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I can’t believe it’s already time to start talking about back to school shopping. My child on the school bus 2 weeks ago! We’ve barely even begun to enjoy our summer vacation. But the back to school supplies lists are coming out and everyone is turning to the internet for back to school research. So it’s the perfect time to share with you the ultimate guide to saving money on back to school shopping.
What we will cover:
- When to shop for the best back to school deals.
- How to spot the best back to school offers.
- The best time to buy school uniforms and clothes.
- Stores and websites to shop at for MAX savings!
- Additional things that you can do to cut some serious costs!
- Other shopping needs you should consider.
According to The National Retail Federation, parents are paying on average about $630 for their kids back to school gear. Of that, about $200 is new clothes, $100 is shoes, and school supplies cost under $100. The rest of the money is electronic devices and extras. [Source]
I don’t know about you, but this momma is always on a budget. Back to school shopping on a budget is possible, and I thoroughly recommend staying aware of finances while making purchases because those numbers at the register can quickly skyrocket.
When does back to school shopping start?
While Target’s back to school commercials start playing on tv and school supplies fill the center aisle of Walmart starting in late June, the second week of July is usually when the back to school best deals come out.
You can find sales and great deals from the time the fireworks stop until mid-August when some kids are already in school depending on location. Despite this, most parents will wait until the very last minute before shopping for school supplies because they are holding out for a fantastic deal later in the season. While some items might become lower priced than later, sales are happening all summer long that just cannot be beaten!
How to spot the best back to school offers
School supplies are just office supplies on sale. Because of this, you’re able to find them at almost any retail location. Simply paying attention to the normal retail prices of items can help you to recognize a sale, but how do you know when a deal is so incredible you can’t pass it by?
I have a simple rule of thumb when I shop for groceries and other items. If I don’t have it on my list but I know that I will eventually need it, I will not buy it unless it is more than 50% off the retail price. Thankfully, I’ve been paying attention to prices long enough that I have set my own stock-up prices for everything. With school supplies shopping only happening once a year, it’s hard to remember the stock-up prices from the year before.
Two example scenarios:
If you walk into a Target (for example) and find a sale on notebooks that you know your kid will need, because it’s on their Target school supplies list or that Kindergarten supply list for parents, consider the price. You may have entered the store for diapers, pillows or new shampoo, and not budgeted for the notebooks. But if the notebooks are at less than 50% of the retail price and you know it’s a great deal and you can safely afford it without going into debt, grab them. This is a smart impulse buy.
If you do that same scenario but only have $10 in your wallet and $0 in the bank, you wouldn’t be able to afford the item you came for and the notebooks and you would need to make a choice. To grab both and put it on a credit card or let your bank overdraft is not a good idea because it will cost you more, in the long run, thanks to interest and overdraft fees.
As you walk around the stores this summer, you’ll be able to recognize prices and know the difference between okay prices and great deals. Consider making a cheat-sheet somewhere to help you next year.
When do back to school clothes come out
Back to school shopping for clothes is/can be crazy expensive for so many different reasons:
- Your kids are going to grow, and most likely grow out of the clothes you’re buying by the end of the school year. This means you have to buy more and repeat the process indefinitely.
- Shoes can cost as much as a week’s worth of groceries and depending on how active your child is, they can bust through them in a few weeks/months and you’ll need to buy a new pair.
- If your child plays rough, you can expect holes in the knees, dirt stains, rips and tears. At some point, their “nice clothes” will be the ones with the tiny hole and with the stains that blend in with the color of the shirt so well no one can really tell from a quick glance. Unfortunately, this means that you can’t pass these clothes to the next sibling or friend in line.
Back to school clothes come out towards the middle of July.
This is when the patriotic clothing goes on clearance and the summer clothes start getting marked down.
Stores and websites to shop at for maximum savings
Just like when you shop for food, it’s often best to spread your shopping out amongst different stores so that you can save the most amount of money. The following are great places to look at for back to school shopping deals.
I’m a firm believer in the difference between being cheap and being frugal. Being cheap is buying cheap things and that often results in cheap results. Being frugal means buying good things for cheap prices and getting better results.
While Dollar Tree can be hit or miss on some items, there are actually a bunch of items that are great for crossing off that school supplies list. This includes pencils, pens, scissors, and basic calculators.
Craft Stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabrics, or Hobby Lobby
If you find that you have crafty items on your shopping lists, like markers and paints, why not check at an actual craft store? These places offer coupons and discounts every week and often accept competitor coupons.
I swear by this website and have been using them for years! I posted last Christmas about how I used Hollar to stay within my tight Christmas budget. The content is always changing around, and while some stuff might be cheap quality, there is A LOT of great things if you look through it. This is possibly the best place for school backpack deals.
Backpacks, lunch bags, pencil case and water bottle bundles for less than the cost anywhere else. Plus the fast shipping and reasonable rates keep you from leaving the house and dealing with crowded shopping centers.
Sign up for Hollar here and get a free $2 credit
Target is a great place for shopping thanks to their gift card deals. With there often being a promotion where you can get a $5 gift card when you buy or spend a certain amount, you can get a lot of money back.
An idea is to save these gift cards until Christmas shopping to help cut the costs you’re expected to pay in a few months. Or you can use the gift cards to pay for the Halloween costumes you’ll be buying in October. They’ll need them for those Halloween photoshoots!
