Insights & Stories

The Ultimate Guide for Back-to-School Shopping

Reading time: 6 minutes

July 13th, 2023

mother and son shopping for clothes mother and son shopping for clothes

Back-to-school season can be stressful for you and your kids, thanks to nerves about a new school year and a long list of items to buy. Whether you have a toddler heading to preschool or a teenager leaving for college, you probably need to purchase items to help with the transition.

There are standard supplies like pens, notebooks, textbooks and backpacks. But there might also be big-ticket items like laptops, dorm decorations and new clothes.

As a parent or guardian, getting swept up in a frenzy of preparations is inevitable. But as you take care of kids’ needs, it’s essential to take care of your financial needs too. Luckily, there are simple changes you can make to create a better shopping experience for your family and your budget.

How to save money on back-to-school shopping

Here’s how to make this back-to-school shopping season less stressful. The best part? You can implement each tip in a few minutes or less

1. Utilize special offers

Use student pricing when shopping for big-ticket items like a laptop or bedding for your college kid. Companies offer student pricing to encourage business and support higher education. For example, Apple© offers education pricing for laptops which can save hundreds of dollars. Also, clothing companies like Topshop and Tom’s Shoes offer special student rates or perks.

2. Shop the sales

Back-to-school deals usually begin in July and end in August, but it depends on the school calendar for your state. The end of summer is a great time to shop the sales and score great deals on school supplies. But if you can buy a few basics and wait a couple more weeks, you can often get items from your list at a steep discount. By September, most stores are slashing prices on supplies to make way for seasonal decor items. It’s a great way to save more money.

3. Make a list

During the back-to-school season, stores are full of colorful displays, name-brand items and unnecessary supplies. It’s tempting to get caught up in the moment and buy more than you need. To avoid overspending, make a list and stick to it. Use the recommended supply list from the school as a starting point, and then create a more detailed list with projected price ranges and quantities.

4. Rent when you can

With the average college textbook costing over $100, the price of books adds up quickly. But thanks to sites like Chegg and Amazon, you can rent books for a fraction of the total cost. If you want to save even more, you can encourage digital rentals instead. The rental process is simple: select your book, place the order, use it and mail it back with a prepaid shipping label at the end of the term. It’s an easy process even if your student is attending school out of state.

5. Price match

Price matching is a straightforward way to save money on costly back-to-school supplies. Once you know what to buy, search for the item price online. Most major retailers automatically slash prices when a competitor has a sale. But you can use price matching to save money while stacking other benefits like loyalty rewards, store points or branded credit cards. Some companies will also reimburse the price difference if an item goes on sale after you buy it.

6. Reuse, reuse, reuse

Don’t be afraid to reuse supplies from previous school years. If you have multiple children, you can also use hand-me-downs from older siblings to save money. Depending on usage, folders, pencils, markers and other supplies can often last more than one year. Take inventory of your current stash before hitting the stores.

How to avoid potential pitfalls

Here’s how to stick to your budget, avoid debt and enjoy the back-to-school season.

Pay when you buy

Buy now, pay later installment loans allow you to pay your balance in smaller amounts over multiple months. It might seem like a great way to afford more significant purchases. But the interest fees can add up, and you might take on more debt than you can comfortably afford. As you enter back-to-school season, utilize installment loans only as necessary. Your future self will thank you.

Don’t go into debt

If your back-to-school haul costs more than your bank account balance, using your credit card to bridge the gap can be tempting. But credit cards come with hefty interest charges and late fees. Instead of using your credit card, make a realistic budget and timeline for what you can afford, and when, and stick to it. This could also include buying sale or clearance items for the following school year, now.

Bottom line

Back-to-school shopping can be expensive, but with proper planning it can be a lot more manageable. Remember: watch for deals, stick to the list, and don’t be afraid to reuse or recycle. Ready for more tips? Check out the resource center for information about financial wellness and building a brighter future for your family.

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