Back-to-school time has become its own shopping season, falling just behind back-to-college and Christmas in terms of family expenditures, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2020, the NRF reported record back-to-school spending, with parents spending an average of $789.49 per child, up from the previous record of $696.70.
And that’s just for elementary through high school. If you have college students in your family, the NRF estimates you’ll spend about $1,059.20 on supplies. (But you can access your own list of college back-to-school saving tactics.)
That’s almost as much as an average mortgage payment, and each year, costs continue to outpace inflation. Multiply this amount by two or three (or five) children, and it’s easy to see why many parents start sweating in mid-July, when the barrage of back-to-school fliers and ads start appearing.
But these back-to-school saving tips can take some of the stress out of the season.
How to Save on Back-to-School Supplies
If you’re stressed out about this upcoming drain on your bank account, take a deep breath. There are plenty of ways to avoid spending $1,000 per child at the start of the new school year. If you start early and plan ahead, you can put your kids back in the classroom for a fraction of this amount.
Keep in mind that back-to-school sales start a bit earlier each year. Staples now puts out its back-to-school section in late June, with many products already on sale to entice parents to buy.
You can save by purchasing one or two things at a time throughout the summer. Spreading your purchases out can also prevent a significant hit to your monthly budget.
1. Do a Supply Sweep
You probably already have plenty of last year’s school supplies you can reuse this year. Closets, desk drawers, and basement bins could hold hidden treasures that can save you money. Check out the latest mohawk superfine paper deals.
Start by rounding up all of the office and school supplies you already own. Put them in a central location, such as a plastic bin or the dining room table, so you can make a list of what you have and a shopping list of what you need.
Keep this list in your purse or car to avoid forgetting it when you shop for school supplies. You can also take a picture of your current supplies to refresh your memory when you’re shopping.
Next, go through your kids’ closets and start sorting. Donate or toss clothing kids have outgrown and timeworn clothing. Once you complete this supply sweep, you’ll have a clearer picture of what you need to buy. Ideally, the sweep will prevent you from buying something you already have on hand.
2. Plan a Supply Swap
Coordinate with your friends and neighbors and host a school and office supply swap before you head out shopping.
For instance, you might have reams of loose-leaf paper you bought on sale, but you’ll never use it all. Meanwhile, your friend might have several packs of pencils or a pencil case they’d be willing to trade for some of that paper.
Talk to friends and family members with school-aged children and see if they have extra supplies they’d be interested in trading.
3. Shop at Garage Sales and Thrift Stores
Garage sales can be a treasure trove of deals for back-to-school supplies. You can find backpacks, gently used shoes, clothing, and even school supplies there for a song.
Start hitting up garage sales for everything you need. It takes time, but you can score some incredible bargains by doing so, and it’s an economical way to save money on back-to-school clothes. You can also ask friends and family members to keep an eye out for you when they shop at garage sales.
There are fantastic bargains at thrift stores too. Clothing is very affordable there, and many stores run sales specifically for parents shopping for back-to-school items. But start early. Other shoppers will have picked over the selection by the first day of school.
Your best bet is to start your kids clothes shopping in the middle to end of July when there are plenty of clothes to choose from. Of course, if you let them wear them immediately, the novelty will have worn off by the first day of school. Put these clothes away until school starts so they’ll feel brand-new to your kids.
4. Check Consignment Shops
Consignment shops are excellent places to find gently used clothing because they’ve already vetted everything they offer. So unlike at the thrift store, you don’t have to paw through blouses from 1975 to find designer or name-brand clothing on a shoestring budget.
If your area has several consignment shops, find out if they’re planning a late-summer sale. Many consignment shops organize a seasonal sale, especially during the back-to-school shopping season. Several shops might even host a mega-sale in one location, pooling all their resources together.
You can find consignment shops in your area by Googling “kids consignment stores near me.”