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5 Ways to Save on Back to School

For many kids, excitement about the new school year is generated by the back-to-school shopping excursion. Although some would have you believe a shiny backpack full of new school supplies and a trendy Fall wardrobe are required to head back to the classroom, being realistic about what your child’s needs are can save your bank account from the back-to-school craze.

Robb Engen, who runs the personal finance blog Boomer & Echo ( says shopping smart can help keep your cash in your wallet and teach kids a finance lesson or two in the process.

1. Start at home. Start off your back-to-school shopping by doing an inventory of what you have left over from the previous school year. If your child’s school sends a list of supplies that are needed for the year, scour the house for these items first and check them off the list as you find them. Items such as pencil cases, rulers, calculators and backpacks don’t need to be replaced each year. Make it into a game by sending your kids on a scavenger hunt around the house and give a prize to whomever finds the most items on the list. You’ll be surprised how many supplies are still in good shape.

2. Make a budget and buy only what you need. Make a budget with your kids and talk about needs versus wants. The items that the school requires will be needs, while other things like a sparkly pencil case or glitter pens are wants. It can be tempting to buy all those fun colored pens, locker accessories, animal-shaped erasers and sticky notes, but chances are, your child doesn’t need these items to have a successful school year. Talk to your child ahead of time and explain that you’re only going to buy the items that they need. Squeeze in a money lesson about needs and wants by including in your budget $10 per child of discretionary money to spend on these “want” items.

3. Shop around and shop early. Doing a one-stop-shop may sound easier, but Engen says parents who shop the flyers can often get the best deals. Don’t be afraid to go online for deals. Engen recommends “They always highlight items at Walmart, Staples and Target. Just by liking their Facebook site, you can find deals on almost everything you need,” he says.

If you do want to do a one-stop-shop, make it at a store that price matches and be sure to bring your flyers with you. Delaying your back-to-school shopping spree can cost you. “You find the best deals before school starts,”
says Engen. Start flyer shopping early to avoid the crowds.

4. Swap before you shop – kids grow out of clothes so fast. By the end of summer, your child’s Fall wardrobe may be reduced to a single pair of jeans.

“Everyone loves to have shiny, new everything, but ask yourself if that’s really necessary,” says Engen.

The back-to-school season is a great time to purge outgrown clothing. Peruse summer yard sales or host a clothing exchange with your child’s older friends or cousins.

5. Buy in bulk to share. Just as you carpool to save gas, buying school supplies in bulk can reward you with big savings. Get together a group of your kids’ friends or cousins and buy large packages of pencils, pens, notebooks and glue sticks to divvy up. Parents will praise you for saving them time and money.

Lisa is a health and fitness freelance writer.

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