Back-to-School Shopping Budget Hacks
Back-to-school shopping can be a real budget buster if you’re not careful, but a little planning and some savvy saver moves can help keep you on track.
If you have school-aged kiddos, your regular budget should have a line item for school expenses. If you have this line item, you can set aside money each month for back-to-school shopping.
Let’s take a look at getting your student in a desk without busting your budget.
1. Reuse old school supplies
- Check to see what’s left over from last year. Backpacks, for example, can be a more expensive item on your list, and they can usually survive a couple of school years.
- Having a system to store and replace school supplies is key. Try not to write permanently or directly on reusable folders, binders, and notebooks. Use labels that can be replaced for the new school year or for hand-me-down supplies that are passed from one child to another.
2. Build your back-to-school budget
- Get your school supply list as soon as possible. Some schools make supply lists available at the end of the previous school year or a month or two into the summer. If possible, find a list specific to the teacher or teachers your student will have. Also, communicating with teachers in advance can be helpful, because sometimes not everything on the list is really required. Keeping receipts is a smart move in case you want to return items that aren’t needed.
- Set your budget outline and budget limit. Thanks to the internet, you can get a rough estimate of costs from your favorite online retailers with just a few clicks. Don’t forget sales tax, if applicable. Consider these prices and totals to be the baseline to beat. Your back-to-school budget limit should be based on what you already have allocated in your regular annual budget. If you need more, then you’ll need to revisit your monthly and annual budgets and determine where you can make adjustments.
3. Do some school supply research
- Look for local school supply drives. Sometimes nonprofits and other organizations provide backpacks full of school supplies. There may also be some local social media groups that share or sell school supplies and announcements of school supply drives. Friends and family may also have leftover supplies.
- Look for back-to-school deals. You may have to go to multiple stores to get the best deals on all your items, and don’t forget to check your local dollar stores.
- Look for summer sales. Lots of stores have summer sales and back-to-school sales with reduced pricing on key supplies, especially electronics.
- Search online marketplaces and yard sales. Yard sales and thrift stores are traditional money-savers, but online marketplaces have increased in popularity. These are great places to find parents selling school uniforms in your area. Some schools also have a used uniform store run by a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or something similar.
4. Create your school supply shopping schedule
- Start your back-to-school shopping ASAP before the best deals and cheaper items are gone. Track prices to make sure you get the best deal when it comes up.
- Do you have expensive items on your list that aren’t currently? If your kiddo doesn’t need that item immediately, consider waiting for Labor Day sales.
- Sales tax can add up when you have a long list and/or multiple kids in school. Take advantage of “tax-free weekend” sales tax holidays (only for some states). If you’re in a state that offers tax-free time, it can mean substantial savings.
- Learning the back-to-school sales pattern for your area can help you from one year to the next. Sometimes the best prices are not at the same time as a back-to-school tax holiday. Knowing the pattern will also help you avoid trying to buy when items are sold out.
As parents, we want back-to-school shopping and the first day of class to go as smoothly as possible for our kids. Some planning and focus can help. The saving and budgeting habits that SaverLife encourages can help you prepare for the school year. Save smart and shop smart.
Jerry Zeigler is a Navy veteran who serves service members with financial counseling and education. As an Accredited Financial Counselor®, he is a member of the Better Financial Counseling Network and is the owner of JZ Financial Management. As a tax professional and Enrolled Agent, he has a passion for helping taxpayers navigate taxes.