7 Keys to Saving Money on Back-to-School Shopping

The average American family is expected to spend nearly $800 per child on supplies for the upcoming school year—and for parents of college students, those costs are even higher. But for many families, these costs are a significant source of financial stress that can throw a wrench into their budgeting for the entire year.

Back-to-school shopping is even more complicated this year because many parents must gather supplies both for regular, in-person school and for remote learning setups. And while back-to-school shopping costs continue to rise, this year’s families must gather these necessary supplies while also practicing safe habits whenever they go into a store.

As a result, many families expect to do more of their back-to-school shopping online this year. Here are seven keys to save money as you start this year’s back-to-school shopping.

1. Create a back-to-school budget to keep shopping in check.

Calculate the projected costs for your back-to-school shopping, and figure out how much you can afford to spend. Some supply purchases may come at a fixed cost, but other purchases, such as back-to-school clothes and equipment for remote learning, can vary widely in price. 

Setting a budget will help you keep your spending in check and give you a goal to target through your savings.

Track your spending habits and take control of your finances with our free  Budget Worksheet.

2. Keep an eye out for back-to-school clearances and sales. 

The competition for back-to-school shopping dollars is intense among retailers, which means that savvy shoppers are bound to find competitive pricing and excellent deals if they pay close attention. Watch the print ads and online promotions for back-to-school sales for your favorite local retailers, as well as online-only retailers like Amazon. For popular products like notebooks and pencils, the back-to-school season may offer the best prices.

3. Find online discounts through tools like Honey and Wikibuy

These online apps scour the internet for discount codes and lower prices on the purchases you’re making. You can add both of these apps to your browser and use them during the online checkout process to quickly research savings options on items in your shopping cart.

These apps can offer significant savings when it comes to purchasing higher-priced items, such as graphing calculators, headphones, and laptop or tablet devices.

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4. Buy supplies in bulk.

Bulk purchases will save you money in the long run. If you’re buying supplies for multiple children, this strategy can make a lot of sense—even if you end up paying a little more in the short run, the long-term savings could add up quickly. Use bulk purchases for common supplies all students need, such as notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, folders, and glue.

5. When possible, spread out back-to-school purchases throughout the calendar year.

For supplies such as shoes and clothing, it isn’t necessary to make new purchases right before the school year begins. Additionally, these nonessential items may be priced at a premium in the weeks leading up to the fall semester.

By spreading those purchases out and even waiting until the fall to pick up certain supplies, you can also spread out the cost, which eases the financial hit you’ll suffer in the lead-up to fall classes. This also gives you more time to hunt for deals and save more money on your purchases.

6. Turn online shopping into a family activity.

Improve your savings efforts by enlisting your family in hunting down the best online deals. Encourage all of the members of your family to search through top retail sites like Walmart, Target, and Amazon to compare prices and find the best deals on supplies. Don’t forget about reseller sites like eBay, which can offer steep discounts on new or like-new items. 

A little friendly competition can lower the cost of your back-to-school shopping while also teaching your children how to save.

7. Use safe shopping strategies to limit your time spent in stores.

The COVID-19 pandemic has many families looking for ways to do their back-to-school shopping while avoiding unnecessary exposure in retail stores. Although it may be necessary to visit retail stores from time to time, you can limit your time spent in those stores by taking advantage of retail services such as contactless shopping, in-store pickup, and curbside pick-up for your online orders.

Some retailers even offer savings promotions for purchases that use in-store or curbside pickup. Keep an eye out for these deals, which help you save money while encouraging safer shopping.

When it comes to back-to-school shopping, persistence and planning can help lower the costs of your supplies and keep more money in your bank account. 

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