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Don’t Break the Bank on Back-to-School

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Summer is winding down and kids are preparing to start a new school year. This signifies an exciting new start for kids, but for parents, it can mean spending a lot of money on school supplies and new clothing for fall. Families with children in elementary school through high school plan to spend an average of $696.70 this year on back to school shopping. (National Retail Federation) That’s a lot of money, especially for parents of multiple children.

How can you buy the items your kids need without breaking the bank on back to school shopping?

Here are some ways to save!

Take Inventory

It doesn’t make sense to purchase items you already have around the house. “We reuse items like notebooks, binders, and pencil boxes.” says Carrie Miller, mom of three. “I also save all the pencils from class parties, birthday parties and other giveaways to use the following year.” Before you start back to school shopping, take inventory of what office and school supplies you already have that are new or gently used.

Go through the kids closets and remove items that are two small and make a list of what needs to be replaced. Can any items be passed down to younger siblings? Consider shopping at second hand store or consignment sales for gently used items to save on clothes, shoes, and coats. Backpacks and lunchboxes that are in good condition can be reused. Once you know what you need, make a list of what needs to be purchased and stick to it.

Do Your Research

It’s hard to know if you are getting a good deal on back to school supplies and clothing if you do know how much they cost to begin with. Once you know the average cost of an item it is easier to do your research and make sure you are getting a good deal. It can be easy to get caught up on saving on small items like glue and pencils, but it is wiser to focus on big ticket items which can mean more money saved. Saving $50-100 on a tablet is worth the effort of driving across town to shop compared to saving 10 cents on glue. “Shop around!” says Emily Rodriguez. “Last year I added all the items needed to my online cart at Walmart, Amazon and Target. I was surprised Target came out well under the other two. I was glad to save the money.”

Take Advantage of Discounts

For retailers, back to school season is the biggest money maker, second only to the Christmas shopping season. To bring in customers, they are willing to offer discounts, free shipping for online orders, price matching, in store coupons, and other deals to get you to shop in their stores. Take some time to shop around and find the best deals, sign up for email coupons and deals, and most importantly, don’t forget to use the coupons when you make your purchase.

Many states offer a tax free weekend in late summer. This is a great time for families to take advantage of a discount on clothing, shoes, and other items needed for school.

Buy Later

When you are looking at the long list of supplies that schools hand out, determine what they need right away and what can be purchased at a later time. You will be able to get school supplies at clearance prices if you simply wait until September. This is also a great time to stock up on commonly needed items for the following school year. “Purchase items in advance when possible.” says mom Fia Swartwood. “Clearance sales after school starts are a great time to stock up on paper, spiral notebooks, folders, and writing utensils.”

Many families feel the need to buy their children a new fall wardrobe when school returns, but it’s perfectly reasonable to delay purchasing new clothing as temperatures are still too warm for fall and winter clothing when kids start school. This gives parents a chance to buy items over time or as needed instead of purchasing everything at once. “I shop clearance items after every season and guess on sizing for the following year.” says Katlyn Purkapile, mom of three.

Leave the Kids Home

As a mom of six, my biggest money saving tip for back to school shopping is to simply leave the kids home. I arrive at the store with a list of school supplies needed. If my daughter were with me she would ask for the sparkliest unicorn notebook, which costs twice as much as the plain pink one I would pick. It’s faster and more efficient if I shop for the supplies alone. When picking out clothes, back packs, and lunchboxes, it’s reasonable to bring kids along so they can pick out something to fit their tastes. Prior to shopping, give your kids a set budget and let them pick something they like that fits within it.

In order to save money you may have to put in some extra effort in research, take the time to get organized, drive to more than one store, and forgo a few items to stay within a budget. It will be worth the cost savings in the long run, especially for families shopping for multiple children.

Bonus: Packing Lunches on a Budget

The cost of individually wrapped snacks and premade Lunchables can really add up. Here are some ideas to save money when you are packing school lunches this fall.

• Buy items like crackers, cookies, and canned fruit in bulk and pack into individual size containers yourself. Doing this ahead of time can give you the convenience of the prepackaged items with big cost savings.

• Replace disposable bags and containers with reusable items to pack sandwiches and sides.

• Use leftovers. Make a little extra food for dinner and send healthy, homemade items to school for lunch.

• Make your own “uncrustables” and “lunchables” rather than buying the premade version.


Sarah Lyons is a mom of six kids including seven year old triplets. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time outdoors with her family.

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