Tips for Back to School on a Budget

Back to school

in budgeting

Going back to school doesn’t mean breaking the bank, but it can be an expensive endeavor if you don’t plan ahead. No matter your or your kids’ ages using these tips will help you save big bucks on back to school shopping.

Set a Budget: Whether you’re headed to college, or sending your child to Kindergarten having a budget in mind for all your back to school needs will be a huge money save. Make sure to include the following categories:

  • School supplies
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Backpacks
  • Lunch Needs
  • Tech Gear (for older kids)
  • Dorm Room basics (for college and boarding schools)

Now that you have an idea of what you want to spend, you can build a list of what you or your child needs, and some wants like locker accessories or the latest sneakers.

Make a List: Many schools have school supply lists so start there. Add any extras you may need like pencil sharpeners or tools for homework to add to your list.

Double Up on Supplies: For some school supplies like crayons, colored pencils, and notebooks you’ll find major deals and sales at back to school time. For instance we did a little recon at our local Target and found that buying extra colored pencils at their current price of 50¢ will save you over $1 off the regular price.

Watch Sales: 1¢ folders? 10¢ for a pack of glue sticks? Stores are practically giving away school supplies when you make a minimum purchase. While there is usually a limit on numbers it’s per person so bring the whole family if you need a ton of sale items.

Use Student Discounts: For older kids and college aged students you can save big with student discounts.

Reuse: Reuse what you can from years past. Lunchbags, backpacks, water bottles, and extra supplies you already have on hand will slash your back to school bill.

Tip: Keep a bin or storage container handy to toss in extra school supplies when you find them on sale.

Spend Where it Counts: Buying a backpack, laptop, or insulated lunch bag? Look for high quality that will last all year long and then some! Land’s End offers amazingly durable backpacks that have lasted my kids year after year. While they are prices are slightly more expensive up front they are so durable we will be able to send them to Goodwill or sell them when the kids finally get tired of them.

Take Stock of Clothes Before you Buy: My kids often reuse shorts and tee shirts well into the Fall (just add layers). Take an hour to go through each wardrobe and make a list to fill in the gaps. Don’t forget shoes! Most kids spend their summers barefoot or in Crocs or flip flops so make sure they have a pair of shoes that’s school-approved.

Wait for After Back to School sales: While it’s tempting to get everything all at once, waiting a bit can ensure you score some great deals on clothing and back to school supplies. Since the products need to move fast you’ll find discounts as much as 70% off!

Homeschool Time: Even if you homeschool these tips will still apply, but you should also take advantage of teacher discounts at places like Barnes & Noble and Apple. You can save a % off most purchases this way, so look for teacher discounts at major chains and your local school supply store.

What ways do you save on back to school shopping? Where have you found the best deals?


About Kelly

Kelly Whalen is the founder of The Centsible Life, a blog where motherhood and money meet. Her goal is to help readers live well on less. Kelly is a mom to 4, and loves that she can stay at home with her kids, and still pursue her passions for writing, personal finance, and social media. You can often find her on twitter and Facebook talking money and motherhood.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen August 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I have twins going to college so believe me, we’re looking for every corner we can cut in order to save us money. I’m so happy that they both have taken to the “vintage” style of clothing, so they want to buy their jeans and shirts at the Thrift store. Of course, we buy undergarments and shoes new, but it’s still a small cost in comparison to completely new wardrobes. Aside from bedspreads, desks, and of course college tuition, my husband and I decided to get a Sling Adapter for our boys. This way, they can watch live TV and movies free on the Dish Remote Access app. I overheard one of the ladies I work with at Dish mention that she got her daughter one last year, and it provided her daughter with an outlet that didn’t cost any money. School is expensive enough, and we really don’t want to spend a dime on anything more than the basics!


Ryan Bales August 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I remember the most expensive thing for me was food… even though I could eat at the cafeteria whenever I wanted, we always went out :)


Helen August 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I’m slightly worried about that happening with my boys! In fact, my husband and I plan to send our boys the money that we normally spend on groceries for four of us since we’ll only need groceries for two in the house. It’s not much, but we figured it’s free for them to spend since we don’t want either of them working until they at least get a degree under their belts.


Ryan Bales August 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I think that’s a great idea.


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