Summer is winding down, which means that back-to-school shopping will soon be in full swing. It can be a costly time of year if you aren’t prepared for it. One LendingTree survey found that parents of school-age children expected to spend an average of $498 on back-to-school necessities in 2021. What’s more, one in three anticipated going into debt to afford it. In the spirit of saving money, we’ve rounded up five back-to-school shopping tips for folks on a budget.
1. Figure out what you actually need.
Lots of schools provide recommended supply lists for each grade level. Before you run out and buy every item, check with the teachers first to see if you really need everything right away. For example, there may be supplies that your child won’t need until mid-year. In that case, you might be able to put off buying certain items for a few months.
2. Hit up a dollar store for classroom basics.
It isn’t uncommon for teachers to ask students to bring in things like tissues, paper towels, disinfecting wipes, and other essentials on the first day of school. Your local dollar store can be a great resource here. Alternatively, you can buy the generic brands at Target, Walmart or your local supermarket. You might also buy these items in bulk for your own home, then pull out a few to donate to the classroom.
3. Check out clothing swaps and consignment stores.
If your child needs new school uniforms, you might find local parents looking to trade used uniforms that are still in good condition. Asking around on social media (especially private groups for your school, if there is one) can be a great place to start. If you have to buy new uniforms, check with the suggested retailer to see if they’ll be running sales anytime soon. You might also save by buying generic shirts, then sewing on your school’s patch yourself if they allow it.
Students who don’t require uniforms might luck out a local consignment shop or thrift store. Do your research to see what’s available in your area.
4. Explore outlet malls.
You might snag steep discounts at outlet malls. If any of the stores (or the outlet mall itself) offer customer rewards programs, that could provide extra savings down the road. Research your nearest outlet and start from there. With gas prices being what they are, driving a long distance to get there could negate any savings—so it pays to be strategic.
5. Leverage store rewards.
Stores like Old Navy and The Children’s Place allow store cardholders to earn rewards with each transaction. They also offer exclusive deals that could translate to significant savings. Opening a store credit card could save you money, but you’ll want to be sure to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid high interest charges. The average interest rate on a store card is over 25%, according to WalletHub data. With that said, using a store card responsibly can actually improve your credit score if you pay your bill on time and keep your balance low.
How to prep your budget for next year’s back-to-school season
You may not have much time to prepare your budget for this year’s back-to-school season, but next year is a different story. Ballpark how much you typically spend on this type of shopping. Is it possible to set money aside throughout the year? Maybe that means earmarking a portion of each paycheck. This way you’ll have cash waiting for you when the time comes. (FYI, this can also be a great strategy for holiday shopping.)
Another option is to stock up on common school supplies throughout the year. If you see a local store running a great deal on supplies in the winter, snatch them up then and hold them for next school year. You might also find discounts on backpacks, sneakers and more. When it comes to shoes and clothing, just be sure to buy everything one or two sizes up so that it’ll fit a year from now.
This is all to say that looking outside the box might help you save on back-to-school shopping—and avoid going into debt in the process.