Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Best Buy, Target, Walmart and any other store where you would regularly shop for school supplies.

Additionally, these shops will likely offer back-to-school sales and coupons, sometimes exclusive to their mailing lists. Plus, you can comparison shop from the comfort of your inbox. When back-to-school season is over, you can always unsubscribe.

Abel Mitja Varela / istockphoto.com

Abel Mitja Varela / istockphoto.com

20. Install Honey

Honey is a browser extension that automatically scours the web for coupon codes when you check out at an online store. The extension will run any code it finds and offer you the best one. Even if you don’t find a suitable code, you might qualify for HoneyGold, which you can redeem for gift cards.

Robert Inglehart / istockphoto.com

Robert Inglehart / istockphoto.com

21. Join a Rebate Site

Sites like Ebates and Mr. Rebates offer cash back for online shopping and often provide coupons, as well. By signing up and then shopping through the sites, you can earn money back on every dollar you spend. Once you’ve earned enough, you can cash in your rebates and receive a check or PayPal payment.

David Joyner / istockphoto.com

David Joyner / istockphoto.com

22. Check Out Your Credit Card Offers

Certain credit cards offer rebates and rewards on select categories throughout the year, including back-to-school goods.

For example, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi lets you earn Costco cash rewards when you shop. Additionally, you get 2% back on Costco and Costco.com purchases.

Also See: 30 Things You Should Never Buy Without a Coupon

andresr / istockphoto.com

andresr / istockphoto.com

23. Look Out for Student Discounts

Many retailers, particularly clothing shops, offer student discounts in the summer. Check out James’ site, Rather-Be-Shopping.com, for a list of places that offer student savings with a valid ID.

gradyreese / istockphoto.com

gradyreese / istockphoto.com

24. Take a Teacher Friend Shopping

Lots of retailers offer discounts for teachers, particularly on school supplies and during the back-to-school frenzy. Schisler’s site offers a growing list of places where teachers can score discounts, usually by showing their school ID. If you are an educator or know one, you can probably buy your school supplies this year for less.

SweetBabeeJay / istockphoto.com

SweetBabeeJay / istockphoto.com

25. Shop the Dollar Store

Plenty of school supplies can be picked up at your local dollar store. While you can’t always buy these items online — on the Dollar Tree site you typically have to buy in bulk — the Dollar General site usually lets customers purchase items individually. Check out the selection and watch for special deals.

PeopleImages / istockphoto.com

PeopleImages / istockphoto.com

26. Avoid Cold-Weather Clothes

Retailers are ready to sell you on all their fall and winter clothes, but few of these items have been marked down at this point in the summer. And frankly, your kids won’t need them yet. Wait until you see more sales on cold-weather wear to stock up.

Keep Reading: 50 Purchases Buyers Almost Always Regret

iprogressman / istockphoto.com

iprogressman / istockphoto.com

27. Stick to the List

Because impulse buys are abundant at back-to-school shopping hot spots, it’s important to create a list before you head to the stores. Don’t just rely on your school’s supply list — make your own master copy that includes all the necessities.

Steve Debenport / istockphoto.com

Steve Debenport / istockphoto.com

28. Join a Parent Networking Group

Check online and talk to neighbors and other parents about any networking or resource-sharing groups that might be popular in your area. These groups can offer an easy way to source second-hand supplies. You can also try sites like Nextdoor to find people in your area who are looking to unload leftover school items.

Keith Rice / istockphoto.com

Keith Rice / istockphoto.com

29. Rent That Fancy Calculator

Sometimes students are required to purchase pricey items, like graphing calculators. However, you can rent graphing calculators for about half the cost from a number of online retailers, such as Graphtor or Calcs Unlimited. Talk to the teacher to see how long your child will need the calculator so you can calculate how much money the rental will save you.

webphotographeer / istockphoto.com

webphotographeer / istockphoto.com

30. Shop During a Tax Holiday

Many states offer certain days when sales tax is waived on select items, and school supplies are typically among them. Before heading to the shops, do some research to determine your local tax rate and find out what will be eligible for the tax-free holiday. For best results, aim to pick up big-ticket items on these special days.

BraunS / istockphoto.com

BraunS / istockphoto.com

31. Take Advantage of Tax Credits

If you have been pursuing a higher education degree for less than four years, you could earn a maximum tax credit of $2,500 per year on qualified educational expenses. So, keep your receipts to ensure you save. Read more about the American Opportunity Tax Credit on the IRS website.

Yuri_Arcurs / istockphoto.com

Yuri_Arcurs / istockphoto.com

32. Keep Tabs on Daily Deal Sites

Just like regular retailers, daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, OpenSky and Gilt offer back-to-school savings as the summer winds down. As an added bonus, you can manage your preferences, so these sites will alert you when deals pop up for particular products.

Find Out: 25 Secret Ways to Save Money at Target

Geber86 / istockphoto.com

Geber86 / istockphoto.com

33. Follow Your Favorite Stores on Social Media

Sometimes, retailers post deals specific to their social media followers on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To take advantage of these savings, add or follow a few of your favorite back-to-school retailers. As you’re scrolling through your feed, you might just spot a deal.

mihailomilovanovic / istockphoto.com

mihailomilovanovic / istockphoto.com

34. Try Freecycle

The Freecycle Network is a group that gives items away for free in hopes of reducing waste and building community. You might stumble upon some excellent items for free. Additionally, you can check out Craigslist’s free items to see if anyone is looking to get rid of something you need.

mihailomilovanovic / istockphoto.com

mihailomilovanovic / istockphoto.com

35. Look for Non-School Items, Too

Because back-to-school shopping means big bucks for retailers, many stores will offer sale rates on normal household goods, as well. Be on the lookout for ways to save on all kinds of items, from kitchen supplies like paper towels and cleaning products to furniture and even electronics.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 35 Ways to Save Money on Back-to-School Items

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