Your A-B-Cs for Back-to-School Saving

It’s back-to-school time! How exciting…and expensive. Parents will spend an average of almost $700/household, according to a 2017 National Retail Federation survey. For retailers it’s a shopping bonanza – the second largest retail season ranking right behind Black Friday to Christmas. For parents, it can be a nightmare of frustrating supply lists, out-of-stock signs and guilt.


All the “cool” kids are sporting the greatest gotta-have-it trends and colors that can’t be found anymore. Frantic moms and dads are searching stores’ disheveled aisles to grab school supplies while trying (maybe) not to overspend.

So…you’re not the smug ninja mom who bought school supplies for a “steal-of-a-deal” weeks ago on Amazon Prime Day? And, you were not thinking beyond the kids’ supply lists (yes, nearly every class teacher has one) to the extra “must haves” to buy?

Do not despair! Time can actually be on your side, and you can still score school supplies without busting your budget if you remember the smart parents’ A-B-Cs:

  • Assess
  • Budget
  • Collaborate

ASSESS – Accumulate, before you Attack the Aisles

  1. First, look at your kids’ class supply lists and scour your closets, home office and last year’s backpacks. You might be surprised to uncover very usable supplies.
  2. Accumulate in one box those already opened reams of paper, extra folders, flash drives, and barely used erasers, pens and pencils, and take an inventory of what else you still need.
  3. Attack the store aisles with your NEEDS list, not that all-encompassing class supply list. Parents routinely toss “maybe” supplies in their cart, because it’s easier than making another trip. Know what you need BEFORE you shop, and stick to your list.

BUDGET – Buy Basics now, Bonus Buys later

  1. Budget, by creating a spending plan, you don’t drop a small fortune unknowingly. Consider sales flyers, special or bulk buys, rebates, rewards card promos and a “wait-til-needed” philosophy. Be sure to comparison shop, then ask for a price match. Chances are, your retailer of choice will match a published competitor’s price, saving you the trouble of going to multiple stores.
  2. Buy Basics, and use your inventory or NEEDS list (#1 above) to determine immediate purchases. For example, last year’s backpack might suffice until you find one on clearance, or you might delay buying posterboards or test booklets not likely used the first weeks.
  3. A Bonus – Like most everything, school supplies have an end-of-the-season sale, usually late September/early October. This is your chance to pick up leftovers — folders, notebooks, glue sticks, pens, crayons and other basics—at rock-bottom prices. You can probably snatch up a backpack and other great finds. Timing is everything!

COLLABORATE – to get Creative not Crazy

  1. Collaborate with other parents – Perhaps you can purchase some items barely used but outgrown by others (think school uniforms, leotards, soccer cleats, ball gloves, piano books). Or, buy in bulk quantities, then split the goods and the price among several families.
  2. Get creative when it comes to specialties such as graphing calculators, special reading materials or musical instruments. Can you borrow, rent, trade or share some items? Does the school (or library) have items on hand for reserve?
  3. Going crazy to keep up with the trendy kids? Instead of beating yourself up to find all the latest, greatest gadgets and clothes, consider a splurge on one brand name item your student considers a “must have.” Often it’s the newest shoes or “cool” jeans that might alleviate some peer pressure with teens, so consider your opportunity cost. And, this can be a great time to compromise as well as teach your kids how to shop and find the best value to stretch the school dollars (compromising and bargain shopping are life skills, you know).

Back-to-school shopping is not easy or cheap. But you can avoid breaking the bank of mom/dad with a little planning. Want to see how your spending compares to other back-to-school shoppers? Check out the infographic.



4 Responses to “Your A-B-Cs for Back-to-School Saving”

  1. mrspickypincher

    I LOVE these ideas. So much of kids’ school supplies (ie. scissors and backpacks) can be used from year to year. No sense in spending $600 on supplies for school! I think it’s also one of those rare times where extreme couponing might make sense. Of course, you’d need to have an idea of your kid’s list before you do your shopping.


    • moneygodmother

      Using coupons is a great way to save money on school supplies! Any other ways to save on back-to-school? In some stores, I saw aisle displays by Crayola with a chance to win prizes…name the new yellow crayon to replace Dan D!



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