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August 8, 2023

Summer break is over, and school is almost back in session. If you haven’t quite grabbed everything your kid(s) need to prepare for the big day, don’t panic. There are many ways to save on back-to-school shopping without breaking the bank.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you prepare for that last-minute shopping trip--or trips!

Take inventory

You may be surprised to find you still have leftover school supplies from last year. New or used, if they're in good condition, give them a second life this upcoming school year and save some money. Think gently-used binders and notebooks, pencils with plenty of eraser life, and notebooks where only a few pages were used. And those supplies tucked away in the back of the closet you completely forgot about? Pull them out and add them to the pile.

Set a budget

How much can you afford to spend on back-to-school shopping? Take a look at your monthly budget to come up with a realistic number. Don't worry if it’s on the lower end. Knowing what you can afford beats overspending. And you'll avoid digging an unnecessary debt hole to cover items your child doesn’t need. 

Make a list 

If you haven’t yet made a list, now’s the time. Be sure to include the essentials, like apparel, footwear, and school supplies. Check off the items you’ve already purchased or have lying around in your home. Also, keep this list handy as you shop to avoid overspending.

Prioritize needs over wants

The next step is categorizing the items on your list as needs or wants. Even if you can afford both, it’s worth looking at the “nice-to-haves” and deciding if they’re worth the investment. You may find those funds can be better spent elsewhere. Plus, you can always purchase these items later. Retailers apply steep markdowns when the shopping frenzy ends to move excess inventory. 

Host a swap meetup

Reach out to friends and family and ask about holding a back-to-school swap. They may have items you need and vice-versa. And meetups are a fun way to connect with others and save money. Plus, you’ll avoid dipping into your budget. If they aren’t open to the idea, check local online groups or ask around to see if any swapping parties are being held nearby. 

Shop for deals 

Once you have a concrete budget and shopping list, search for deals to maximize cost savings. Browse online sales circulars and refer to sites like DealNews and Tom’s Guide. They do all the legwork by compiling the top back-to-school deals in one place.

Also, consider visiting thrift stores. Many offer gently-used or like-new items for a fraction of the retail price. Online marketplaces are another way to score deals. It’s common to find hidden treasures offered at a steep discount from neighbors.

Buy in bulk 

Buying in bulk could be ideal if you have a little wiggle room in your budget. You’ll spend a bit more upfront but save a bundle in the future. Look for deals on items your kids use regularly, like pens, pencils, paper, and folders. Just make sure to store any excess supplies properly for use in the future. That way, you'll always have a stock of essentials on hand. The stockpile can also save you time and stress throughout the school year.

Bonus tips

Here are a few more tips to help you cut costs and still check every item off your list:

  • Use online coupons. Websites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin offer coupon codes and printable coupons.
  • Download cash-back apps. Rakuten, Ibotta, and Swagbucks offer cash back for purchases made through their platforms. You can also redeem your earnings for gift cards.
  • Stick to the basics. The shiny planner or pencils with glitter aren’t a must. Yes, they are cool for kids but cost more, so you can avoid the extra expense by sticking to the basics.

The bottom line

Ultimately focus on quality over quantity. It's the best way to save when shopping last minute. Consider what your child needs to succeed in school, and invest accordingly. Also, encourage your child to take care of their belongings and use them responsibly. It’s equally important to educate them on the importance of smart shopping and saving money. Happy shopping!