Drugstores like Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS
Drugstores are a great way to save money on school supplies. They often have coupons for office supplies such as highlighters, rulers and notebooks. While these often have a purchase limit, those limits are normally per person or per trip. This means you can have multiple people come with you on a shopping trip and everyone can make a transaction. That’s a couponer secret.
Walmart is hit or miss when it comes to sales. While in some areas of the country it might be the only valid shopping option, and in others, there could be plenty of other cheap shopping solutions. But Walmart is a one-stop-shop place to go and can have you buying shopping supplies, back to school clothes and groceries all in one convenient trip.
Office Supply stores like Staples, Office Depot, and Office Max
What’s great about office supplies stores is that you know they carry the items you’re looking for. Not only that but these stores often have price matching policies that can help you to get the same deals as elsewhere without all the unnecessary driving around.
While Amazon is incredibly convenient, the prices can be higher than inside your local shopping centers. Double check and compare sales ads before committing to the items in your cart so you don’t accidentally overspend. Check out these back to school items from Amazon.
If you don’t already have an Amazon Prime account, you can get a free trial here.
Additional things that you can do to cut some serious costs
While shopping smart and choosing the best stores for your school supply list is a priority and must-do for saving money, there are a few other things you can do to make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck.
First, shop your home
When you do a no spend grocery challenge, you look at all of the food already within your home before compiling your meal plan. Right? We do the same thing here too.
Look around your home and see what school supplies you might already have laying around that is perfectly good and capable of surviving this year.
An untouched box of crayons, glue sticks or scissors from last year or some of those colored folders you never touched after buying so many.
Using coupons is a great way to save money at the register. You don’t have to invest in the purchase of a Sunday newspaper for these back to school coupons, because most are already in the store. There are great coupons inside the store’s reward programs or weekly sales flyers and coupons booklets. You can also find printable school supply coupons online!
Printable school supply coupons are for the name-brand products like Bic, Post-it, and Kleenex, so you know you’re getting deals on the good stuff. Not only that, but you could get items for free if they’re at the Dollar Tree. Just make sure that the coupons size requirements are met.
If you’ve seen my past post about why you shouldn’t trust rebates, my opinion still stands. While using a rebate is a great way to get money back after your purchase, you shouldn’t rely on them to help you stay in budget.
Instant rebates that save you money at the register or rebate apps are okay, what I’m talking about is the rebate apps that you mail away for and hope to get your money back in a few weeks.
If you’re using things like this, make sure that you are within budget even without the rebates applied. Think of that money back as a sweet treat and not a need.
Use Discounted Gift Cards
Think of this as savings before shopping. By purchasing a discounted gift card for a store you are about to shop at, you can save money from the start. With things like the Raise app, you can do this easily. I have personally used Raise for the past few years and only have nice things to say about the buying and selling sides of their gift cards.
Sign up here for a free $5 credit on your first gift card from Raise.
If you’re going to shop online, you might as well do it through a money back website like Ebates. To not use them is to risk leaving money on the table and not in your pocket. Even if you only get a few dollars back for your trip, it’s still money you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Sign up for Ebates here for an awesome cash bonus!
Use the secret weapon
Bet you’re curious to know what this is, aren’t you? What if I told you that there was a secret weapon that wouldn’t cost you anything, that literally just sits inside your email and waits to find you money?
Sounds crazy, but it’s true! Paribus is a great money-back program you can have working on your side. It casually sits inside your email and waits for digital receipts to be sent to your email. When they see you shopping, they look at the stores and wait for a price drop.
A lot of stores have a price match guarantee where they promise to give you the difference if you buy something and it goes on sale within the allotted time period. So having these guys on your team is a great way to feel confident that you are always getting the best deals online.
When they see an opportunity, they will message the store on your behalf and provide your transaction details, asking for a price difference to be reimbursed. Which means, that you don’t have to do anything at all! All they ask is for a small percentage of the money, and that’s it.
Sign up for Paribus here.
Don’t forget about tax-free days
While there are a couple of states that are always tax-free, like Alaska, Oregon, Delaware, Montana, and New Hampshire, there are some that only have a weekend to enjoy this benefit.
If you’re lucky enough to have a tax free weekend in your state, use it to your advantage for back to school shopping!
Other shopping things you need to consider
After shoveling out so much money on back to school clothes and supplies, and trying to transition into a nice routine for bedtime, it’s easy to forget about a few other things that should be on your priority list.
- Will your child be eating lunch provided by the school or lunch that you make?
- Is it something you’re paying for or do they get to eat for free?
- How much will a month of these meals cost?
- How much are you expected to pay for the entire year?
By figuring this out, you can set up a small sinking fund and with every paycheck, stick a small amount of money aside so that you can be prepared.
How busy will your schedule be for those first few weeks and should you set a few extra meals in the freezer or set aside fun money for food delivery or take out to help ease that stress?
Back to school photos, homecoming and field trips
It doesn’t take long for schools to start putting their hands out and asking for money for various fundraisers and activities. While there is nothing wrong with this, it can often come at the worst financial times. Right after school starts, we are bombarded with costly holidays, flu seasons and for some people work might slow down due to the cold weather.
I set a budgeted amount into a savings account to cover these school expenses that my kids are going to need to be covered. A cheap professional picture package, a couple of field trips and a little money for lunches or chaperoning fees (thankfully she gets free meals at school).
Even just putting $10 a month in there can add up to being a big help when times get tough in the fall.
Being prepared and staying aware are the best things you can do to save money on school supplies!
How do you save money on back to school shopping?
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