How to Save Lots of Money on Back-to-School Shopping
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Want to save money on back-to-school supplies? Learn about back-to-school shopping saving tips that work.

How to Save LOTS of Money on Back-to-School Shopping

By Melissa Uhles

Are you looking for back-to-school shopping shopping tips?

When I was a kid my grandmother took me to what she’d called “The Dime Store” for supplies. The smell of rubber glue and feel of kid-size scissors filled me with a sense of great creative possibility.


Now that I’m all grown up, every August, I get to go school supply shopping. A rush of excitement floods me as I enter the section where everything is laid out. The whiff and creek of a spiral-bound notebook after cracking it open still gives me the good kind of shivers. These facts foreshadowed my future life as a creative type and writer of things.

Confessing my love of school supplies might make me seem like a super nerd, but I have a feeling there are others out there like me. Each year the news reports that parents are spending more than ever before on school supplies. Older children may even be expected to show up with tablets and laptops.

This year I only spent $23 on supplies for my third grader, which is not too bad.

I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past few years.

Here are my back-to-school shopping shopping tips that work:


Start Early

Back-to-school sales where I live, in Oregon, start six weeks prior to the start of school. You can check out the sale ads at a variety of stores. What stores in your area have back-to-school sales?


Shop Around

Another great back-to-school shopping tips is to check out a few different stores. I recommend Fred Meyer, Walmart and Target sales. If you are going to need more expensive items, like tablets or laptops you may want to check the prices on Amazon and at Costco. Ross is a great place for cheap name brand backpacks, hello Jansport! They also carry a limited selection of kids shoes, I’ve even scored a well priced pair of Sketchers there.


Bring the List

Some stores, like Walmart, online will have the list of required supplies for each school district but some don’t. I pack along my list from the year prior, because it’s a worksheet that lists supplies needed at every grade level. Save that piece of paper to do your shopping the following summer.

Why? I learned the hard way in years past that waiting until the school sends the new one a few days before school starts when sales are ending and supplies are dwindling made for a more stressful shopping experience.

Do you keep your lists from the year before? I'd love to know. 


Recycle Old Supplies

A smart back-to-school shopping tip is to use used supplies. It’s been my experience, that at the end of each school year they send home all the supplies that the kiddos had at their desk. These items live at our craft table all summer but there are a few things that are pretty newish that I’ll re-use. That cuts down on what I buy.

This year my son had pencils, erasers, scissors and a pencil box that can go back with him in the fall. In addition, his back-pack and lunch sack are in good shape for another year.


Buy Reusable Lunch Containers

While I was never ambitious enough to get on the bento box bandwagon, I do buy a reusable lunch bag and reusable Glad food storage containers in different sizes. I like a sandwich container and the small four and eight ounce snack containers. We also have reusable water containers that my kiddo takes to school.

Pro tip: Make sure to buy a backpack or lunch sack with a water bottle holder attached on the side. This saves room for more food in the lunch bag. Reusable bottles and containers save a little cash in the long run because you don’t have to buy all the paper sacks and plastic baggies, but it’s also environmentally friendly.


Clothes the Deal

Maybe you’ve lost your baby weight and you are loving your whole new Stitchfix wardrobe, but you still need to get the kidlets outfitted for the fall.

Here are some ways to save big bucks
on clothes for kids.

And that’s really important because those humans grow out of things in six months, am I right?

  • Garage Sales--You can check out Craigslist and search for the clothes in the size you are looking for and some will have pictures listed. This can be a wild card in terms of quality but can be a good value especially for the preschool set.
  • Ebay--A friend of mine buys bags of clothes for her son via Ebay. She gets a mixed assortment of pants and shirts and some are even name brands for around twenty bucks.
  • Consignment Sales/Stores--There are events a few times each year where I live where parents can resell their kids/baby stuff. Consignment stores also sell children’s clothes. They take a cut and the seller gets a cut. The buyer gets a good deal on gently used items.

    Rhea Lana has consignment sales with back-to-school supplies and clothes all over the country. Have you ever been to one of these sales? What was it like?
  • Shop “Off Season”--If you get into the habit of shopping for fall clothes in the spring, you can get many items off the clearance rack. It takes some planning ahead, but the savings can be worth it.
  • Facebook Moms or Garage Sale Groups--There are so many amazing local garage sale groups and Moms groups where you can find good deals on kids stuff and it’s nice to keep some money in the local community, I think.
  • Ask friends or relatives with a kid a few years older than yours if you can take their used clothes off their hands. They might just want a clean garage again and be happy to let their kid’s hand-me downs for free. I had two sister-in-laws who helped me out a lot in this way.
  • Goodwill--I admit, this option is hit and miss because it can be hard to find the right size and sometimes kid’s clothing at the locations near me have been sparse. But if you find something, especially marked with the special sale tag of the day, it can be a good find.

Let’s face it, summer whining is almost in your rear window and shopping for school might even make you wish you’d enjoyed all the fun in the sun a little more than you actually did. But with these back-to-school shopping tips at your disposal, I hope your wallet will thank you in the end for doing your due diligence.

I’d love to hear your tips for saving on school supplies. Share with us in the comments!

Don't forget to follow us on Pinterest and Facebook!

Melissa Uhles is a Freelance Writer, Co-Founder of Pen and Parent, and mom who has authored three books under her pen-name MJ Greenway. She writes under the clouds of the Pacific Northwest where sometimes her son and husband pop in to check on her.

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